It is possible, in certain circumstances, to depart from a congregation in a loving way. Then there are ways one can depart from a congregation which leaves a wake of pain and suffering behind. One way honors the Lord and the other harms His people.
Today’s article is going to be difficult and could be painful for some. It may be controversial. How does one leave their local congregation? How does a Christian leave a congregation of people they love?
There are a myriad of reasons for a person to leave a congregation. Sometimes these reasons are good and sometimes these reasons are poor. The reality of the American church is that religion has been democratized. Members of a congregation may vote with their feet. Members may walk out and go to another church down the road or on the other side of town. Elders may attempt to shepherd well and encourage members to stay. However, there seems to be times in which the Lord’s people will do as they please.
What this article will not do is evaluate the plethora of reasons why one would leave their home church. This article is not about leaving a church in which there are moral failings or doctrinal errors. There are times in which, for the glory of God and care for one’s family, immediate departure should occur. That is not who this article is written for. Rather, this article is written for those who are considering a transfer to another congregation for non moral reasons.
The reader will find six principles to implement if you feel you must leave your present congregation.
There are ways in which one can leave the congregation well. It is possible, in certain circumstances, to depart from a congregation in a loving way. Then there are ways one can depart from a congregation which leaves a wake of pain and suffering behind. One way honors the Lord and the other harms His people.
Principle No. 1—Be clear why you are considering to leave.
For many who leave their home congregations the process starts as a subjective feeling that something is not right or is not working. It is important not to trust one’s feelings. The heart is deceitfully wicked and should not be trusted. Christians ought to question our feelings. We ought to stop and ask ourselves, “Why am I feeling this way.”
Too frequently Christians have vague ideas about why they feel as if they no longer belong in a congregation. Has there been a shift in the philosophy of ministry within the congregation? Have circumstances in your life changed in such a way that make travel an undue burden? Has there been a demographic change in the congregation that has left your family isolated? Have there been doctrinal shifts either in yourself or in the congregation? Has there been a lack of discipleship or a stagnation of spiritual growth?
Far too often many members have vague notions of why they feel they ought to leave. In the Reformed Presbyterian Church membership is formal and covenantal. Members make promises to God, the elders, and the congregation. The affirmations and promises which a member answers forms a binding relationship that ought to be taken with solemnity and sobriety. To break this relationship on opaque feelings is disingenuous and unloving.
You feeling that something is off may not be entirely incorrect. There may be things that need to change. There may be improvements that could occur in the local congregation. There may be ministries that need to be created to shepherd and disciple. There may be a reality to time, finances, family growth, job changes, and etc. that have caused a shift in one’s ability to continue to be a growing and active participant in their local congregation. Again, there are a myriad of practical and even biblical reasons why one may need to transfer their membership. Knowing exactly why you are considering a change is of the upmost importance. Have a concrete why.
Once you have your concrete why go and search the scriptures. Search out the Lord’s Word to see if there is Biblical warrant for your reasons. There may not be one proof text for your concern. However, you may search the Scriptures and find passages or themes that speak toward your concern. Maybe your why is that there has not been enough emphasis on evangelism. Maybe your why is that the congregation is growing but certain groups of people are being overlooked in discipleship and fellowship. Your why may be that there is plenty of doctrinal fidelity but there is a real lack of opportunity to fellowship and be in communion with other members. It could be that you have noticed the Scriptures time and again speaking of a care for the poor and orphans but you have not noticed that same emphasis in your present congregation.
Being crystal clear about why you are considering a change will help you in principle number two.