When it’s time to leave a church

I’ve never been a quitter, and I really did not want to leave my church. However, some bad things were tolerated, and I decided to leave. I felt released from the negativity, and, through His word, meditation, and prayer, I felt God say, “Now that you’ve seen the damage churches can do to families — the damage that happens when good people decide to do nothing — go do the opposite. Go fight selfishness, arrogance, and heartlessness and let me use you to reach those who also have been hurt by the church.”

Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. If you’re considering leaving a church or have already left — especially on the grounds of a bad situation — these thoughts might help you start again, too.

1. You may grieve.

In many ways, leaving a church family feels like losing loved ones. These are the people with whom you’ve shared your struggles, your hopes, your ministries, and so much more. You’ve shared a spiritual connection with them that runs deep in your life. With bonds so strong, it makes sense that you are hurting and broken, but don’t let that hinder your faith.

As a Christ-follower, Satan will throw a thousand things your way — including church drama — to stop your work for Christ. You will experience fear, doubt, frustration, and more as you seek to honor the Lord and live for Him. I ask you, though, to please stand firm on the foundation of Christ and fight the good fight. Remember, the struggles of this life are temporary. In Revelation 21, God promises that one blessed day, all things will be made new, and there will be no more darkness or pain.

So, yes, you will probably need to grieve, but just remember that there’s a God who loves to give grace and comfort to His brokenhearted children, and He is working in the midst of the chaos for His purposes.

2. You may lose friends.

If you aren’t familiar with fair-weather friends, you may quickly find out what that means when you leave a church. These are the friends who are there for the good times but not the bad times. For whatever reason, they are absent in your trial. Maybe they don’t know what to say, so they say nothing at all. Or maybe they are afraid of what people will think of them if they get caught up in your situation. Whatever the case, they simply watch the situation unfold from a distance and let you handle it yourself.

We are called in God’s word to encourage, to strengthen, and to build up each other in our faith. In Romans 12, we read that the signs of a true Christian include rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and weeping with those who weep. Often, we find it easy to rejoice with each other, but we find it much harder to weep. We will send a text message or a Facebook message of “I’m praying for you” and neglect to physically go to the broken to weep with them, encourage them, or pray with them. Back when Romans was written, the church couldn’t hide behind technology; they had to be intentional with their ministry to each other, and it was very much an in-person type of ministry.

2 Cor 12-9
This is my desktop image at work and home. I need the constant reminder that God’s grace is enough and that His power is on me in my weakest moments.

But the greatest encouragement is this: While you may lose friends, you will never lose the love of God. If you are in Christ, the very spirit of God dwells in you, and He desperately wants you to go to Him with the tears and with the pain. He wants to hold you and to comfort you through any and all of your trials, pouring out His grace on you. My hope and prayer is that as you press into that truth, you will be as convinced as Paul was that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV).

Hold onto the truth that God is by your side in each and every moment; He will not leave you to handle your trials alone.

Plus, while some friends may go, others will stay. Don’t get caught up in the negative that you miss out on the grace. In fact, I’ve grown closer to a great friend because of my experience. God is bigger than sin, and He can absolutely bring about good in spite of it.

3. People may talk.

Being a Christian does not take away the sinful desires of our flesh, and one of the hardest sins for many to battle against is the desire to gossip. When you make any change in life, there is always the possibility that others will spread stories instead of coming to the source. Stories get twisted, added to, and taken away from the more ears and mouths they pass through. So eventually, the stories come back around to you, and what you hear is probably very far from the truth.

Words are simple little combinations of letters and sounds that, when combined, can be some of the most encouraging as well as the most destructive tools we have. Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (ESV).

Just a whisper — the tiniest of communication — can keep the damage going, so don’t add fire to the flame. Don’t be a whisperer and stir up quarreling. Instead, speak what builds each other up. Encourage each other and refuse to take part in gossip and slander. James 3:6 says that “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.”

Our speech has an incredible amount of potential to hinder others from coming to know Christ; therefore, we should constantly be alert and on guard about how we use the gift of words.

4. You may grow.

In leaving a church, you have the opportunity to get bitter or to get better. I’ve known families who have experienced church hurt and have decided to leave church life entirely, and to be honest, now that I’ve experienced some of the bad behavior that churches allow, I don’t blame them at all. The pain may last a long time. However, while they may not have been able to change the situation that led them to leave, they definitely had the opportunity to choose their response to it.

Even though the situation may be tough, you can choose to trust the God who has a plan and a purpose for everything. There’s not a single thing on earth from which God cannot receive glory. And if you know Christ, Romans 8:28 tells you that all things are being worked together for your good. If you have a hard time understanding how God can work out a bad situation for good — as many of us do from time to time — read about Joseph. I won’t give away the story, but in the end, he says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” (Genesis 50:20).

God used someone who was literally in a pit to save the lives of many. If you’re feeling lost in the pit after leaving your church, give your weakness and brokenness to Christ. He is the only firm foundation, and He will be your strength on the days when you simply cannot stand any longer. The beauty of our weakness is that in it, we are forced to look to and to trust the One who is above all. We learn much more about the faithfulness of our God, and we have the opportunity to let the dark times deepen our walk with Him.

You see, even though churches are broken and flawed, God is not. So don’t give up the best relationship you’ll ever know because you’re hurting. Instead, let God speak to you and teach you about His kindness and goodness during the change. Grieve as you need to grieve, seek out genuine Christ-followers on whom you can lean, and choose to grow in your faith rather than grow bitter about it. God will put you in the church and with the body to whom you should belong; don’t even worry about that part.

Remember, this is only a moment; don’t get distracted to the point you stop seeking each day for opportunities to share the love of God with someone. He still has a plan and a purpose that goes well beyond what you can imagine, and He will equip you to fulfill your calling. Choose to trust Him.