5 Questions to Consider Before Leaving Your Church

Before You Leave Your ChurchThere may be times where it is most appropriate for an individual or a family to leave their church. For example, if the teaching is unbiblical, the leadership is engaged in illegal conduct or unaccountable, or the leadership fails to address clear issues of sin occurring within the body. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but may help determine a few appropriate grounds to leave your church.

To be honest, in most cases choosing to leave is usually a bit premature, and you might miss out on what the Lord is trying to teach you. As a pastor who has experienced a lot of people leaving the church, and having left a few churches myself, I would like to encourage you to consider a few things before you leave your church.

#1 – Have you extended grace and the benefit of the doubt to the leadership?

I don’t know about you, but I can make up some huge stories and assumptions about issues I experience and observe. Sometimes those stories are accurate, but most of the time the stories I make up are deeply exaggerated, or at worst, totally unfair and inaccurate. Let’s be honest. We all do this. We see or experience something and we automatically apply intention and our own version of the story. I’m certainly guilty of this.

Not only does this cause us unnecessary frustration, anger, and pain, but it is also ungracious and downright unfair to the other party or parties. Instead, let us lead with the same grace that we have received from our Savior (who knows our true intentions) and extend the benefit of the doubt. Let’s honor our leaders and approach them in humility to seek to understand the “why” of the situation.

#2 – Have you shared your concerns with your leadership and allowed them to shepherd you through your decision?

The majority of the time, if I actually have the opportunity to sit down with a member who is leaving the church, I am usually receiving the final decision. When someone has made up their mind to leave, especially doing so in isolation, away from any feedback from leadership, they aren’t likely to be willing to consider at least slowing down their decision.

This is typically dangerous, harmful, and hurtful for a few reasons. First, your elders have been charged with caring for you and your soul. I’m sure they have dropped the ball along the way, after all, they are human, too. To approach your leadership with a final decision that none of your leaders have helped you to make is not respectful, but quite the opposite.

In the past 6 years of planting the church I pastor, I can honestly recall two conversations with people who were struggling with issues in the church who told me that they were considering leaving. While it was a difficult conversation to have, I believe it was encouraging and mutually beneficial. One of the families graciously stayed for another year, and then decided that they believed they could best serve the Kingdom in a different environment. I blessed them as they went and I still consider them friends. The other family is now one of our most faithful disciple makers and missionaries in the church.

Most of the time, if I am given any notice, it is in the form of an email. Often times there is a refusal to even meet to part ways in a biblical and gracious way. While this is disappointing, by God’s grace, I’m not carrying bitterness about this. It’s just the unfortunate reality.

In fact, one of the ways that you can determine if you should leave or not could be in how your leaders handle your concerns and offer explanation and vision on where they are hoping to go. This is especially important in a church plant since the first 10 years typically have a lot of movement and growing pains.

#3 – Is it worth hindering your spiritual maturity?

This is typically not something people consider, but let me put it out there anyway. In my observation, there are a lot of spiritually immature believers who have been in the faith for decades. Rather than go into all of the reasons for this (this is a topic for a different article), I will say, if you leave your church when things get rough, you are hindering an opportunity the Lord is giving you for your faith to grow and mature (see James 1:2-4).

Over the years, I have been guilty of having the ‘grass is greener’ mentality, even to the extreme of romanticizing previous experiences and using that as a comparison of my current situations. The reality is, there is no such thing as a perfect church. I know that many people who read this will give a hearty, “I know that…”, but when we are considering breaking fellowship with people, it is difficult to put these things into perspective.

The Lord uses our frustration to help us evaluate what expectations we had that are not being met. I would also like to propose that I believe the Lord might allow some frustration with your local church to prevent us from making our gathering an idol. Remember, a church is a gathering of imperfect people in order to bring our best offering to worship a perfect Jesus.

If you want to mature in life and faith, then position yourself to endure conflict or frustration, trusting in Jesus, so that your faith and character might mature. Otherwise, we will continue to see people who have been in the church for decades, but are only 3-5 years mature in the faith because they jump churches every 3-5 years.

#4 – Are you unable to communicate and handle conflict in a God-honoring way?

This is addressing the whole, “Fight or Flight” thing. Usually when we face hurts, disappointments, or frustrations we either grow silent or grow violent. The reality is, we often would rather part fellowship and go somewhere else than do the hard work of honoring the commands of Jesus to deal with sin and hurt directly.

I have often believed that conflict, when handled well, produces intimacy. The harder thing to do is to have faith that Jesus really does care about unity in His church and to do the hard work of having difficult conversations. It isn’t very fun, especially if this is new to you, but it is honoring to the Lord. After all, the outside world will know that we are His disciples by the way we love each other (See John 13:35).

As a church planter, I have met many people who come to visit our church after they had a conflict or have taken issue with their previous church. In most situations, I have encouraged them to go back and mend those relationships and to talk with the leadership about why they want to leave the church. When folks join our church’s after leaving a church due to unresolved conflict, they will likely part ways with us as well if they don’t learn how to biblically handle conflict.

#5 – Are You Burned Out?

If you have never experienced burnout before, then this may not even be on your radar. There are times when people are actually experiencing depression, which is a bit different, but I will allow the experts to handle that portion.

For the purpose of this article, I want to address burnout. Perhaps you are wanting to move on because you have been giving a lot of your time and resources to the church, or elsewhere in life, and you are finding no joy or satisfaction any longer. Perhaps your love and joy of doing what you do for your church family has turned into an obligated duty rather than joyful sacrifice.

I would strongly encourage you to share this with your leadership and ask for them to care for you during this time. It may be that it is time for you to leave the church, but I highly recommend not leaving a church while you are burned out unless the leadership does not have any sympathy for this.

If you tell your leadership that you are feeling burned out, (which is typically manifests as the, “I’m not being fed,” or other overly critical statements), and they love you and commit to walking with you, then I would first take some time for rest and reflection.

If the leadership is spiritually abusive and tells you to, “Man or Woman up!” and doesn’t try to shepherd your soul, then perhaps there are bigger issues at play here.

In general, I advise folks not to make any long-term decisions when they are experiencing burnout. I let them know that they are loved, appreciated, and will be cared for during this time. If they say they are not being fed, I will talk with them about how they can feed themselves, and how to prepare to hear from the Lord, understanding that there are likely several things out of whack in his or her life.

You may not be burned out from doing church work, but life is hard, and you may be experiencing burnout or depression. The best thing to do in those situations is to seek help before moving to another congregation. After all, you will still feel burned out there, and not have much to offer.

There are several other considerations that can be made as you prayerfully determine whether or not you should leave a church, but I believe these 5 questions will help serve you as you take an honest assessment of yourselves. After all, we are called to take the plank out of our own eye first…

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The 4 S’s of Parenting

Screenshot 2016-05-27 15.16.54As a youth minister, it was super easy to identify where the parents of the teenagers were going wrong. If they would do what my 22-year-old experience thought, then they would have it together and be able to engage with their kids. That was then. Now, 15 years later, and 2 kids in, I realize that my judgmental posture was more of me playing the ‘armchair quarterback,’ than profuse wisdom dripping from the lips of a brilliant youth minister.

Now that I have children of my own I now understand that parenting is hard work. At times, there aren’t simple solutions to the dynamic and complex problems of raising up souls that share our DNA, but are also different than us. There are times where I find myself fluctuating between strong convictions and a ‘fake it until you make it’ mentality.

As a follower of Jesus (a Christian) who believes the Bible to be true, I believe the command of Deuteronomy 6:4-7,

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

In verse 7, we see that it is the Christian parents’ responsibility to disciple their own children. This charge isn’t to be taken lightly.

I believe that there are four areas for parents to focus on. If they would, it could enhance their relationship with their children, and the trajectory of their kid’s development.

Here are the 4 S’s that can help your family grow and thrive:

1. Spend Focused Time – Life is busy, especially for family with many children. It is easy to be in the frenzied hustle together with our kids, while missing out on connecting with our kids relationally. While there are many examples of kid-centric homes, that is, homes where the kids rule the roost, I’m not advocating for that here. In fact, I think that a kid-centric home is a house that is heading for destruction. But, that’s content for another post altogether.

Parents need to focus on having time where they aren’t just interacting with their children on a transactional level, but on a relational level. Connecting transactionally is driven by performance, accountability, and getting things done. Connecting relationally involves understanding motives, thoughts, feelings, dreams, and fears. Parents often don’t realize that while we are trying to maintain authority, we are not leveraging opportunities to gain influence. Influence is the key to having a strong relationship with your children long-term.

2. Shepherd Your Children – You are THE most responsible person for your children on this planet (see Proverbs 22:6). God places a covenantal responsibility on parents to love, protect, provide, and lead their children towards Jesus. This can begin by taking them to a church that talks about Jesus, but that is not enough. Your faith must authentic at home. Your faith must be growing, and you must invite them along with you.

There have been times where I have had to change the way I think about how I love and lead my family, and the good news is, in Christ, it’s never too late for new beginnings! Which leads me to my third S.

3. Say You’re Sorry – Parents, we are human beings, who are sinners, who need grace from Jesus. I once heard a pastor friend say, “Mom & Dad’s, your kids need you to own your fallibility.” Modeling repentance, saying you’re sorry, and being the one who leads out for reconciliation will not only illustrate the Gospel of Jesus to your children, but it will also help you to build trust.

Recently, I told my 3-year-old daughter that I would have time to play with her in the morning, but life happens. I had to hurry up and get ready to go deal with an issue, and I stopped, got onto my knees and told her, “I’m so sorry for not being able to play with you. I told you that I would, but I am not able to now. Will you please forgive me?” She was sweet and said, “Of course!” and we hugged.

4. Seek Counsel – If we can get to the point where we no longer need to pretend like we have it together, then we can ask for help before things get to a “code red” crisis. No one I know has this thing all figured out. But, I do know that one of the benefits of connecting with a community of faith is that there are others who understand what you are going through. It’s nice when you can be around those who are in the same stage of life or have been in your stage of life and you can ask them for wisdom. Even if they were bad parents, you can still learn what not to do. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, in fact, it is a sign of strength and of faith. We can learn a lot from one another. Seeking counsel from those who are seeking to honor God in the way they love and lead their children will provide an opportunity for learning and encouragement.

Parenting is one of the most challenging tasks that I’ve had to undertake. There are few immediate gratifications, and often many of us wonder if we are doing more harm than good. Fortunately, Jesus is very gracious to make up for areas that we lack, and is able and willing to bring about great transformation, even in the most broken of families.

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Don’t Mistake Kindness for Weakness

photo-1450101215322-bf5cd27642fcMy eldest daughter and I like to watch the TV show, Shark Tank. She loves seeing all the new business ideas and the negotiations. We enjoy watching entrepreneurs and business owners pitch their ideas and fight for a good investment.

On one episode, the mild-mannered Shark, Robert Herjavec , makes a profound statement. It takes place during a negotiation with a potential partner, who is driving a hard deal.

Robert looks at his potential business partner with a serious gaze and says firmly, “Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.”

I remember how I felt when I heard him say that. It reminded me of the following verse in Romans 2:4:

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4 (ESV)

In this passage, the Apostle Paul is speaking to those who know God’s truth but are still running away and doing the opposite. These people are making a dire mistake: they presume that God’s kindness is a sign of weakness—which in reality is anything but! In fact, Paul goes on to speak of the impending wrath of God, which awaits those who do not turn from their sin and look to Jesus.

This verse demonstrates that the intended purpose of God’s kindness is to bring about a changed mind—repentance. Paul is saying that it is not primarily fear of God’s wrath that motivates us to repent; instead it is the power of God’s kindness. His wrath certainly awaits those who do not repent, but we already deserve His wrath, and in His kindness He leads us out of His wrath.

If you or someone you love is running away from Jesus, understand that the temporary comfort that comes from believing that God is okay with it is not the truth. His patience and kindness are an invitation for you—or for that person—to turn from those things and return to Him.

Those of us in preaching and teaching roles may feel tempted to ‘take sides’ when considering the wrath and the kindness of God. But in reality, we cannot have one without the other. If we are not growing in our understanding of the gravity of the wrath of God, then we cannot truly comprehend or experience the kindness of God.

We need to understand that the brokenness, despair, and pain in this life are evidences of the eternal consequences for our sin. Until we understand that, we cannot live with humility and awe of the profound gift of God’s grace given to us by His Son, Jesus.

Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that we wouldn’t have to face God’s punishment, but instead we can receive and enjoy Him. He saves us so that we can experience the unashamed love and grace that he purchased for us on the cross.

We all take God’s kindness for granted or functionally treat it as weakness. We are prone to wander. We are given to self-pleasure. We are easily confused about what we have been rescued from and whom we are being rescued to (see Ephesians 2:1-10).

My prayer is that we would reflect increasingly more on the love, grace, forgiveness, patience, and kindness of our God. By doing so, may he reveal to us areas of unbelief, that we might think more rightly of him and of ourselves in light of his grace.

His wrath is deserved, but his kindness is wooing us to repentance. Let’s walk in response to that great grace!

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