How to deal with leaving your church

How to deal with leaving your church

Should I, or shouldn’t I?

It was a question I constantly asked myself during an extended season of tension with my church community. And as time ticked away, the tug in my spirit became stronger. Though I had made progress with individuals at my church, despite various shortcomings on both sides, there eventually came a point where all movement toward reconciliation stalled.

It was during this time when I made the hard decision to move on from this church community.

The process was dizzying; I sensed the need, ignored it, and wrestled with it. But ultimately I had to respond to it.

I look back on this season with mixed feelings. I recognize that, while moving on was necessary, it was also very messy. Feelings were hurt and people were left wondering what went wrong.

Within the book of Acts, we get a bird’s eye view of the first and most famous parting of ministry leaders, that being the Apostle Paul and Barnabas. Each man was listening intently to the Holy Spirit, and each felt the need to tell others about Jesus. But they were also very different people, prone to different points of view. To the point where working together simply became counter-productive.

So their ministry partnership came to an end. And though it wasn’t ideal, life (and ministry) continued.

With all of this in mind, if I could sit my former self down and tell myself how to deal with leaving a church community, I would without a doubt include the following:


In any transition, it’s important for us to honour those in leadership. This means allowing the people who have helped form and shape us be part of our journey, from sharing hard conversations to being honest about certain tensions. These individuals have built in to our lives; we, in turn, must be transparent and sincere, even if (and when) it feels uncomfortable.


The way we conduct ourselves in and through our move is crucial. Are we striving to be sensitive to others and to the relationships that we’ve formed, or are we painting a picture of dysfunction? There is nothing wrong with telling others the truth of our situation, but when we overshoot or undershoot the truth (as is often the case), we are leaving a path of emotional destruction that opens the door to various slings and arrows.  This kind of “scorched earth policy” is never the best policy.


Let’s be honest; stepping out into something new can be (and mostly is) really hard. It’s acting contrary to that selfish voice within us that says, “The world out there is cold.  Stay here, where it’s warm!” But when we get to the point where we are truly being led by the Spirit of God, those thoughts become nothing more than weak, desperate attempts at keeping us paralyzed.

In an earlier article, I put forth the idea that God often asks us to be catalysts of change within our current communities.  I believe this to be absolutely true.  But I also believe there are moments when healthy separation is the best course of action. Ultimately, to trivialize this journey as a simple decision of whether to stay or go is discounting the deeper question of, “Am I being led by the Spirit of God in my life?”  This is where we have to begin — with all decisions — flowing from a deep sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

There may come a day when the next step you take is the first in a new direction.  Maybe you’re in the midst of taking that step right now. Or maybe you’re struggling with the whole thing. It’s possible you’re feeling like I did: a weird mix of guilt, frustration, sadness, and relief, with tension arising from the fact that moving on is the imperfect solution for those of us who remain imperfect.

But the truth remains — in the midst of our brokenness, God uses seasons such as these to breathe life into that which was previously lifeless.



Flickr photo (cc) by bokeh burger