Leaving a Church Well (Post #3)

Earl Blackburn’s little workbook Jesus Loves the Church and So Should You is worthy of every church member reading and working through.  I could see great benefit to small groups studying this material together, as well as incorporating some of it into a membership class.

For the last two posts, we have been reviewing highlights of the Chapter on “When it is Right to Leave a Church and How It Should be Done.”  Having covered the “when is it right,” let’s move on now to “how it should be done.”

If you are convinced you have biblical warrant to leave a local church, Blackburn says this is how you should do it:

  • With the Word of Christ dwelling in your heart and directing all your actions (Colossians 3:15-17);
  • With love to God and your brothers and sisters in Christ characterizing your exodus (1 Corinthians 13:1-8);
  • With the fruit of the Holy Spirit exuding from your person (Galatians 5:22-23);
  • With the mind of Christ governing your attitude (Philippians 2:3-4, especially see the context of vv. 1-12);
  • With the wisdom that is from above controlling your conduct (James 3:13-18);
  • With a forgiving spirit, void of bitterness, attending your exit (Ephesians 4:32; Hebrews 12:14-16);
  • With a sacrificial heart beating within you towards your brethren who remain (1 John 3:16-18);
  • With a face-to-face farewell (3 John 13-14).

Well, again, this makes me happy and sad.  I have almost never seen a church member leave this way.  I especially think the final point is important.  I have requested members leave this way, only to be ignored.  I can only believe that the reason a person would refuse to give a face-to-face farewell to their forever family in Christ is because he or she is leaving for wrong reasons!  

Blackburn then leaves us with these few practical suggestions:

  1. Seek counsel before deciding to leave, especially from your pastors and elders (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6);
  2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; in other words, leave as you would like to be left (Matthew 7:12);
  3. Clean up any unresolved matters before you leave (Ephesians 4:1-3);
  4. Leave in a way that does not cause confusion or division after you leave (1 Corinthians 14:33);
  5. Leave in such a way that you can be heartily commended to another church (Philemon 12 and all the verses that deal with commendation);
  6. Leave in such a way that your attitude and conduct will not hinder your coming back;
  7. Upon leaving, do not think or speak evilly of those who remain (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, especially v. 5);
  8. Make sure you know where you are going.  Do not leave without a plan as to which church you will go.  Many leave and stop going to church altogether.  Again, I remind you that the NT knows nothing of a churchless Christianity!

I am resisting the urge to write a 500 page book on #’s 1, 3, 4, 5, and 8!  In our church we have seen some seek counsel from pastors before leaving, only to completely ignore their counsel!  Rarely have we seen messes cleaned up and resolved prior to departure.  And usually pastors are left holding a bag of rottenness to try and explain to the congregation because the departing member is unwilling to give a face-to-face explanation to the congregation himself or herself.  This almost forces pastors to gossip!  And when it comes to #8, knowing where you are going, well, that just doesn’t fit with our church-shopping consumer mentality now does it?

As you can tell, this is definitely a sore spot with me.  I yearn for Christians to return to a biblical vision of church.  I pray often for God to make Corydon Baptist Church a radically different body of believers from the “typical” churches in our society.  And I believe He is doing just that, for His glory alone in the Gospel.  But for those who sometimes continue to treat the Church poorly and view her in more secular ways, we mourn.

I sometimes wonder what it will take to force American Christians to once again love the Church like Jesus does.  That thought scares me a little.  The Bible does say “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17).  And that is within the context of suffering and persecution.  This is how God has always purified His people on earth.

May we be a church ready to “suffer according to God’s will entrusting their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).

Our Lord and Savior suffered for the Church.  Why should we expect any different?

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