While it might seem odd for a Pastor to write a blog titled “Leaving a Church Well,” I for one think the subject has been ignored long enough! Sadly, I have seen too many members (now former members) of the church I pastor leave poorly. Even those who have said they were trying to leave the right way seemed to have butchered it somehow. It’s saddening and sometimes maddening.
Last month I read a little book study by Earl Blackburn titled Jesus Loves the Church And So Should You. I really wish every member of every evangelical church would read it. The book is a treasure trove of practical biblical instruction on all things church. To say this book is sorely needed, even among the members of the church I pastor, is an understatement. Chapter 17 is titled “When is it Right to Leave a Church and How Should it be Done?”
Practical to the core.
Blackburn writes, “To leave a church in a godly manner means to depart correctly (for the right reasons) through proper resignation of membership.”
Lots in that one sentence. Over the next few blog entries, I plan to present some of Blackburn’s points for us to ponder. For starters, he asserts there are only a few biblical grounds for a person to leave a church. I have argued this for years, only to be ignored by people refusing to engage with the biblical texts I have asked them to submit themselves to while considering whether they have good warrant to leave.
For Blackburn, here are the biblical reasons to leave a church:
- when a church departs from the gospel and the preaching thereof;
- when a church embraces and teaches heresy;
- when a church tolerates open and scandalous sin in the church leadership or membership and refuses to deal with it via biblical church discipline;
- when a church changes doctrinal positions not consistent with the church’s original Confession of Faith, doctrines, or practices (e.g., becoming paedobaptistic or charismatic);
- when a member (who is not under discipline) changes his major doctrinal position from that of his church;
- when a member is providentially moved to another location far away from his or her present church.
And there you have it. I think he nailed it. I have frequently told people that there are only about five reasons I would leave a church family. Blackburn’s list closely mirrors my own. And yet, the vast majority of members leaving churches in our culture do so for reasons other than those listed above.
Our view of the church matters greatly, friends! And whether we stay or leave, and how we leave if we do leave, speaks volumes about our relationship to Christ and His people. And those two things are always connected at the hip!
Next week, we’ll chew on some reasons NOT to leave a church.