Should you leave your Church?
I was asked on a question panel what reasons are there to leave a Church. Perhaps a reputation as a serial Church leaver has gone before me? Since 1987 I have been in six churches and my reasons for leaving them have varied and yet weren’t really different. Despite surface appearances the issue was always “Is this the best place to serve?” Two occasions my husband and I were positively and publicly ‘sent’ to serve elsewhere and on three occasions we left. Why?
I am not going to use this blog to tell those stories in detail although I may write about them more one day; suffice it to say that each move was painful. The first of the three came when a Church clearly rejected gospel ministry, it wasn’t just us but the gospel minded vicar that was hounded out of the parish. The second was complex, it came due to conflict within the leadership team, personalties played a part too and leaving was least divisive for the Church, far better for us to go and serve elsewhere. The third reason was doctrinal: we were faced with a leadership team that was ‘permitting space for disagreement in the area of human sexuality’ (I have written about this in a previous blog  ). We were constrained by conscience to leave.
A wise friend once said that there are three questions to ask yourself in order to decide whether or not to join a particular Church: Is the gospel preached here week by week? Would I recommend it to Christians moving to the area? Would I be happy to take my unbelieving friends there? They are not bad questions to ask. But there are others — how can I serve here? Or even — am I needed here? Are my gifts best used here? I think these are questions we should keep asking ourselves even when we are settled and have been part of a Church family for years because if the answers change it is probably time to consider leaving.
But what about leaving a Church when you are really happy? We have left two churches that we loved. Both times because we believed that we could serve and evangelise more effectively elsewhere. We have always thought that being comfortable somewhere is not a good enough reason to stay. One day we will enjoy being part of God’s beautiful bride for eternity but now is the time for all of us to be engaged in telling others the gospel. We will not all be pastors, teachers or evangelists but every member of the Church family has an important part to play. We have to ask ourselves is this the best place for me to be to serve the gospel?
There are large swaths of our country (world) where there is little gospel witness. There is a disparity between areas where there are many large Churches and areas where the gospel ministry is sparse. Don’t mistake me; large thriving Churches are great - my husband and I benefitted hugely from the ministry of one; it had a particular strength in equipping the saints for works of service and then sending them out. This needs to continue - sending people out and not just the ones who are going into full time paid Christian ministry but the ‘tentmakers’ too.
Many Churches are now sending people out as groups to plant churches which is hugely important although often (but not always) this limits their geographical reach. Not many groups of 30 can move on mass to live and work in an entirely different part of the country. We still need individuals in the pews to keep asking ‘how can I serve?’ and ‘where should I serve?’ We need individuals prepared to uproot, move to new areas and look for new jobs and schools. We need individuals who are constrained by circumstances to remain in a geographical area to be prepared to leave a loved Church family to help a weaker, frailer, less important, less happening Church down the road. We need to call people to radical discipleship. There are many reasons for leaving a Church. Church is a blessing we enjoy and will continue to enjoy for eternity but our call now is to go and make disciples, and as I wrote in my previous blog many faithful Churches are saying ‘We need help’ and the gospel needs to be heard everywhere.
 The Church is God’s means of building up his people - we all need the nurturing and care that the Church gives. There are times when we should not consider leaving, we may need to be further equipped, we may have responsibilities to fulfil, or we may be facing particular personal issues which mean we need to be on the receiving end of the love and support of our Church family. But the Church is there to equip us for works of service (Ephesians 4:12) which may or may not be in our current setting.