If you’ve been engaged in a church community for any length of time, you imagine the blissful fellowship will never end—the hilarious dunk tank in the community park, the annual yard sale, the youth car wash, and the missions trips. You remember when your small group prayed for you when you were awash in sorrow and how the whole church rallied around a family in a time of deep need. You’ve been the first one in and the last one out. You have given hours of time and talent to the church and your money and your whole heart because you believed God was doing something amazing in your community.
And now, you’re not sure if you should stay there anymore.
Some of your friends have already left—a couple of your friends from small group, a respected Bible study leader, and people who served in major ministry positions. There are murmurs of this and that, and you don’t know what’s true anymore. You don’t know who to believe.
But really, if you’re honest, it just doesn’t feel the same anymore. Instead of jumping out of bed on Sunday morning, you think about sleeping in—just this Sunday. The sermons seem, well, boring. You don’t tear up when you sing your favorite worship song. And communion—it doesn’t feel all that sacred. You’re absolutely starved for something more, something real, something authentic and you didn’t even know it until a friend told you about his or her church.
Maybe the grass is greener on the other side, you think, because it doesn’t seem like the seeds you are sowing at your church are growing at all.
You are discouraged and possibly suffering from ministry burn-out. You thought if you built a great ministry with the vision God has given you, they would come. And you realize you don’t even want to come anymore.
So, the question pressing on your heart is—should I stay at my church or should I leave my church?
You’ve been seeking God’s Will and asking Him to make it completely obvious to You. You desperately want to see your church change, the leadership to turn from its pride, and for your ministries to become a beacon of light in the community. You love your church and (most of) the people inside it. You don’t want to leave. You don’t want to start over. You just want your church to be how it used to be.
I don’t have all the answers; I just have my story. (See The Church We Leave Behind) As I wrestled with all of the above, I said to myself, almost in jest if this, this, and this happen, then I will know God wants me to leave my church. I never, ever thought all those things would happen, but over the course of five months, they ALL happened. As I did Jennie Allen’s Restless study with a friend, I knew that my restless heart needed to find a new home. My soul was beat down, burn out, and in desperate need of spiritual food.
Going to services at my church was gut-wrenching. I stayed because I loved working with the teenagers and didn’t know what would happen to them if I left. As things got worse, as ministry became controlled and micromanaged, as it seemed appearances and numbers were more important than people, I knew I had to leave.
My best friend and fellow small group leader and I prayerfully developed an exit strategy to help transition our students. However, as soon as our replacements were found, we were essentially told if we were leaving, we should just leave. While it offered no closure, it did get me out of a bad situation sooner than I anticipated. The swift severing of fellowship left me wounded and bleeding.
But not everyone is called to leave. When the Northern Kingdom of Israel went into the first captivity with the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom of Judah went second captivity with the Babylonians, there was always a remnant that remained in the land. In fact, the Ezra-Nehemiah narrative shares about how Nehemiah, a cup bearer to the king, longed for the land of his forefathers and returned from captivity to restore Jerusalem. He faced oppression from outside foes, yet Nehemiah led his people to build a wall of protection around the city. (For more information, read Nehemiah-The Man Behind the Wall.)
We all want to be Nehemiah’s. We want to take the ruins of our broken church and use them to build something better for the women’s ministry or the children’s ministry or the youth. We want to be the change and to see dry bones dance again because we know all things can be redeemed through God’s power. We look at our own lives as examples of this. We are the Redeemed people.
If you stand up against the wrongs you see in your church, you could become a target of abuse and gossip. If no one talks about what is going on, why people are leaving, and how it can change, it never will. There are some warriors that no longer have the strength or will or call to fight anymore, but maybe you do. Abuses of power, which can also result in spiritual abuse, will continue if no one stands up to the church bullies. You may be called to speak truth into the silence.
It comes down to this—what is God telling you to do? Fast, pray, ask for advice, and seek a network of support. You cannot and should not do this alone. Leaving a church is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and sometimes staying is even harder.
Hold tight to the good memories of your church because that is something staying or leaving can never and should never erase.