Mailbag

The Mailbag: How to Leave a Church

 

What is the biblical way to leave a church?

This is a great question that I’ve received from several readers. There are a lot of different circumstances that might cause someone to leave her church, and there are right ways and wrong ways to leave. I’ve been so grateful to hear from women who want to handle things biblically.

First, a couple of words of counsel that generally apply to nearly all situations when you’re considering leaving a church:

•In most circumstances, even bad ones, I would counsel against “ghosting” your church – simply disappearing with no explanation or goodbyes to anyone. When you’re preparing to leave, as appropriate to your particular situation, tell your pastor how much he has meant to you. Say a special goodbye to dear friends. Speak words of encouragement to your leaders and teachers. Search your heart for anyone you may have sinned against, repent, and apologize. Leave graciously.

•If you’re married, you and your husband will need to talk and pray together about whether or not to leave and how to do so. Be sure to remember that your husband is responsible for making the final decision and you are responsible for submitting to him.

Let’s talk about some of the more specific reasons you might have to leave a church, and what it would look like to leave well in each situation.

Death

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and you die unexpectedly, you’re off the hook. It’s OK to “ghost” your church. :0)

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and have a terminal illness, use some of your remaining time (if you’re able) to make a gracious exit. Take some time for special goodbyes. Discuss your funeral service and details with your pastor if applicable. Consider leaving a gift to your church in your will.

Moving or Temporarily Relocating

If you’re moving too far away to continue attending your church, let your pastor and those you’re close to at church know.

Do you know your new address and/or e-mail address? Provide it to the church office if you’d like them to keep sending you the church newsletter and any other mailings, and let them know if it’s OK to give that information out to other church members who would like to stay in touch. Make sure you have correct phone numbers and e-mail addresses for church friends you want to stay in contact with. If you’re not yet connected to a church in your new hometown, ask your pastor if he can suggest a good church in the area.

For those who are temporarily relocating (for example, college students or military families) and want to keep your membership in your home church, yet be active members of a church in your new location, find out if your new church has any sort of dual membership option (sometimes called “watchcare”). This allows you to maintain your membership in your home church while giving you membership benefits (voting, teaching, communion, or whatever your new church’s policies are) in your new church.

Switching from a good church to a church that’s a better fit for your family

Maybe the church you’ve been attending is a good one, but you’ve recently become more Reformed in your soteriology and you’d like to join another church in town that you more closely align with, theologically. Perhaps there’s a nearby church that has started offering programs and accommodations your disabled child could benefit from that your current church isn’t equipped to offer. Maybe, though doctrinally sound, your current church has switched to a genre of music that, even after giving it a good faith effort, still grates on you to the point of distracting you from worship, but another local church has music you’re more in harmony with.

None of these are reasons you absolutely have to leave a church. In fact, if your church is teaching sound doctrine, and the reason you’re considering leaving is a matter of preference or convenience, I would encourage you to try to work things out and stay at your current church if at all possible. It might be that God would have you start programs and accommodations for the disabled at your current church, or that He will begin to use the new music style in your life in some way. At the very least, when it comes to non-doctrinal issues like these, give it plenty of time, prayer, and serious thought before you leave.

Talk to your pastor (or appropriate elder) when you start thinking about leaving. This should not be an “If you don’t change X,Y, and Z, we’re outta here!” type of conversation. Be kind. Express your concerns or needs lovingly and biblically. Find out if there’s any information you need to know that would affect your thoughts about leaving. For example, maybe the pastor has also started becoming more Reformed and needs you to stay and support him as he begins transitioning the church in that direction. Maybe a lot of other church members have expressed discomfort with the new direction the worship music has taken and the leadership is considering changes that would make it easier for you to stay. You never know until you discuss it with your pastor.

If you come to the decision that you really need to move to another church, talk with your pastor again and let him know your decision. Take care of all of your church responsibilities before leaving: if you’re teaching a class with a definite end date, finish it. If you’re teaching a permanent class, let whoever is in charge of securing teachers know when you’ll be leaving so a new teacher can be found. Wrap up any projects or turn them over to the appropriate person. Resign any positions you hold. Don’t leave your brothers and sisters in the lurch.

When you say your goodbyes, it’s not necessary to disclose to everyone every detail of your reasons for leaving, but, if possible, try to stop any gossip before it starts by making sure people understand you’re not leaving because of someone else’s sin, unresolved conflict, false teaching, etc.

Leaving due to sin or false doctrine

The chairman of deacons is having an affair and nothing has been done about it. Your pastor just finished Bill Johnson’s book and is starting to teach New Apostolic Reformation false doctrine. Women have been preaching from time to time on Sunday mornings.

The most crucial time not to simply disappear from your church is when there’s sin or false doctrine in the camp. Jesus and the Apostles did not handle sin and false doctrine by avoiding it or ignoring it. They loved the people committing the sin and teaching the false doctrine enough to confront them – sometimes harshly, if needed – so that they might repent and be reconciled to Christ. We don’t run. We reconcile.

Just as God placed Esther in exactly the right position at the right time to help rescue His people, it could be that God has placed you in your church and given you a biblical understanding of the situation for such a time as this.

In cases of both sin and false doctrine, you should usually* follow the steps for church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-20:

1. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (15)

2. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (16)

3. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. (17a)

4. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (17b)

(*If you have knowledge that someone is imminently about to commit sin, especially if that sin will victimize someone else, and time is of the essence, gather the appropriate leaders and/or church members and intervene immediately. If a crime has been committed, alert law enforcement.)

In my article, The Mailbag: How should I approach my church leaders about a false teacher they’re introducing?, I’ve outlined some steps to take when approaching your pastor or lay leaders about using materials authored by false teachers. Most of this information can be adapted for dealing with issues of sin and church discipline as well.

If the sin or false teaching issue is resolved biblically, praise God, forgive, do whatever you’re able to do to be at peace with all involved, and stay at your church if at all possible.

If you have done everything you’re able to do to help bring about a biblical resolution to the situation and the sin or false doctrine is being allowed to continue, it’s probably time to leave and find a spiritually healthy church. Talk to your pastor or elders, and let them know you’ve decided to leave and why.

Attempt to leave as graciously as possible, taking care of your teaching/serving responsibilities, saying goodbye, making arrangements to stay in touch with friends, etc.

You will need to prayerfully consider the biblically appropriate way to explain to fellow church members and leadership why you’re leaving. Don’t slander people, make an unnecessary scene, or disclose inflammatory details indiscriminately on your way out, including on social media. However, it may be a situation in which those left behind need to know what’s going on so they can make an informed decision about how to address the situation or whether to stay or leave themselves. It may be appropriate to write out a calm, objective, scripturally annotated letter explaining your reasons for leaving, and mail or hand deliver copies of it to the appropriate people. You might need to talk to the denominational leadership board or organization that oversees your church. There are so many different possible scenarios it would be impossible for me to make a blanket statement as to what would or would not be biblically wise and appropriate in every single situation.

 

No matter your reasons for leaving your current church, your search for a new church to join with needs to begin as soon as you’ve made the decision to leave. If you need some help, ask your pastor or trusted Christian friends for suggestions of good churches, or explore the Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the sin of staying out of church, because for the Christian, Church is Not Optional. And that’s Non-Negotiable.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: My husband wants to stay at an unbiblical church.

 

There are unbiblical things happening in my church. I want to leave and find a better church. My husband wants to stay. Do I submit to him and stay at this church or go against his wishes and find another church to join by myself?

I receive some variation of this question several times a year, which absolutely breaks my heart. Normal, everyday disagreements in marriage are hard enough, but when it’s something this important that involves such a huge part of your life, it can be excruciating.

It’s also an impossible question for me to answer a) since I’m so far removed from the situation, and b) because every situation is different. All I can do is ask some questions and provide some resources that may help as you make your decision.

◊ Is the issue at your church actually unbiblical? Just because you don’t like something (the genre of music, that women wear pants to this church, that there are/aren’t age-segregated activities, etc.) doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unbiblical. Search the Scriptures. Is what is happening at your church clearly violating a chapter and verse, rightly handled, in context passage of Scripture?

◊ Are you fairly certain your husband is saved? Does he usually make godly decisions as he leads your family? The answers to these questions may give you some insight into your husband’s perspective on this church and help you understand his side of things better.

◊ Is this a “We must obey God rather than men” situation? Carefully examine that passage. Scripture has always been clear that we are to obey those in authority over us, and the apostles knew it. The only reason they disobeyed the authorities is because the authorities commanded them to do something that clearly conflicted with God’s Word. Is that the situation you’re in at this church? If not, Scripture is clear that you’re to submit to your husband.

◊ Don’t underestimate how greatly your submission could impact your husband. Scripture says it can make such an impression that God can even use it as a tool to draw unsaved husbands to Himself for salvation. If submission can soften an unsaved man’s heart toward salvation, perhaps it could soften your husband’s heart toward finding a better church.

◊ Is it possible that in obeying God’s instruction to submit to your husband in this circumstance God is keeping you in this church in order to give you an opportunity to serve Him by bringing biblical truth to bear on the unbiblical situation (in a godly way, of course)? Sometimes the solution to a problem at church is not to cut and run, but to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

◊ Submitting to your husband doesn’t mean you can’t pray for him and the situation at church. You should definitely be praying that your husband is making the right decision and that God will change his heart and mind if not. You should also be praying that you would have the right heart in this situation, praying for your children if they are also in the church, and praying that God would change the situation at church. Pray fervently about everything.

◊ Have you and your husband actually sat down and talked this through? If not, set aside some uninterrupted time in a pleasant environment, and carefully, prayerfully, and objectively (no histrionics) explain – citing clear Scripture – what is bothering you about the church. And then listen to what your husband has to say in response. If he is anything like my husband, he’ll probably bring up at least one good point you hadn’t thought about, but need to.

◊ Would it be helpful to bring in a third party to bounce the situation off of? Maybe a pastor friend you both trust, a spiritually mature couple you’re friends with, your parents or in laws, even a biblical counselor? Sometimes a fresh, objective set of eyes and ears can help.

◊ Is there a solution you and your husband can work out besides the two options of you staying or leaving? Do some brainstorming. Is the unbiblical situation at your church self-contained enough that you could arrange your attendance habits in order to avoid it? (For example: The women’s ministry only offers classes using materials by false teachers. Solution: You don’t have to attend those classes. Or, you could volunteer to teach a class that studies a book of the Bible. The “contemporary” service at your church uses Bethel and Hillsong music. Solution: Maybe your husband would compromise and go to the “traditional” service with you that only uses hymns.) Maybe your husband works a lot of Sundays and would be OK with you going to another church on those Sundays. Perhaps the two of you could reach a compromise of going to the doctrinally sound church you like every other Sunday, and the old church the rest of the time. What about a trade off? “If you’ll switch to this new church for me, I’ll do ____ for you.” Think outside the box, ask God for wisdom, discuss it with your husband, and see what you can come up with.

◊ Keep the perspective that God is using this situation in your life (your husband’s too) for his glory and your good. Maybe God will use this situation to grow your trust in Him, to strengthen your prayer life, to give you more practice in submitting to your husband, or to train you in the Scriptures. Whatever His purposes, He is doing it for a good reason. He loves you. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t abandoned you. He’ll bring you through this.

Conflict over church can be rough on a marriage, and the solution is not always easy. Pray without ceasing, obey God’s Wordseek godly counsel, and trust God to lead you.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Orange Curriculum, Jesus went to hell?, 1 Tim. 2:12 only for Ephesus?…)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourrri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar can be a helpful tool!


In the Apostles Creed, there is a section that states Christ descended into hell and was resurrected. Isn’t that what Joyce Meyer teaches? What about the part about the “holy catholic church: the communion of the saints”? Is that talking about Catholicism and the mass?

These are very common questions (I threw in the second part about Catholicism and the mass, since that’s also commonly asked.), and it’s good to ask, because if you’re confused, other people probably are, too.

The Apostles’ Creed says:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Amen.

It’s a beautiful, basic reiteration of the gospel which many churches and ministries use as part of their official statement of faith. Some churches even recite the Apostles’ Creed during their worship services.

The earliest written record of the creed is from AD 390, in Greek, so you can imagine that some of the terminology used had different connotations back then than those terms have in 21st century America.

Providentially, my friend, Pastor Gabe Hughes, was also recently asked this same question and addressed it both on his podcast and in a WWUTT video, so I’m going to let him do the “heavy lifting” of Scripture and history in the resources below and just give you the short and sweet version:

📜 You’re quite right in saying that Joyce Meyer teaches that Jesus went to hell between His death on the cross and His resurrection. The Bible doesn’t say this anywhere, and this is a heretical teaching. Just one of the multiple reasons no Christian should follow Joyce Meyer.

📜 The word “hell” in the Apostles’ creed is based on a mistranslation or confusing translation. The literal meaning of the phrase is that he descended into the grave or was buried.

📜 You might have noticed that the word “catholic” in the creed starts with a lowercase “c” rather than a capital “C”. The noun “catholic” with a lowercase “c” simply means the universal church – all genuinely regenerated Believers across the globe, past, present, and future. Roman Catholicism is (or at least by rules of grammar is supposed to be) denoted by a capital “C”.

📜 “Communion” in the creed does not refer to the Roman Catholic mass or even to the Protestant Lord’s Supper. A clearer word to us today would be “fellowship” or “unity”. The sense is that Believers commune with on another. 

Some churches have modernized and clarified the creed by replacing these phrases with “He descended into the grave” or “He descended to the dead” and “the holy Christian church.”

Additional Resources:

WWUTT Podcast #645– Gabe expands on the above video at the 30:15 mark

The Apostles’ Creed: Its History and Origins at Faithlife Blog


I was wondering if you could post your articles in a larger font. I have an old computer that messes up when I try to make the font bigger. My old eyes are a real struggle.

At first, I thought I was the only one having this problem, but I’ve gotten this question a couple of times, so I know it’s not just my own aging eyes :0)

I’m going to play around with the font a little bit and see if I can find one that’s bigger. Just a few things to understand as I’m working on it: WordPress gives me a limited number of fonts to choose from, and the sizes of those fonts are pre-set. In other words, I can’t set it to 12 point or 18 point, I can only choose from tiny, small, normal, large, and huge. (Right now it’s set on “normal” if you can believe that. “Tiny” is virtually invisible.)

Additionally, when I change the font size, it doesn’t just change the size of the font in the body of my articles, it also changes the size of things like the tags (to the immediate upper left of every article), the sidebar (far left of the page), and the tab titles (top of the page), which, as you can see, are already much larger than the font in the article body. When the font of those texts gets larger, it throws the layout of the whole page out of whack. You might not notice it on a desktop computer with a large monitor, but it can be problematic for people who are viewing the blog on a phone or tablet.

Like I said, I’ll play around with it and see what I can do, but if I’m not able to enlarge the font, there are two workarounds that may help:

1. The reader said she’s unable to change her screen magnification, but it works for me and might work for others. Here’s what it looks like on my computer. Maybe yours is similar:

2. If worse comes to worst, you can highlight and copy the body of the article, paste it into your word processing program, and enlarge the font accordingly.


I have been leading a women’s small group at our church for a couple of years now. My husband and I have decided to leave the church because, even after confronting leadership about the direction the church is being led doctrinally, they continue to espouse unsound doctrine. What do you think is a wise way to tell the ladies I will no longer be teaching? Do I tell them we are leaving? If so, do I tell them why? What do you think you would do?

It’s hard to say exactly what I would do because every situation and every church is different. But I can tell you that the first thing I would do is talk it through with my husband and ask his advice. There have been many times when he has had very good ideas about how to address (or not address) certain issues, and he will sometimes bring out an aspect of the situation that I hadn’t thought of before. I would encourage you to do that first, and also to make sure you’re submitting to your husband in whatever ways might be applicable in this situation.

My inclination is to advise you to take the “the less said, the better” route with regard to the whole class. (There may be other venues, such as you and your husband meeting with the elder board, in which you’ll need to clearly spell out all the problems, but let’s just focus on the class right now.)

I would probably wait until the end of the very last class and say something generic, like, “I’ve really enjoyed leading this class, but I wanted to let you know I won’t be teaching any more. I encourage you to continue studying God’s Word and growing in Christ. Class dismissed.” Then, go home fairly quickly.

The next level is going to be women coming up to you individually and asking why you won’t be teaching any more. Unless she’s a very close friend, I’d still keep it pretty generic: “We love our brothers and sisters at this church, but we’re finding we disagree with some of the doctrine that’s being taught here, and we’ll be going to a new church.”

For very close friends, you might wish to disclose more about the doctrinal problems, but do so wisely, making sure your focus is on doctrine, not on personal conflicts with the pastor or others. You don’t want people jumping to the wrong conclusion about why you’re leaving.

I really would not talk to people about leaving other than discreetly informing those who need to know. If you give details or talk about it a lot there could be an ugly blow up, and most people will make wrong assumptions about why you’re leaving.


Do you have any information on the Orange Curriculum for children’s Sunday School?

The main thing I know about the Orange Curriculum (or Orange Strategy) is that it is put out by Andy Stanley’s “church”. That’s enough for me to warn people to stay far, far away from it. Andy Stanley is a Scripture-twisting false teacher. You don’t want your children being taught by him or his disciples.

My friend Amy Spreeman over at Berean Research was asked the same question by a reader. I refer you to her article, Parents: If your church is “Turning Orange…” for more details.


How would you respond to someone’s who says that [1 Timothy 2:12] was meant only for that time and culture?

It’s one of the most common arguments made by people who are looking for an acceptable way to rebel against God’s clear command, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” I have never had a woman who was humbly seeking to deny herself and obey Scripture make this argument, only those who stubbornly want to have their own way despite what the Bible says, yet simultaneously want to cloak themselves in the appearance of obeying Scripture.

God gave us His exact reasons for this command in verses 13 and 14 (almost as if He somehow knew this argument was coming!), and those reasons weren’t restricted to the women in the first century Ephesian church. The first reason was the Creative order – Adam was formed first, then Eve. The second reason is that Eve was deceived. Both of those reasons are universal (applying to all women and churches everywhere regardless of era or culture). It makes no sense that these two reasons related to Eve would apply only to first century Ephesus any more than it would make sense for them to apply only to tenth century Damascus or seventeenth century Paris.

Next, examine the context of 1 Timothy 2. There are all sorts of instructions to the church in that chapter. Was the instruction to pray for governmental leaders (1-2) limited to the first century Ephesian church? Were only the men of the first century Ephesian church to pray without quarreling (8)? Was modesty (9-10) only required of women in the first century Ephesian church? Then why pick out this one instruction in verse 12 and claim it was limited to that time and culture?

Finally, look at the overall general pattern of male headship and leadership in Scripture. First human created? A man. The Patriarchs? As the word implies – all men. Priests, Levites, Scribes? Men. Heads of the twelve tribes of Israel? Men. Major and minor prophets? Men. All kings of Israel and Judah? Men. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants? All established between God and men. Authors of Scripture? Men. The forerunner of Christ? John the Baptist – a man. Messiah? A man. All of the apostles? Men. All of the pastors, elders, and deacons of churches in the New Testament? Men. Founder and head of the church? Christ – a man. Leader and head of the family? Men. Now which fits better with this pattern, women preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church, or women not preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church?

But the truth is, you can have all the biblical evidence in the world, and it’s not going to convince someone who’s in rebellion against Scripture because self is reigning on the throne of her heart. She’s not concerned with actually obeying God’s Word, she just wants to be able to claim that Scripture supports what she wants to do, either to look good to others or to attempt to drown out the Holy Spirit’s conviction of her sin.

Additional Resources:

Jill in the Pulpit 

Ten Things You Should Know About 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and the Relationship Between Men and Women in the Local Church at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) This is a refutation of the most common egalitarian arguments against the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.