Reasons to Leave a Church, part 3

This is the third of a 3-part series of posts addressing the question, “what constitutes a good reason to leave a church?”  The first couple of reasons were dealt with in the first post, and dealt with issues concerning the church leadership.  Yesterday’s post dealt with a couple of reasons related to a church’s theology and practice.  Today’s post deals specifically with conflict in the church.

So, the fifth and final “good” and “bad” reasons….

Good Reason #5 – There is no “good” version of this 5th reason, so let’s get right to the “bad reason”

Bad Reason #5 – conflict within the church – While #4 above may be the biggest component of the “consumer mindset”, I believe that this reason (conflict) is the number one reason why people leave their church.  It is the both the most prevalent reason, as well as the most unjustified reason.

A couple of weeks ago the History Channel aired a 3-night mini-series about the infamous “Hatfield and McCoy” feud that erupted between two families in West Virginia in the late 1800’s.  I found it ironic that in the movie’s adaptation of the feud, both families attended the same church.  Some folks can give testimony to the potential for feud-like conflict within the church, but most often the conflict is left unaddressed while the festering wounds of the conflict continue to cause pain for years.  Many have left their church home in such instances.

Scripture is filled with admonition to work out the interpersonal conflict we have with other people, especially within the church.  “Love between the brethren”, not bitterness or resentment or hate, is to be the defining characteristic of those who follow Christ (John 13:35).  Consider Paul’s exhortation to two women in the church at Philippi to “agree in the Lord”:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.  Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.  Phil 4:2-3

Resolving conflict in the Body of Christ can be messy and complicated, but Paul gives one of the keys in Philippians, chapter 2, verse 3:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Paul then goes on the explain that the kind of humility we need to have in our relationships with one another is the kind of humility that Jesus displayed in His coming from Heaven and dying on a Cross for those who were in rebellion against His Father (Phil 2: 6-11).

If you are in conflict with another person in the church, please don’t leave the church over this.  The hurt and pain that are a result of the conflict will not go away just because you move your membership to another church.  In reality, you will only be bringing that hurt and pain with you to the next church, and it will become the filter through which all of your new relationships are established.  Instead of leaving, please prayerfully, graciously, lovingly, patiently address the conflict in humility with a willingness to forgive and seek forgiveness where necessary.  If needed, ask a pastor/elder or another mature believer to help you walk through this conflict resolution.  Let the Gospel of Jesus Christ replace conflict with grace, and allow it to be a resolution that bring glory to God.

Conclusion – In over 10 years of pastoral ministry, I would have to say that the vast majority of those who left the church probably should not have left.  Of those who left because of good reasons, over half of them did not leave well.  Only a very small percentage of those who left, did so because of reasons that in my opinion are justifiable, and that when they left, they left well.  My encouragement to those reading this who are considering leaving their church home, is to prayerfully reconsider.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you can’t just do whatever you want to do….you gave up that right when you made Jesus Lord of your life.  Our obligation is to pray and ask God what He wants us to do, and then trust Him to give us the faith, patience, strength, and whatever else it might take…to obey Him.

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2 thoughts on “Reasons to Leave a Church, part 3

  1. Crystal- Great question. In addressing this question, I believe we should begin by stating explicitly that no pastor or “first lady” is infallible. We are all sinners in desperate need of daily grace. I make mistakes in ministry on an incredibly consistent basis and am often wrong in my assessment of what needs to happen. Because I know that about myself, I willingly submit myself to being held accountable both by the church as well as a body of fellow elders who serve alongside me in shepherding the church. When pastors (or anyone for that matter) begin to elevate themselves to the point where they are not held accountable to anyone else, then we run the risk of creating a monster…an unaccountable person who can do whatever they feel is right, regardless of whether or not it actually is.

    Parenthetically, a church’s ecclesiology (study of Biblical church leadership), is very important here. At NewBranch, we believe in a plurality of leaders who hold one another accountable at the highest level. This might be a good topic for another blog post some time, but I see my role as being an equal among peers on the elder board. I have no greater authority or responsibility than any of the other elders. This model of church leadership (which I believe to be the Biblical model), helps to alleviate situations of renegade senior pastors running rough shod over the congregation.

    That being said, when there is conflict with the pastor or “first lady”, I would suggest that there should be no difference in how things are handled. First pray. Is this something for which you can extend grace and overlook? If the Lord does not give you a peace about overlooking the conflict, then secondly, arrange to sit down with the pastor and explain the source of the issue/conflict and seek to walk through it with a Christ-centered and Gospel-focused perspective. In sitting down with the pastor, please try to believe the best about him. Don’t assume he is mean-spirited or intentionally trying to hurt people. Give him the benefit of the doubt, but explain the conflict and how it made you feel and what concerns it made you wrestle with. To be able to do this, it helps when we go to the person sooner rather than later. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how much more I appreciate it when folks come to me to talk through what might seem to be a “little thing”, rather than waiting for them to stew over it for several weeks or months and then bring me a whole laundry list of concerns that have built up over time. At that point, bitterness and resentment may have already found their root in your heart. So my encouragement there is to have this conversation early on.

    Finally, if after meeting with the pastor and expressing your concerns, there appears to be no willingness to address the conflict, then the member should pray hard about whether this is an issue that should be elevated to the level of church exposure, or whether the person should just leave the church. To me, it should be a decision of whether or not there is sin involved. If there is sin involved on the part of the pastor, then you have a couple more steps to go through according to Matthew 18. Namely, bring one or two witnesses with you in order to address the sin and give them an opportunity to repent, and then lastly to bring them to the elders to have the church address it. However, if it is not a clear issue of obvious sin, but rather an ongoing conflict between yourself and the pastor, and after addressing it directly with the pastor and seeing no willingness to address the concern, then I think that person should pray fervently about whether God may be leading them to leave the church. It could be that in order to protect the reputation of Christ in the church and in the community, it would be best for that person to graciously leave that church.

    On the occasion that this is a real life situation for you, I will be praying for the Lord to give you clarity, wisdom, and grace to walk through this with your pastor.

    Thanks for the question.

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