When Is It “OK” for Church Members to Leave?


It's painful, but sometimes a departure can be a good thing.

When is it OK for a member or attender of your church to leave?

First, let’s state the obvious. It’s never just “OK.”

When someone leaves by choice to go to another church in your community, it’s a dagger through the heart. If someone says differently, they’re lying. Few things are taken more personally by church leaders, and the community left behind, than someone leaving. It feels like rejection, abandonment, even betrayal.

But that doesn’t mean that sometimes a departure can’t be a good thing.

For example:

When someone leaves because they have been confronted with harmful, abusive patterns of sin in their life that were harming the community, and they refused to repent;

… that’s a good departure.

When someone disagrees with the church’s historic mission, doctrine or values, and openly tries to make their case at every juncture to new believers or members;

… that’s a good departure.

When someone vocally refuses to trust, follow or support leadership that truly deserves to be trusted, followed and supported;

… that’s a good departure.

Now, having said this, I am not saying that leaders should have a cavalier attitude toward such departures. I consider each one a personal sense of failure or loss that we weren’t able to “reach” them and bring them into the community in a more healthy and holistic way. Separating from a church, and the tough confrontation that might have been called for on the front end, is always saddening.

And I am not saying there aren’t times when people should leave a church—and have God on their side! There are churches that lead people astray, teach falsehood, allow patterns of abuse and more. If that’s your setting, don’t leave … flee!

But that still leaves a lot of departures ill-defined and ripe for emotional discouragement.

On both sides.

And that’s where I want to offer encouragement.

James Emery White James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

More from James Emery White or visit James Emery at http://www.churchandculture.org/

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