How (Not) to Leave a Church

Once in awhile, people will ask me questions about leaving their church. They want my advice and opinion on it. This happened again very recently.

Because I’ve received this question countless times over the years, I’m posting my general response here. Before you read what follows, I want you to get clear on this: there are always special circumstances and exceptions to what I’m about to say.

What I’ve written here is merely my personal opinion for those who desire to hear it. It’s based on the last 30 years of watching people leave churches (of all different kinds) and the results I’ve witnessed . . . both good and unmentionable.

Five points to begin with:

1. I have never asked anyone to leave a church nor have I encouraged a person to leave one. It’s simply not my place to do so. Except in rare situations where someone was being abused, I actually encourage people to stay in their church. Unless God specifically and clearly leads them out. Or it violates their conscience to stay involved.

2. I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t leave a church unless the Lord clearly directs you to leave and your family has come to a consensus on the matter. I’ll simply add that I will never understand why some people leave beautiful churches while others stay in abusive or dead churches. See my post on What Ever Happened to Perseverance? where I give examples.

3. If you leave a church, you should seek fellowship elsewhere. If you can’t find a fellowship before you leave your church, be prepared for a time in the wilderness. And be careful not to complain when you’re in it. It could last awhile. So count the cost before you make your exit.

4. Strong, healthy, Christ-centered churches that are neither legalistic nor libertine are very hard to find in our day. This includes both institutional churches and non-institutional churches. They do exist, however.

On that point, I always find it amusing when someone says, “There are no good churches (organic or organized) that exist because I’ve tried looking and I can’t find any.”

That’s like saying, “There are no Publix Supermarkets because I’ve looked and never found one in my town or state.”

Good institutional churches and non-institutional churches do exist. But both are relatively rare in my experience and observation. And this has always been the case, even in the first century. (A large chunk of your New Testament is made up of letters that were written to churches experiencing major problems.)

5. There is no perfect church. If you expect to find one, you’re mistaken and you may prove dangerous to any Christian community. Read Bonhoeffer’s Wish Dream which expands that statement.

The idea of a perfect church cuts both ways. When the issue of what the Bible teaches about church life and practice is brought up, some dismiss it by saying, “There is no perfect church. So it’s pointless to examine what the Bible teaches on the matter. Just find any church you like” (or words to that effect).

This is no different from saying, “There is no perfect Christian. So it’s pointless to examine what the Bible teaches on the matter of Christian living. Just live the way you like.”

On the other hand, for the person who is looking for the perfect church, you won’t find it. It doesn’t exist, and it has never existed. And if it did, it would no longer be perfect when you arrived . . . unless of course you believe you’re a perfect person. ;-)

If you can find a group of Christians who love Jesus and want Him over “things,” who desire fellowship and community, who aren’t legalistic or libertine, and who know the basics of what it means to love others (i.e., treat others the way they want to be treated), then you’ve found something precious on this earth . . .  regardless of the “form,” the meeting location, the size, or “denomination” it may take.

That said, for those of you who asked (or will ask), if God clearly leads you to leave a particular church, here are my suggestions on what not to do:

1. It’s not a good idea to meet with your pastor in person and tell him/her all the things you don’t like about the way he/she runs the church. In addition, it’s unwise to criticize his/her sermons. Unless of course you want to be boiled in olive oil or roasted over a slow spit.

Seriously: Complaining about what you don’t like or what you don’t think is “biblical” to a church leader is a study in insanity most of the time. If you do this, prepare for a lot of unnecessary defensiveness and anger targeted at you. And don’t be so naïve to think that people are going to be swayed by your peerless arguments. Most won’t.

At the end of Reimagining Church (Chapter 15), I explain in some detail what you can expect if you try to change a church that you’re attending. It’s not advisable.

And for the two people out there who see themselves as prophets: There’s a big difference between being a genuine prophet and presuming on the role (the “persecuted prophet complex” as I call it). Make sure you are clear headed enough to know the difference.

What’s the alternative?

Most wise people I know who left a church graciously wrote a letter to the leadership simply explaining that the Lord was moving them on. They added thanks for what they learned and gained, and ended by saying that they haven’t committed apostasy, they still love the Lord and are following Him, so there’s no need for the reconciliation committee to pay them a panic visit (or words to that effect).

If you were a hefty tither to the church, this may not work. The committee may visit you anyway. But you can try.

2. It’s not a good idea to give your pastor or the people in your congregation books or articles that challenge what he/she is doing. There’s an excellent chance that those books and articles weren’t written to or for pastors or to or for people who are content with church.

I can’t speak for others, but this is absolutely the case with my books, Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church. Those volumes were written specifically for people who already left the institutional form of church as we know it or who feel in their gut that church can and should be much different, but they aren’t sure why they feel this way.

These books are not for leaders or for people who enjoy church as we know it.

3. This next point is on the par with the Law and the Prophets: Please don’t take anyone else with you. Meaning, nevah evah cause division. That includes after you leave as well as during your departure. This also includes corrupting your friends who attend the church with your complaints against the church and/or its leaders.

It also includes trying to recruit them away from the church by giving them “subversive literature” that you know will cause them confusion. Barna and I actually warned about this in the very beginning of Pagan Christianity, saying,

(At this moment, all the rebellious hearts are applauding and are plotting to wield the above paragraphs to wreak havoc in their churches. If that is you, dear rebellious heart, you have missed our point by a considerable distance. We do not stand with you. Our advice: Either leave your church quietly, refusing to cause division, or be at peace with it. There is a vast gulf between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true.) Pagan Christianity, p. 5.

And again near the end:

We hope that this book will give God’s people permission to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wherever that may lead them. No one should feel pressured to remain in a particular type of church if he or she feels the Lord is leading him or her out of it. And no one should feel pressured to leave, either. With that in mind, the advice we would offer to those who feel called to leave the institutional church [or any other kind] is threefold. 1) Leave quietly and do not take anyone else with you. In other words, do not cause division. 2) Resist becoming bitter against the institutional church [or any other kind]. If you have been hurt by people in it, take your pain to the cross. Harboring bitterness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to get sick. Few things are as lethal. 3) Actively seek Christians to fellowship with around Jesus Christ. Pagan Christianity, p. 269.

Just because God may be leading you out of a particular church doesn’t mean that He’s leading everyone else out. Now or in the future.

If you leave in a Christ-honoring, gracious way, I believe the Lord will be pleased. If you leave in the flesh, I can promise you things will be very difficult afterwards. Not a good beginning to start a new season on. I can singe your ears with horror stories, but this post is already too long.

Again, there are always some extraordinary exceptions to all of this (like if your church is involved in criminal activity. Then calling the authorities might be a good idea). But in general, for the vast majority of cases, that’s my 13 cents on the matter.

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Comments

  1. Dishon says

    Great article, Frank. I just started reading your blog and your book, Pagan Christianity. This article really hit home for me especially when you mentioned how former church attendees can become bitter and rebellious. I have attended an institutional church (building) since I was a child. I am still a member of an institutional church. However, I attend services very infrequently. In the past few months, God has started showing me how the Body of Christ is adhering to false doctrines that are not aligned with scripture. He first showed me how tithing is part of the old covenant and is not for New Testament believers. With this knowledge that I have received, I have really wanted to connect with other believers who also have this knowledge.

    The problem that I am running into is that when I do find groups of believers who have this knowledge, these people are usually extremely bitter, cynical, and sometimes downright rude towards their former church leaders and even other believers who have not received knowledge of the truth. They posts pictures on the internet that insult other Christians and even call them “dumb sheep.” I don’t agree with this type of behavior and I feel everything should be done in love. Why can’t we just teach others what we know to be true without being cynical and rude?

    I don’t know what I should do. I feel all alone with the knowledge I have received and I don’t want to associate with believers who are cynical or rude. I even tried to teach my mom how tithing is not for New Testament believers but she became very defensive and pretty much shot everything I said down. I am not upset at my mom about that because a couple of years ago, I probably would have done the same thing because I had never studied what tithing really was.

    I just want to connect with believers who have this knowledge but teach others in love. Do you have any social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook) where I could connect with your other readers? Also, I am 31 years old and single. Will you please pray with me that God will connect me to a man to marry who has also been given knowledge of God’s Word and what He really wants for his church.

    Thank you for all you do.

  2. Gavin says

    It’s always worth asking “If there was only one church in a town how would you deal with thinking you should leave?” Many people move on because they don’t want to deal with issues properly, or to have to work through differences. Who knows…they might EVEN have to forgive people!!! It is too easy to be offended, too easy to move, too easy to brush over issues, and too easy to throw grenades at somewhere, or someone you are moving on from to justify not doing fellowship the Jesus way. Many people who move have a track record of falling out with people and/or leadership and then strangely enough hear from God that it’s time to move on…..because they don’t have to forgive and resolve…they are different from everyone else. It is just a matter of time before it happens again. Until we learn how to resolve differences in the right spirit this will be a constant problem and a source of much pain for those doing the leaving, AND those being left.

    • says

      Your point especially applies to organic missional churches where people live in community. As I put it in “God’s Favorite Place on Earth,” a person’s true character is exposed when they get hurt by others. I’ve seen some people — though very few thankfully — who sought to destroy through outright lies the churches they left simply because the saints didn’t meet their expectations. This kind of behavior exposes the depths of the Fall and how very small some professing Christians are. It shows they knew nothing of the cross or of Jesus Christ.

  3. Chukwuemeka Quentin Chukwu says

    Thanks brother Viola. I have been having some hardtimes with the Church I worship in, but just realized that taking my issues to the cross is worth more than leaving the church, or criticizing the Church. In the letters to the Churches, the Apostles only rebuked and did not criticize. I think we ought to follow closely the footsteps of our mentor, Jesus Christ.

  4. Nathan says

    This is one of my favorite posts written by you Frank.. I think I made at least half of the mistakes you mentioned. Thankfully, God is gracious and has a way to work things out.

  5. Summer says

    “But… but, but…”
    Oh this is so hard. I had already left my church of 20+ years (childhood) before reading any of your books. I just knew it was time, but was still very unaware of why.
    I’m struggling not to make my exploding ideas and views known while still being passionate and thought-provoking. Oh the effects of social media!
    I’ve made some mistakes already… but for the most part I was cautious enough thanks to the Holy Spirit. The difficult part has been the people who left the church hurt wanting to know why I left, and through hurt eyes, I have to be careful what I share because it becomes ammo really fast in their hands!
    A good friend of mine and I have been blessed to discover we left at similar times without discussing it and ended up looking at other churches before reading Pagan Christianity. We ended up in the same place and, believing the Lord has given us each other, we have been a great encouragement to one another on this, otherwise, lonely road.
    We are still looking for an organic meeting… but, honestly, I think one of the house meetings I have attended off and on for years is so similar to what you describe as an organic meeting… I’m thankful I have that. In fact, it was those meetings that lead to me realize there has to be more and the experience of everyone giving something at the meetings was so unique, rare and beautiful!
    Thank you so much Frank for your wisdom and the time you take to share this with us.
    For me, its just the beginning. Some days I’m exciting and ready for it… other days I wish I could just go back to whatever bliss I had before it stopped making sense!

  6. Helen says

    I have spent over 30 years in all kinds of churches believing only that I was a sinner saved by grace and that when I die I would go to heaven. However, in these last few years, our famiy has undergone some life changing encounters with the beautiful person of Jesus Christ. I didn’t find Him in church, I found Him in the garbage heap my religious life had become and He is continuing to encourage me in my new life in Him. I cannot explain the miraculous healing that He is ushered in to our family,it is overhwelming. I cannot go back to an institution, I cannot face the pyramid structure and controlling heirachy. I want to experience a community of believers that walk with each other and The Lord from here to eternity. What next?

  7. Greg Yackley says

    Frank,

    Thanks for the great post. Especially beware of the church where the pastor is telling you I will hear from God and not you/you should stay at the church even if there is abuse/ God has placed ME over you AND DO WHAT I SAY I have encountered this practice.. Its control. I also agree with the going into the wilderness if you do not have a church to go to after departing… we learn so much when we are in the wilderness. Thanks again

  8. Ryan Self says

    This is an excellent post and I think point #3 (If you leave a church, you should seek fellowship elsewhere) is especially important. As a young adult, I know of several friends who stopped attending a church for various reasons, some very legitimate, some incredibly vague. But many seem to stay outside the church because they just can’t find the “right” church, which also makes point #5 important as well. Considering I live in West Texas, the Bible Belt, not being able to find a church to regularly attend seems to be an issue of impossible expectations rather than being unable to connect with a church. Thanks for your posts, Frank.

  9. Joy says

    I wish I’d read your advice about not talking to the Pastor about what we don’t think is Biblical because now I am only more confused . He says things like “The story of Daniel in the Old Testament is a fable.” And “Heaven isn’t a place , it’s a state of being.” and “God is pure Spirit and beyond all names and gender , so if we call Him Allah , it’s still God because there is only one God and if we need to think of God as our mother to relate to God , that’s fine too.” BTW , I am Catholic . In the same day , which happened to be Trinity Sunday ; I heard God referred to as “our Father or mother,” in both a Catholic Church and at the Methodist service I attended with my Godmother . I feel lost , and like I have nowhere to go that isn’t new-age , or basically flat out pagan ! What would you suggest in this situation. I believe the time has come as the Bible says when men will not accept sound doctrine . Help !!!

    • Roger says

      Joy, why don’t you look on the Internet or your phone book for evangelical churches near you? You seem to have experience in liberal churches only. That’s where this is coming from.

  10. Jiminator says

    Hey Frank,

    Grateful to have discovered your blog and your podcasts! Our small group has just kicked off a group study of “The Untold Story of the New Testament Church”, and most of us have recently finished “Pagan Christianity?” and have started “Reimagining Church”.

    Our church pastor strongly encourages us to base our small group study on his weekly sermon notes, so he is somewhat unhappy and suspicious (in Jesus’ name) with our decision to use a different study. Our group has been surprised to realize jointly that several of the songs and messages from our institutional church services reinforce a traditional religious point of view instead of what we have learned about ecclesia.

    While no one in our small group has spoken this out loud, there is no question that we all are considering house church. Please include our group in your prayers as we seek God’s direction. While we want others to experience the freedom and abundant life that we have found with our greater understanding of the new covenant, we do not want to be disrespectful to our existing institutional church family.

    Are there any active house churches that you are aware of in southeast Mississippi (we live in Laurel, zip code 39440)? If there is something within 100 miles my wife and I would like to visit. Southern Alabama and Pensacola FL would be close enough as well.

    Thanks!

    • says

      Jim. If you don’t want to be “disrespectful to your existing church family,” then why are you going against your pastor’s wishes on this? If this small group is attached to the church in any way, I think it’s a mistake to be reading those books in your small group. I can’t endorse that. It actually cuts across the very things I said in this post (maybe you just skimmed it and didn’t read it carefully?).

      If you and this group of people want to study those particular books, set up a separate meeting for that which is unrelated to the church. Or if you want to study something of mine in that group, I recommend Jesus Manifesto or From Eternity to Here or Revise Us Again. Also, I cannot recommend any house churches as I’m not an advocate of house church. See my post on organic church vs. house church for an explanation. In addition, as long as you’re still involved in a church, I wouldn’t feel comfortable pointing you to check out other groups. It would be different if you were “churchless,” and I knew something near you.

      • Jiminator says

        Thanks Frank! Much to consider, and I appreciate your candid reply. As I listened to your podcast recorded in Las Vegas on my way in to work this morning I realized that I used “house church” when I intended to mean “organic”.

        At any rate, sounds like I need to get off a fence.

  11. Sambo says

    I think this is a good article for someone who has grown up in a church their whole life and are finally feeling the Spirit leading them elsewhere – but they are struggling with making the decision to leave because they have family – relationships – history their etc.

    At the end of the day I believe

    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

  12. Donna says

    Question? Just read your book Pagan Christianity and it was a real eye opener. Why would you write such a book if not to encourage people to think about maybe they should consider moving on from the traditional church and then write a blog half way encouraging people to stay where they are? At this point I am totally confused. I didn’t really want to be involved with a traditional church that has roots in paganism so I left the church trying to explain why. My pastor sent me a text of 2 Tim. 4:3-4 warning me about who I am getting counsel from.

    • says

      Simple. It’s not my place or George Barna’s place to tell anyone to leave a church of any kind . . . no matter what type. In fact, I don’t think that’s any person’s place. That’s a decision for people to make under the direction of the Lord Himself in concert with their family. The book gives the history of where traditional practices come from, then leaves it to the reader to decide what to do with that knowledge. But we caution against causing division (see the two excerpts from the book in this post).

      More importantly, “Pagan Christianity” is not to be read by itself. The follow-up books – http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org – must be read afterward to get the whole picture and the complete argument. “Pagan” is not a stand alone book. Finally, as I pointed out in the post and in many other places, the book isn’t written for people who are part of the institutional church and enjoy it. And the follow-up books are better and more important.

      • Mark says

        You said:

        //There’s a big difference between being a genuine prophet and presuming on the role//

        This is a quick dismiss of a very real problem today that goes hand in hand with the topic of this blog and of course much of your writings.

        There are loads of true and real Prophets that get honest to goodness corrective words for other leaders and because they are not recognized as Prophets by the other leaders, they are labeled as rebellious, wounded or worse yet as in our case here, they get lies made up about them and attempts to discredit us as people come rolling out of the hierarchy against us.

        God is not amused when families are attacked because a sitting Pastor is insecure about a Prophet in their mix and brushing it off with comments like “the two who believe they are prophets” seems pretty disconnected to me.

        I, like you, have several decades logged into it all and have seen many things in many churches. The thing I see over and over is insecure leadership that have elevated themselves into a role and title of “Pastor” when no such call is actually on their life. Of course God will try to correct that so the body can move forward properly…

        Perhaps your comment should have said “There’s a big difference between being a genuine PASTOR and presuming on the role” instead of tossing thousands in the prophetic under the bus.

        • Jeff says

          Mark, there was no “dismiss” in Frank’s words. You are reading that into it. What he said is absolutely true. There are true prophets and people who think they are prophets who aren’t. Anyone who has the real gift won’t have any problem with what he wrote becuz it’s accurate. You’re preaching to the choir too. I’ve never read a more prophetic book than Pagan Christianity? Your last line indicates you either didn’t read it or you forgot it because it deals with the pastor office more straightforward than I’ve ever seen.

  13. Andy says

    What you said in Points 3,4 and 5 really resonate with me Frank. I guess I really struggle with how IC’s can be Christ Centered because of the inherited problems of their structure, and that’s why I’m still in the wilderness.

      • Andy says

        I think you are right in that statement, and a “house church” is not really what I had in mind. I suppose I am looking for a detachment of all things religious i.e systems, division, heirachy etc. This doesn’t seem possible in most IC’s, even though they are my body and I love them dearly it seems (around here anyway) the system of organised Church keeps everything ticking instead of the living nature of Jesus Christ in us. It’s hard to explain, perhaps I’m too sensitive to things and could do with a bit more of something……

        • says

          As I’ve said, it’s very difficult finding a good church . . . whether institutional or non-institutional. Though they do exist, they’re not on every corner or in every city.

          You’re not alone in your quest. That’s why I stress that if you can find even a few believers with which you can enjoy fellowship in Christ, you’ve found something that most believers don’t have. But more, I wrote “Finding Organic Church” to give practical steps on how to start one from scratch where you live: http://frankviola.org/books

  14. Valeria says

    Great post. Do you think God sometimes prevents you from finding churh? Or it is mostly because you (and by “you” I mean “I”) are not looking hard enough? Left my church cause had to move to another country. Haven’t really been able to find my community ever since. Maybe because I’ve been trying to find the exact replica of what I had had to leave behind. Looked at all the wrong places at first, but then just decided I would simply pray for God to bring me there.

    Thanks for your thoughts (on this and other subjects) – I very often find myself pondering over what you’ve said for months after you first write about it.

    Very sorry about your uncle. God bless you and your family.

  15. Dana Elizabeth says

    Okay: I SOOOOOO wish I had this article in front of me about one year ago-maybe even sooner than that. All I can say is thank you, Frank.

  16. lauraselvak says

    hmm. Of course I agree with much of this. We left our (IC) church over a decade ago because we believe we were led out by God. Since then we have had some years of groups, some years of isolation, which is not great.

    I am one of those people who would say there are NO churches here. Go ahead and be amused, it is typical of the response I find when I try and communicate with Americans.

    This is the UK, this is a rich town materially and in ‘reputation’ spiritually but I sit in a congregation and i feel chilled to my marrow. Maybe the problem is me, I am open to learn even if I am an incredibly slow learner. I suffer the loss of fellowship and am stuggling to understand and find the mind of God in this life that I am in.

    Anyway. good article.

    • says

      I’ve heard good things about Jubilee Church in the UK. Never visited myself, but some solid Christians who love Jesus attend there.

      Btw/ being “amused” at the statement: “Organic (or good institutional) churches don’t exist because I have looked and couldn’t find one” isn’t an “American” response. That statement is based on a silly premise that warrants that kind of reaction. My example of Publix Supermarkets is a strong example. I have heard this statement enough times that I wanted to address it head-on.

  17. David says

    Thanks for this Frank , you don’t realise how timely this blog is. Was just speaking to a brother today and told him that “I don’t think I can ever go back”, fully agree with Mick’s comments about the Devil trying to convince you that those you leave behind are your enemy. He has tried this lie on me and I have noticed bitterness in other people in a similar situation.Those within the Church are still my brothers and sisters in Christ and even those I struggle with I love. Many thanks for your blog you are more of a blessing than you know.

  18. Pam says

    There is no other experience quite like church. It is a place where people who have little in common are to learn to love one another. Like all relationships, that includes a lot of struggle. Leaving everytime things get rough makes it necessary to relearn whatever God was trying to teach a believer through a difficult experience and one is sure to find much the same circumstance repeated in another church. It is best to ride it out and pray rather than complain. God doesn’t always put us where we are most comfortable but rather, where we are best able to carry out the good work He has assigned to us.

    • says

      Good point, though the church (properly conceived) is a people, not a place.

      As I pointed out in my piece, “Whatever Happened to Perseverance?” — many young Americans cannot handle the rigors and varying seasons of authentic body life, even if it’s a beautiful expression, and will bail when things don’t go their easy convenient American way.

      While many older Americans will stay devoted to dead, even toxic, churches because of a commitment and the relationships they’ve formed.

      The pyramid is upside down there.

  19. Tommy says

    These principles apply to leaving any kind of church. If it’s the kind of church that doesn’t have a pastor or leadership team, the same way of leaving applies. Super post.

  20. Jen says

    My husband and I have left a few different churches. We heard your advice on this before and wrote letters that just said we were moving in a different direction and that the church was right for the time we were in it. I’ve never seen any good come out of when people give detailed reasons because they are usually negative and critical and it hurts other people or confuses them. Thank you for this post.

  21. says

    Really good advice, Frank. This post reminded me of the last time I moved on from a particular church. After my wife and I decided on the direction we thought the Lord was leading us in, I wrote an email to the pastor that I had been working with at the church (my wife and I were involved in several areas) and explained something very similar to what you suggest above. I was explicit to say that we were not upset with anyone, that we appreciate that church’s ministry, but we simply felt the Lord leading us in a different direction. The letter was well received and I ended up getting several responses encouraging my wife and I in following the Lord in whatever way he was leading us. I still speak with some of those folks occasionally, which is possible because I left on good terms. I believe that I had read your advice in Pagan at the time and I thought it sounded like the wisest option. I might have otherwise been tempted to walk away with no explanation, which ends up leaving people wondering if something was wrong. So I can say that, at least for me, the advice here worked out very well for me and I think honored Christ’s desire that we treat others how we would want to be treated.

  22. Nancy says

    Frank, thank you for writing this! You could not have expressed my wilderness journey more clearly in your article entitled “the wilderness”. I have been in this desert for five years now. For myself I can say what a marvelous blessing it has been. I have seen and been with the Lord as I never have before. It takes a long time to rid oneself of toxic faith and I am determined to go back with a clean heart, a right attitude and into a setting whose values and beliefs I can live with and thrive in. It’s a long lonely trek on the road to truth but the rewards are worth every bit of it. I’ve done all the things not to do in this five year journey, even until recently. I’m just beginning to understand the right way to walk away.

    I can agree completely that yes:
    1) God will always take care of His people in the wilderness. Unbelievable provision; I could write a book on His providence.

    2) If you remain in the wilderness, you will eventually die.
    I would say here, if you stay in the wilderness with an attitude that you are superior, you are doomed. If you stay there until He indicates readiness, you will be well provided for until when and if that time comes. I would also say humility and dependency has a lot to do with success in whichever state we are in. There are many in prisons or on mission fields left alone without the fellowship of other believers for long periods of time; God does not desert them. We may also face future persecution where the body of Christ is not so accessible.

    3) The wilderness has but one goal: to sift us, to reduce us, and to strip us down to Christ alone.
    I don’t think you can be an effective believer without taking this trip.

    4) The wilderness is a symbol of new beginnings.
    Most definitely and you won’t want to go back to the old.

    5) Leaving the wilderness always involves a cost.
    I personally can’t imagine the cost involved is greater than voluntarily walking into the desert; tremendous cost.

    Thanks again for the article. It hit really close to home.

  23. Greg Gordon says

    “4. Strong, healthy, Christ-centered churches that are neither legalistic nor libertine are very hard to find in our day. This includes both institutional churches and non-institutional churches. They do exist, however.”

    Great thoughts and very practical biblical advice.

  24. Mike Clemens says

    Condolences on your uncle’s passing.

    Thanks for your continued ministerial insights via blog and the extended efforts behind your well-written, God-focused books.

  25. says

    i thank God that when i left one legalistic church, i immediately got connected to another Grace-filled church. of course not everything is perfect in it and i don’t believe everything they believe, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they Love. and for that matter, their love has rubbed off of me and i have also been able to love other people. when you are in an environment saturated with love, you can’t help but love others. and all other differences cease to matter

  26. says

    Good advice Frank. I heard it well when reading Pagan Christianity, and have applied it also. When people ask is why we no longer attend their church, we tell them the Lord is leading us to something different. We don’t try to persuade them to join us and we still try to fellowship with them when we have the chance (outside of the institutional services).

  27. says

    That church “would no longer be perfect when you arrived . . . unless of course you believe you’re a perfect person.”

    Frank, this made me chuckle — and reminds me to check out my own beams before I worry about other people’s splinters. ; ) Thank you.

  28. Cathy says

    Thanks for this post it confirms much I had been thinking. I am one who has been wrestling for almost two years with leaving a lovely institutional church. I am half hearted and double minded there but I have no idea where to go. It has been agony and I don’t want to stumble anyone. So here I sit praying for an open door to deeper fellowship. Wise words thank you.

  29. Tim says

    As someone who has been a pastor and a person who has left various churches as a parishioner, this is an excellent article with very wise advice.

    I’ve read all of your books and this advice is consistent with the spirit of your writings and what I’ve read on this blog. Thank you for serving. I know it takes a lot of time and energy to write these things. This will aid many christians now and in the future.

  30. Ron Duncan says

    I don’t understand why we make such a big deal about this. If you no longer want to be a part of that organization, then don’t go back. I think it is incredibly wrong to consider this “leaving church”. We never leave church. I have watched people agonize over this decision. Why? It’s really not that big a deal. Just don’t go anymore.

    • says

      Who said anything about leaving “church” ? The title and content is about leaving “a” church. It’s a big deal for countless people. If the content isn’t of interest to you, no need to read it. As stated in the post, I’m writing to and for the numerous people who have specifically asked my opinion on this presently as well as in the future. Hope that clears it up for you.

      • Ron Duncan says

        The content was interesting, that is why I read it. I have a friend that is currently agonizing over this very thing. My point is why the agony? Why do we think we need to make the decision so hard. If you no longer want to be a part, shouldn’t you just quit attending?

        • says

          I think you’re missing the nuance involved for many. It’s not an easy decision for countless people. Then once decided, the question is “how” . . . what is the best way to make the exit. There are many tentacles to that question for many people. Things aren’t as cut and dried for many as they are for some.

          • Ron Duncan says

            I do appreciate you writing on this subject. I have recommended it to some people that may benefit.

  31. Jeff Rhodes says

    I would like for you to send this to me via email about 9 years ago. That’s right, I needed this post far more then than now! ;-) thanks for sharing.

    • says

      Only have a second. My uncle passed away the other day so have little time. Church = any local group of believers that gathers together on a regular basis or any group that you consider to be a “church.” I expound on the wilderness experience in “From Eternity to Here.” http://www.FromEternitytoHere.org – No time for more.

  32. Woody says

    My experience as a pastor for almost 30 years is that most people leave the church without explanation. Even those for whom you have performed weddings, funerals, baptism, hospital visits – people who have had the pastor in their home for dinner – leave without explanation to the pastor or leadership.

    Of course their friends ask why and, it seems to be human nature, the answer always at least implies a criticism.

    And of course their absence does cause someone in leadership to call. It’s an awkward call and would have been unnecessary if there had been a conversation or letter of explanation on the way out.

    That letter or conversation also allows the leadership to knowledgably respond to questions from the congregation that inevitably come.

    Good post. Thanks.

  33. Keleen says

    Thank you for wading into this delicate but essential topic. Deliberately disrupting peace and harmony is among the things the Lord hates.

  34. Mick Smith says

    Nice one Frank!! I was in the position where I left a church set up a while back. I was at pains to leave on good terms, honouring those that I had left behind, and expressing appreciation for all their support and input over several years. Beware!!! The Devil will try to convince you that those you have left behind are your enemy. That’s a lie and one that must be strongly resisted with all your energy!! Our brothers and sisters in the Lord are not our enemy, the one who comes to kill, steal, and destroy – he’s our enemy.

  35. Don says

    Good advise. When you find that you need to leave, make it a practice never to burn bridges, because you may find that the Lord will bring you back one day. We have seen through others, the ugly side of leaving a fellowship. It is difficult to return under those circumstances unless you are ready and willing to eat grow.
    We left one dear fellowship because they brought in some teaching and practice that we could come under . Years later when it subsided we sensed the Lord leading us back. There was a sense of healing for the fellowship when we did return. We have since moved several hours away and when we visit there is sweet fellowship.
    There is also a spiritual principle of covering in all of this that you may one day touch on.
    Thanks Frank

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