When People Leave the Church
How are to think about people leaving the church?
The apostles had to have struggled with what happened to Judas. They had known each other and fellowshiped together and ministered together and experienced amazing things together for 3 or so years. They never expected that Judas would betray Jesus and walk away as he did. They looked to Scripture to make sense of it and to respond appropriately.
The apostles, led by Peter, turned to the Scriptures to respond appropriately to this disturbing situation and we should do the same when thinking through the reality of people leaving the church in our day. This is in no way implying that everyone who leaves a particular local church is leaving the faith and betraying Christ. But it is to say that the deep emotions can be similar (confusion, heartache, etc) and the approach to dealing with it should be the same (application of the Scripture).
What are some Scriptural realities we need to keep in mind?
Every Christian should be a part of a local church.
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. - Acts 2:41-42
not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. - Hebrews 10:25
Not everyone should be or will be a part of the same church.
Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. - 1 Corinthians 7:17
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: - Revelation 2:1
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: - Revelation 2:8
And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: - Revelation 2:12
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: - Revelation 2:18
To the angel of the church in Sardis write: - Revelation 3:1
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: - Revelation 3:7
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: - Revelation 3:14
We should expect people to leave at various times for various reasons.
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. - Acts 13:2-3
And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. – Acts 18:2a
There is no command to change churches or instruction on how and when to change churches in the NT which highlights the strength of commitment to one another we are to have in the local church.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; - Romans 12:10
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. – Colossians 3:12-15
The emphasis is on loving the church you are in.
That being said, let’s think this through.
Why is it so hard when people leave a church?
For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry. – Acts 1:17
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. – Corinthians 12:26-27
There are deep connections. (body, family)
There are feelings of abandonment/rejection (whether true or not).
There are questions about what this means for us. (state of the church, something terribly wrong with us)
There are questions about what this means for them. (walking away from God, rejecting the truth, bitter, angry)
We should expect it to hurt when people leave.
Why do people leave a church?
They aren’t Christians and decide to leave.
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. - 1 John 2:19
to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. – Acts 1:25
External circumstances require it.
(death, job change, care for parents, etc).
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. - Acts 8:1
Wisdom seems to dictate it.
(distance from church, change in work schedule, differences in secondary matters like ministry philosophy, worship music, church polity, etc)
And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. - Acts 15:39
Leaving should be something that is not done easily or quickly.
How you leave and why you leave is the important thing.
What is right, wise and good must be considered when leaving a church.
The church’s mission is off.
(serious doctrinal error or moral error).
Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” - Acts 15:1-5
The person’s mission is off.
(serious doctrinal error, serious moral error, wrong values/pursuits, unwilling to reconcile, unwilling to work to make things better).
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” – Acts 8:18-24
So, it is not always right when people leave a church.
Nor is it always wrong when people leave a church.
What should we do when we are thinking about leaving a church?
Make sure your goal is to please the Lord.
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:9
Don’t just one day walk away.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; - Romans 12:10a
Go to those who have offended you and seek reconciliation as needed.
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. – Matthew 5:23-24
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. – Luke 17:3-4
Seek to be the solution to the weaknesses you see in the church.
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 4:8-11
Communicate with your shepherds who care for your soul.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. – Hebrews 13:17
Don’t try to justify your leaving by coming up with all the reasons why you don’t like the church and instead, affirm the good you have experienced.
bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. – Colossians 3:13
Those who leave are not perfect and those who are left are not perfect.
There are no perfect parents or children or employers or employees or churches.
If we simply ‘nitpick’, we can accumulate an argument for leaving any relationship and any church!
But be honest about why you think it is the right and/or wise thing to do.
Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. – Romans 14:5b
Don’t burn any bridges when you leave and treat others the way you would want to be treated.
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12
How should we respond when someone leaves our church?
Listen to see if we need to pursue reconciliation or repentance on our part.
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. - James 1:19-20
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. - Matthew 5:23-24
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. - Matthew 7:1-5
The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him. – Proverbs 18:17
Trust God with their leaving.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; - Psalm 46:2
He changes a wilderness into a pool of water And a dry land into springs of water; - Psalm 107:35
‘Let another man take his office.’ – Acts 1:20b
The makeup of a local body is going to change.
This should not surprise us.
We should be prepared for it.
And trust God to continue to supply what we need.
Love them and take them at their word and believe the best about them unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
1 Corinthians 13:5 – ‘thinks no evil’ NKJV
Love them in and after their leaving as a true friend/brother or sister.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. - Proverbs 27:6
but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, - Ephesians 4:15
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. - 1 Thessalonians 5:14
We should continue to love those who leave, whatever the reason, as we have opportunity. But what love looks like sometimes will depend on why and how they left.
This application is from the message, A Mission for Mamas - Acts 1.
You can listen to the entire message here: