It’s All Right to Let Some People Leave Your Church

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“As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” (John 6:66)

“They went out from us because they were not of us.” (I John 2:19)

Sometimes the best thing to happen to your church is for a few people to leave.

Not long ago I ministered in a church where a few longtime leaders had just left. From what I was told, these were the ones who had controlled that church for decades, who dominated pastors and drove them away whenever it suited them, and who resisted anything remotely looking like change. The pastor’s greatest surprise was that they had left. He was one happy camper.

My seminary professor used to say, “People measure the effectiveness of a revival by the additions to the church. Sometimes, a better gauge is the subtractions.”

I unfriended a certain person on Facebook.  This troubled individual latches on to the Lord’s workers and devotes herself to controlling their lives, playing on their guilt, and making demands on their time. I don’t need this. After we unfriended her, she began leaving critical messages on this blog–two one day and four the next morning.

Don’t bother looking for them.

One of the luxuries of having your own blog is the ability to manage it. We went into the program and erased her comments.

“It’s pastors like you,” she said on one of the now-erased comments, “who cause people to quit going to church.”

Interesting logic. According to that, pastors who refuse to let strangers manipulate them are responsible if that person leaves the church.

I don’t think I’ll buy any of that today, thank you.

Plenty of people believe it. Some who swallow that poison are pastors and sincere Christian workers with a heart for ministry and a love for people. They obsess that someone somewhere might be offended if they did this thing or that thing–or did not do this or that–and the result being to harm their eternal souls. They worry and grieve themselves to death.

A teenager called me on the phone one day. This was back in the days when public schools would invite preachers to come on campus and address the student body on topics of faith and morality. I forget what I had said in the message, but the student wanted to argue. He said, “I do not agree with you.” I said, “Well, that’s fine. Not everyone does.”

He proceeded to tell me how smart he was, and that he had read all the “Great Books” series (something I once tried, got about halfway through Marcus Aurelius and called it off).  Whether he actually had or not is anyone’s guess. The last thing I said to him was, “When you’re ready to have a real discussion about this and not just argue, call me back and we can talk.”

A couple of weeks later, he committed suicide.

You may believe I grieved about that then and am sorry about it to this day.

I relived every detail of our conversation to see if I had failed him in some way, if I should have picked up on what he was going through and should have responded to him differently.

Sometimes, you have to let people walk away. It’s their choice.

People have the freedom to choose. They have the liberty to come in or go out.

Watch Jesus. You quickly see that He did not beat Himself up when an audience walked out on Him. After the entire crowd–people who called themselves His disciples!–got up and left in John 6, the Lord turned to the twelve and said, “Well, how about you? Will you go away, too?” Simon Peter, gifted with the ability to say precisely the wrong thing, got one right this time. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

I mentioned to my wife how the Lord allowed people to leave without going to pieces over it. She said, “That’s not all. He even drove some of them away when He cleansed the temple.”

Good point.

People are free, responsible, accountable.

They want to be free, but they don’t want to be held responsible and accountable for their freedom. So, they live in any ungodly way they please and when the fruit of that behavior begins to drop from the trees onto their lawn, they say, “Why did God do this?” Answer: He had nothing to do with this. You are reaping the harvest for which you have been sowing and working.

Many will want the freedom to come in and out of churches, doing as they please, and when things do not go to suit them, to blame the preachers.

How convenient. (I tell pastors to get used to this, that it comes with the package. If they treated the Lord this way, you should expect your fair share. That’s Matthew 10:25.)

People are sinners and will often act like they are. Get used to it, Christian worker. They need to be saved. They need a new heart, the kind only available from a life-transforming experience with the living God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe most trouble-makers in churches are atheists. I believe they don’t have a clue that God is alive and in this place, that it matters to Him what they are doing, and that Jesus Christ takes personally all they do–good, bad, ugly–to His Body the Church. I believe they will give account at Judgement as to how they treated the Bride of Christ (the Church) and the shepherd whom the Lord personally sent to that flock (see Acts 20:28).

If these people truly believed in Him, they would tiptoe into church and gently offer Him their lives and service.

Ministers must not obsess about some who leave.

Some people are in the way of what the God-appointed leaders are trying to do, they do not share the values of the Lord, and are not remotely interested in changing.

They should get out.

When they do, it will signal a new birth of freedom for their church.

Our family still laughs about a woman from my childhood church who uttered a statement in a business session that should be carved in stone since it so perfectly expresses the attitude of certain change-resistant members. Speaking about a longtime practice of the church which the new pastor wanted to end because it was unworthy of the Lord and was now dividing the congregation, this little woman who had belonged to that church for a hundred and eighty-three years, rose to her feet and said, “Well, if it’s sin, we’ve been sinning all these many years and I don’t see no reason to stop now.”

We laugh, but we grieve too.  This woman has sisters and brothers in hundreds of churches throughout our land.

In most cases, these people–the change-resistant and the agenda-controller–do not believe for one moment that this church belongs to Jesus. This is their church. “My momma and daddy built this church.” “My family goes back four generations in this church.” “We’ve been here longer than the rest of you, so what we say should carry more weight.” “Pastors come and go, but we stay on forever.”

There is no way to say this too strongly: The best thing to happen to many a church would be for certain ones to leave. And the sooner the better.

In fact, we should pray the Lord would lead some people away.

Early in my long pastoral ministry, I began to pray a little three-pronged prayer which I recommend to every pastor and leader:

O Lord, send only the people to this church You want here;

Keep away any You do not want here;

And if there’s anyone here You want out, please get them out. Amen.”

I can hear the protests.

–“But what would we ever do without Deacon Strongarm?” Answer: “I don’t know; let’s find out.”

–“How will this church survive without our tithes and offerings?” Answer: “You might be surprised to discover the Lord does not need your money.” (see Psalm 50:12)

Over these years, I have seen many a disgruntled member walk away in a huff, certain the church would fall into ruin without their presence and counsel and money. In no case–not one!–did the church ever skip a beat without them. It seems to be a point of pride with the Lord, that He will not let a church suffer when these self-appointed rulers depart with their tiny talents and miniscule offerings.  (And yes, in many cases it turned out that they were not giving the kind of money they had bragged about.)

God-sent leaders must never let themselves be intimidated into submission because “If you don’t go along with this, I’m leaving and taking my checkbook with me.”  Let them go. You will never regret it.

Does this sound harsh?

It will to some. They will interpret the departure of some as a personal rejection and grieve over what this says about themselves, their church, their preacher.

That’s fine. Let them.

To those who know their scriptures, treasure the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and truly want His gospel to go forth, the day the nay-sayers and unbelievers, the controllers and the demanders, the malignant and the recalcitrant, depart will be a banner day for that congregation for years to come.

I can see it now. A generation from now, this wonderful, healthy, thriving church holds a day of celebration. They erect banners, invite in longtime members, and ask the old folks to give testimonies about this pivotal moment in the church’s history. “Tell us again, former pastor, about that blessed day when those people walked out and left, and our church began to get strong. We are so indebted to them for leaving.”

They even erect a bronze plaque in the foyer of the church with their names on it….

“Hall of Fame. Due to the departure of these Christ-denying, church-controlling sons of Diotrephes (III John 9), our church began to grow and multiply. We owe them so much.”

Never can tell. Might happen.