I spent almost nineteen years in the same church, what I often referred to as my second home. But then I got divorced and I felt it was time to leave.
My situation is not uncommon. I’ve heard time and time again of one or both spouses leaving their married church during or after their divorce, for a variety of reasons. But divorce or not, sometimes, people just need to move on. There is no verse in the Bible that says you must find one church and stay there for a lifetime, though that of course can be a gift.
So if you find yourself contemplating leaving your church home, here are some thoughts.
Make sure you’re leaving for the right reasons. Only you can know if your motives are pure, so do not make this decision lightly or without prayer. If there is something in your church that is really bothering you, you can decide whether to stay or leave by asking yourself these questions that I heard author/pastor Nancy Ortberg suggest:
Can you respectfully live with whatever the situation is? If not, can you respectfully affect change? If not, then respectfully go.
It can be scary. I honestly believed I would be at that same church my entire life. I saw no reason that could possibly come sweeping into my life that would make my leaving a necessity or desire. I had lived out my adulthood there, had thousands upon thousands of memories there, had a sweet support system there, grew up and broke down and did some major healing there. It was my other home, my family. The thought of no longer calling that place my church unmoored me. The thought of looking around, let alone on my own, was practically enough to keep me in bed on the weekends. So if you’re scared, I get it. And it’s okay.
It can absolutely be sad. Oh my word. I deeply grieved walking away. I cried in the contemplation of it all, I cried in the weeks when I was both attending mine and looking around, I cried on my final Sunday. It was as if I were cutting off an appendage. That community was a part of my DNA. So if you’re sad, that’s completely normal. Allow yourself to grieve the loss.
Leave well. If you decide to leave your home church, schedule an exit interview, so to speak, with the pastor or someone on the leadership team to let them know. This will give you a chance to tell them why you’re leaving. And, hopefully, they can pray you off and wish you well. This shows honor to the leadership and to the time you’ve spent there. Also, don’t gossip about why you’re leaving. Yes, tell your friends that you’re going, but do so in a respectful way so as not to burn bridges or cause divisiveness, even if you’re hurt.
Know this: Jesus is everywhere. Now, I don’t mean that all New-Agey, as in Jesus is a tree or something. I mean it as in Jesus is being worshipped and taught and followed in many, many, many churches. Your church is not the only church or the best church…it’s just a church. Seriously. In fact, you may be hugely surprised to discover some really beautiful manifestations of the Body of Christ in your area that you didn’t even know existed. I ended up going just across the street (I literally drive by my old church to get to my new church) and it is just about the polar opposite of what I had been used to for almost two decades, and yet, Jesus is so very present there too. Who knew?? Not every church must look like your current church.
Leaving your church home is painful and jarring and usually unexpected. Take your time. Pray it through. Talk with someone outside your church community who can offer unbiased thoughts on your situation. Make a list of what you’re looking for in a new church. And be open…you never know where God might lead you next…but know that it will be just what you need.
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. -Ephesians 1:22
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