that is the question.
When I hear people wrestling with that question, I feel concern for them. I remember the turmoil of making the decision to leave our former church; I remember the emotional storm that followed our decision.
Are people ever allowed to leave with a blessing? Can they be given respect and support in facing a difficult decision? What would it be like if relationships were affirmed during times of transition?
People sometimes face accusations when they decide to leave – accusation that they are abandoning their relationships, accusation that they lack commitment, or accusation that they are out of God’s will. They may also experience separation and rejection.
Sometimes people are told that they are in spiritual danger because of leaving the flock. The banana that leaves the bunch gets peeled. The ember apart from the other coals soon dies out. They are told that they are an open target for the enemy.
Some people believe they should stay in order to help bring reform. When reform is a realistic possibility, people often do stay. Many times though, the people who desire something more or different from their church do not have the voice or influence to bring change.
Having unmet expectations can be relationally damaging for everyone involved. This is an important point in deciding whether to stay or leave. Can you stay without burdening others with your expectations? Can you keep your heart free of judgment and criticism? Has staying become damaging to your emotional and spiritual health?
Many of the people who leave traditional churches are still following Christ. Their intent is not to abandon the church, but to find an expression of church that is meaningful for them. Perhaps we could quit referring to these people as having left the church. Most have not left the church. They have not removed themselves from the body of Christ.
Also, maybe we could give people credit for listening to God and following Him to the best of their ability. Yes, some people may be mistaken in their decision; some may be immature or wrongly motivated. However, leaving may be what is best in some situations.
Jesus is building His church. It is in buildings and denominations. It is also beyond denominations and walls. We can trust Him to determine how and where the members fit.