Leaving Churches: Why Stay?

Staying at a church seems like a no-brainer, but we do not treat it that way. In the intro post I wrote about three unstoppable forces that make someone leaving a church seem inevitable. As I reviewed my original notes on this post, I realized that I swapped one force for another—instead of “personal friendships,” I used “real or perceived needs.” I’ll count it, though. People do have a real need of friendship. 🙂

Before we delve more into leaving, though, I want to delve into the idea of staying.

My personal experience is that the vast majority of church members will not try and ask you to talk them out of leaving. Either they will (1) simply leave (I’ve gone this route) or (2) write, call, or meet with you to tell you they are leaving. I don’t usually run into a conversation that begins with, “I don’t want to leave, but have considered it, help me out.”

This post will be that conversation.

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Leaving Churches: Three Unstoppable Forces

Leaving churches is a common part of church life today. In fact, most people who have been in the church long enough (say, ten years) have likely left a church for some reason and started going to another one in town. (Even I have what I would call a regretful leaving of a church I was a part of years back. )

Now that I am over a decade into pastoral ministry, I can think back on the different situations and scenarios that have come about as to why people leave churches. The upcoming series on this blog will be tackling those ideas in a little more detail. It is my ultimate hope to get people to stay at their current church, but if they don’t, to at least get them to seriously reconsider their approach to leaving.

I wanted to start with this idea: the three unstoppable forces that seem to make leaving a church almost inevitable.

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A Shadow Side Addendum: Criticism

I was recently at lunch with a friend talking about leadership, pastoring, and the ways the Lord is always challenging us to grow. This is a friend who I know will be honest with me and he is someone I trust. You need both—if you aren’t trusted but you’ll be honest then nobody wants your honesty. During the course of that lunch I asked this question: Ok, so where do you think I might have an issue in how I lead?

He paused.

I made a joke.

“Well, I was thinking about your posts about your values. One part of excellence is that you can become really critical.

I’m not sure if those exact words were used, but it was close.

I immediately thought of a previous lunch with another friend several months back. “Hans, I’ve been around you long enough know this: you have a tendency to be critical, but you are aware of it.”

Forget it. I’m never having lunch with people again.

The problem? These guys are exactly right.

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Integrity: Unable to Stand Up Under Your Arrogance

I have a prayer that I pray for myself on many days. It goes something like this: Pray that I have the integrity of Daniel, even if it causes me harm. The reference I use is Daniel 6:12, which reads:

The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.”

Daniel 6:12 (CSB)

I’ve added to that a verse from 1 Corinthians 6:7, which reminds me that winning arguments isn’t always the right thing to do.

As it is, to have legal disputes against one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

1 Corinthians 6:7 (CSB)

Stay with me long enough and you’ll hear me say that all a man has is his word. You lose that and you lose it all. For most of my adult life (if not all of it), integrity has been a mantra. Not just, “do the right thing,” but, “be the right person.” I want to be counted on and I want people to know that what I say, I mean. I want my tax return to have no error in it (is that even possible?) and I never want to forget a payment. If people find wrong in me, I’d like for it to be because they are wrong.

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Excellence: Doing a Good Job (Even if You’re Alone)

I buy laser printers. I’ve had a few inkjets; I hate them. The laser printer interest began after starting seminary. I heard someone mention how much sharper the letters were if you used a laser printer. As one who would be printing out lots of paper over those four years at Dallas Seminary (before digital submissions), I wanted a laster printer that printed on thick, bright white paper.

So that’s what I did.

I’ve long-enjoyed doing that little bit of extra work that probably nobody sees or even cares about. I didn’t care if it mattered to someone else; it mattered to me. I get annoyed if something is a little off or if I know I cut a corner somewhere. (Remember: you’re currently reading the guy who has a neurotic approach to locking doors.)

Excellence is a trendy word in the church world. Some people use excellence to mean, “The way I like it.” As I use it, I mean it in this sense: that you do the best you are able. Sometimes your best is pretty bad. Still, you put in the work, stay up if you have to, research it as much as possible, and then finish. As a leader, I want the things that I do and am a part of to be excellent—the best they can be.

But I’ve had to live with the consequences of such a value, too.

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Generosity: Giving With (or Without) Discernment

My entire pastoral life—really, my entire life—exists because of the kindness of others and their generosity toward me and the family. There have been zero years of my life that I’ve made it on my own. Zero.

I took a brief inventory, and here is what I’ve found without even thinking:

  • Birth-18 (the home years): Mom and Dad and money from grandparents for Christmases and birthdays.
  • 18-21 (the LSU years): Mom and Dad and some scholarship money and some work money, but come on, I wasn’t really pulling down the benjamins.
  • 21-25 (the DTS years): Got married at 21. These years were covered by all of the above, the addition of in-laws, some wedding money (it went quickly), and some DTS scholarship money. I also wasn’t working FT at this point; Courtney was.
  • 25-34 (the Baton Rouge years): All of the above, but we also added three kids, “bought” a home (mainly took on debt), and I started FT work. That work? Pastoring. The pay? Other people’s gifts to the church. I also pursued more schooling, which was largely possible because other people helped make sure it could happen.
  • 34-Now (the Spring years): All of the above, but now we’ve added into it a new congregation supporting me, continued support from family, and who knows what else I’m not thinking about. Our vacations (often Pine Cove Family Camp) are even scholarshipped in some percentage.

My entire life has been impacted—directly or indirectly—by the generosity of others.

So when I say generosity is a personal value, you might think, “You don’t have much room to talk about this.” You’d be right. Or you may think, “It’s a value because he doesn’t want people to stop giving.” I’d see your point, but I hope that isn’t the case.

I love generosity because I’ve learned it from others, seen it in my Savior, and find that generosity is a better way to live than stinginess. Why do we give? Because Jesus did. Is it good to be a scrooge? No. I’ve watched the example people in my life—many of them my family or close friends from church—and have learned a model of generosity that I only hope to emulate, not that I have mastered.

But even as we have learned about generosity—and done all we can as a family to live generously—there is another side to it that affects me.

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