Is It Okay to Leave My Church?

Have we finished the work you have for us to do in this place?

Recently I was asked this question: How do you know when/if it’s okay to leave a church? (My husband is a pastor on staff.) The (new) senior pastor doesn’t see Scripture Christocentrically or understand an ongoing need for the gospel. So how can we help with that, and at what point is it better to look for another church?

I know this is a question many will wrestle with at some point in their lifetime during our long walk with the Church here on earth. First of all, it’s always important to ask God, Have we finished the work you have for us to do in this place, and have You (God) finished the work you want to do in us in this place?

In this case, God may be calling you to participate gently and patiently in how he plans to bring reform to the church or pastor. If your work is done, He may be using this situation to release you to another work.

Second, it is very important to share your thoughts/concerns with leadership. In this case, it would be very important for your husband to speak truthfully to the senior pastor about his concern. If he has already done this and the senior pastor has made it clear where he stands, it’s still important to ask if he is open to discussing it more, reading some books/articles together, etc. Make sure you let him know you are open to learning from him about why he believes what he does. Encourage him to help you come to his conclusions versus the ones you have landed with. This kind of openness in learning and dialog is absolutely necessary. If the answer is still a clear “no,” then . . .

I recommend your husband ask the senior or board of elders (if there is a plurality of leadership) what they recommend he do. I often encourage leaders to clarify their convictions to their senior leadership and how they also believe in submission to leaders and unity in the local church. I encourage them to speak about their personal convictions and how they want to be faithful to their obey their conscience/Holy Spirit conviction while also remaining in submission and maintaining the unity of the Spirit.

This could lead to 1) a mutually agreed-upon process of helping you leave the church in a gracious way, 2) a process of further study together, or 3) an agreement to work together allowing for mixed views to coexist.

In all of this, make sure you bathe your decision in prayer, submit to wise counsel, and open your hands to whatever the Spirit wants to lead you to . . . even if it’s not what you had planned.

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Jeff Vanderstelt

Jeff Vanderstelt is the visionary leader of Saturate, the Soma Family of Churches, and the lead teaching pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, WA. He also travels around the US and the world equipping the Church in the gospel and missional living. He is the author of "Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life." He and Jayne, his wife of 22 years, have three children; Haylee, Caleb, and Maggie.