The Right Way to Say Goodbye


If God calls you to leave your church, make sure you do it with the right attitude.

Pastor, we need to get together.” After echoing these words, my answering machine clicked, beeped and finished its mechanical ritual, leaving me with an all-too-familiar knot in my stomach. I knew the caller didn’t want to “get together”; he was leaving the church and needed to tell me especially now that he had already told all his friends at the church.

Whether those three words, “Pastor, I’m leaving,” are rearranged, softened or edited, they still hurt–and every pastoral couple knows the flood of emotions that invades a shepherd’s heart when they’re spoken. But let’s face it: There are times when leaving a church is appropriate. Unbiblical teaching and immoral behavior by leadership are two factors that would justify leaving.

Unfortunately, too many people leave their churches for less significant reasons–and they do it in the wrong way. Here’s a better

Check your heart for ungodly attitudes and personal agendas. Is there conflict within the church or between you and someone in
leadership that you would rather not face? None of us likes conflict, yet the Bible is clear: If you have something against your brother, you are to go to him–alone–in an effort to work it out.

Pastors and leaders make mistakes. But when we allow conflicts end hurts to go unresolved, we open ourselves up to the enemy, who then sows destructive seed into our hearts.

Speak with your pastor or someone in leadership before talking with others in the church. Pastors are lousy, but yours does care about you. He would appreciate hearing about your concerns before they become an impetus to leave. Often people allow an issue to remain unresolved too long. Then, by the time the pastor becomes aware of it, it’s too late.

Be faithful in tithing. In 20 years as a pastor, my own informal survey showed that about 80 percent of the people who left my church (excluding those who moved away) did not tithe. Maybe that’s why you feel some of the rejection and hurt that you do. Pastors know that people who invest in a local body typically are committed to seeing things work out.

Be open to hearing from God. Unresolved offense hardens the heart, whereas a soft heart can be changed. Have you allowed your heart to grow so hard that you can’t hear God’s voice? If you’ve taken all the previous steps and you still sense it’s time to move on, be at peace. But when you do go, try to avoid the don’ts on the following list:

1. Don’t leave on a Saturday. Many people wait until Saturday evening to call the pastor and tell him that they are leaving the
church. Even worse, some wait until just before the Sunday service starts. Unfortunately, such news can distract a pastor when he’s called to lead the people into the presence of God.

2. Don’t take your friends with you. This can be serious! No matter what the issue, God does not honor divisiveness (see Titus 3:10). You can still associate with your friends even if you belong to a different church. Only in an unhealthy church system or in a case of church discipline are there “gag” orders that prevent people from having contact with former members.

3. Don’t write a novel. Every pastor has received such letters. They are usually three to four pages long, almost always single-spaced and filled with every Bible verse imaginable that justifies the person’s decision to leave.

If you’re mature, you have already communicated with your pastor about the concerns and issues involved. How about sending a greeting card simply thanking him and his family for their investment in your spiritual growth?

4. Don’t create a crisis to justify your decision to leave. People often feel compelled to put a negative spin on things at the
church in order to justify their decision. Remember, God’s love compels us to believe and hope for His best in all things.

5. Don’t participate in “secret” meetings or conversations. Not only is this immature, it is rebellious. God’s people do not engage in deceptive and covert behavior! No matter what the original issue, this kind of activity will prevent God’s blessing from going with you as you depart.

6. Don’t try to have the last word. Not only does a simple, pleasant closure keep ill feelings at bay, it keeps the door open in
the event you realize your decision wasn’t right and you want to return to the church. That way you haven’t “burned any bridges.”

7. Don’t be a burden; be a blessing. One pastor told me a heartbreaking story of a single woman whose family was shattered by a
murder-suicide. The pastor and his wife poured out their lives to help this woman through a difficult season; then, after a few years, she left the church because she wanted to find “a better singles ministry.”

We pastors know our rewards are in heaven–not on earth. But please try to remember that we’re human–and we deserve to be treated with courtesy.

STEVEN M. TODD pastors Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Colorado Springs, Colorado.