Here’s Why the Way You Leave a Church Is More Important Than How You Came

As a layperson or a church staff member, it’s likely you’ve left a church at some point – or will leave a church in the future. When that happens, I hope you’ll remember the points of this post.

  1. People will remember how you leave. They’ll forget even the most miraculous works of God to bring you to the church if you leave in a negative way. Even a few weeks of negative can erase years of positive.
  2. Those who remain may be wounded if you leave poorly. Especially if they’ve loved and respected you, they may not understand why you’ve suddenly changed. Long-term friendships can be broken.
  3. Your family can be scarred by a bad ending. You might try to shield them from the pain, but few of us do that well when we’re wounded.
  4. Poor closures usually color future ministry opportunities. Once you’ve been hurt and carry wounds, you’ll always wonder if more wounds lie in the future.
  5. Division left by bad departures can destroy a congregation’s unity. This sometimes happens when departing members challenge others to take sides on the issues.
  6. Good departures make ministry a celebration. Rejoicing over victories is always better than battling over remaining disagreements.
  7. Healthy closure paves the way for the next leaders. One of the best ways to help the church’s next leader is to leave in joyful response to God’s calling – not in anger.
  8. Leaving well fosters long-term friendships. Moving to a different church doesn’t have to harm relationships if the departure is handled well.
  9. Good leavings promote Christian unity. Regardless of where we serve, we pray for and love other congregations when we’ve left well. Good memories promote harmony between churches.
  10. People will remember how you leave. So, I repeat #1 above, but with a different flavor. Leave in a positive way, and churches often forgive years of negative.

What would you add to this list? 

POSTED ON March 9, 2017

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Dr. Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions, Dean of Graduate Studies, and Vice-President for Graduate Studies and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary, in addition to serving as Team Leader for Theological Education Strategists for the International Mission Board. Dr. Lawless served as pastor of two Ohio churches prior to joining the Southern Seminary faculty in 1996.  He received a B.S. degree from Cumberland College and M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Seminary. He is the author of eight works, including “Membership Matters,” and “Spiritual Warfare,” and has contributed numerous articles to denominational periodicals.  He and his wife Pam have been married for 23 years and reside here in Wake Forest, NC.