It’s all right to let some people leave your church.

“As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” (John 6:66)

“They went out from us because they were not of us.” (I John 2:19)

Sometimes the best thing to happen to your church is for a few people to leave.

Not long ago I ministered in a church where a few longtime leaders had just left. From the little I know, these were the ones who had controlled that church for decades, who dominated pastors and drove them away whenever it suited them, and who resisted anything remotely looking like change. The pastor’s greatest surprise was that they had left. He was one happy camper.

My seminary professor used to say, “People measure the effectiveness of a revival by the additions to the church. Sometimes, a better gauge is the subtractions.”

Recently, I unfriended a person on Facebook.  This troubled individual latches on to the Lord’s workers and devotes herself to controlling their lives, playing on their guilt, and making demands on their time. I don’t need this. After we unfriended her, she began leaving critical messages on this blog–two one day and four the next morning.

Don’t bother looking for them.

One of the luxuries of having your own blog is the ability to manage it. We went into the program and erased her comments.

“It’s pastors like you,” she said on one of the now-erased comments, “who cause people to quit going to church.”

Interesting logic. According to that, pastors who refuse to let strangers manipulate them are responsible if that person leaves the church.

I don’t think I’ll buy any of that today, thank you.

Plenty of people believe it. Some who swallow that poison are pastors and sincere Christian workers with a heart for ministry and a love for people. They obsess that someone somewhere might be offended if they did this thing or that thing–or did not do this or that–and the result being to harm their eternal souls. They worry and grieve themselves to death.

A teenager called me on the phone one day. This was back in the days when public schools would invite preachers to come on campus and address the student body on topics of faith and morality. I forget what I had said in the message, but the student wanted to argue. He said, “I do not agree with you.” I said, “Well, that’s fine. Not everyone does.”

He proceeded to tell me how smart he was, and that he had read all the “Great Books” series (something I once tried, got about halfway through Marcus Aurelius and called it off).  Whether he actually had or not is anyone’s guess. The last thing I said to him was, “When you’re ready to have a real discussion about this and not just argue, call me back and we can talk.”

A couple of weeks later, he committed suicide.

I grieved about that then and am sorry about it to this day.

You may believe that I ran over every detail of our conversation to see if I had failed him in some way, if I should have picked up on what he was going through and should have responded to him differently.

I concluded that I was in no way responsible for what he had done.

Sometimes, you have to let people walk away. It’s their choice.

People have the freedom to choose. They have the liberty to come in or go out.

Watch Jesus. You quickly see that He did not beat Himself up when an audience walked out on Him. After the entire crowd–people who called themselves His disciples!–got up and left in John 6, the Lord turned to the twelve and said, “Well, how about you? Will you go away, too?” Simon Peter, gifted with the ability to say precisely the wrong thing, got one right this time. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

I mentioned to my wife how the Lord allowed people to leave without going to pieces over it. She said, “That’s not all. He even drove some of them away when He cleansed the temple.”

Good point.

People are free, responsible, accountable.

They want to be free, but they don’t want to be held responsible and accountable for their freedom. So, they live in any ungodly way they please and when the fruit of that behavior begans to drop from the trees onto their lawn, they say, “Why did God do this?” Answer: He had nothing to do with this. You are reaping the harvest for which you have been sowing and working.

Many will want the freedom to come in and out of churches, doing as they please, and when things do not go to suit them, they blame the preachers.

How convenient. (I tell pastors to get used to this, that it comes with the package. If they treated the Lord this way, you should expect your fair share. Matthew 10:25.)

People are sinners and will often act like they are. Get used to it, Christian worker. They need to be saved. They need a new heart, the kind only available from a life-transforming experience with the living God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe most trouble-makers in churches are atheists. I believe they don’t have a clue that God is alive and in this place, that it matters to Him what they are doing, and that Jesus Christ takes personally all they do–good, bad, ugly–to His Body the Church. I believe they will give account at Judgement as to how they treated the Bride of Christ (the Church) and the shepherd whom the Lord personally sent to that flock (see Acts 20:28).

If these people truly believed in Him, they would tiptoe into church and gently offer Him their lives and service.

Ministers must not obsess about some who leave.

Some people are in the way of what the God-appointed leaders are trying to do, they do not share the values of the Lord, and are not remotely interested in changing.

They should get out.

When they do, it will signal a new birth of freedom for their church.

Our family still laughs about a woman from my childhood church who uttered a statement in a business session that should be carved in stone since it so perfectly expresses the attitude of certain change-resistant members. Speaking about a longtime practice of the church which the new pastor wanted to end because it was not worthy of the Lord and was now dividing the congregation, this little woman who had belonged to that church for a hundred and eighty-three years, said, “Well, if it’s sin, we’ve been sinning all these many years and I don’t see no reason to stop now.”

We laugh, but we grieve too.  This woman has sisters and brothers in hundreds of churches throughout our land.

In most cases, these people–the change-resistant and the agenda-controller–do not believe for one moment that this church belongs to Jesus. This is their church. “My momma and daddy built this church.” “My family goes back four generations in this church.” “We’ve been here longer than the rest of you, so what we say should carry more weight.” “Pastors come and go, but we stay on forever.”

There is no way to say this too strongly: The best thing to happen to many a church would be for certain ones to leave. And the sooner the better.

In fact, we should pray the Lord would lead some people away.

Early in my long pastoral ministry, I began to pray a little three-pronged prayer which I recommend to every pastor and leader:

O Lord, send only the people to this church You want here;

Keep away any You do not want here;

And if there’s anyone here You want out, please get them out. Amen.”

I can hear the protests.

–“But what would we ever do without Deacon Strongarm?” Answer: “I don’t know; let’s find out.”

–“How will this church survive without our tithes and offerings?” Answer: “You might be surprised to discover the Lord does not need your money.” (see Psalm 50:12)

Over these years, I have seen many a disgruntled member walk away in a huff, certain the church would fall into ruin without their presence and counsel and money. In no case–not one, nada!–did the church ever skip a beat without them. It seems to be a point of pride with the Lord, that He will not let a church suffer when these self-appointed rulers depart with their tiny talents and miniscule offerings.

God-sent leaders must never let themselves be intimidated into submission because “If you don’t go along with this, I’m leaving and taking my checkbook with me.”  Let them go. You will never regret it.

Does this sound harsh?

It will to some.They will interpret the departure of some as a personal rejection and grieve over what this says about themselves, their church, their preacher.

Get over it.

To those who know their scriptures, treasure the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and truly want His gospel to go forth, the day the nay-sayers and unbelievers, the controllers and the demanders, the malignant and the recalcitrant, depart will be a banner day for that congregation for years to come.

I can see it now. A generation from now, this wonderful, healthy, thriving church holds a day of celebration. They erect banners, invite in longtime members, and ask the old folks to give testimonies about this pivotal moment in the church’s history. “Tell us again, former pastor, about that blessed day when those people walked out and left, and our church began to get strong. We are so indebted to them for leaving.”

They even erect a bronze plaque in the foyer of the church with their names on it….

“Hall of Fame. Due to the departure of these Christ-denying, church-controlling sons of Diotrephes (III John 9), our church began to grow and multiply. We owe them so much.”

Never can tell. Might happen.




17 thoughts on “It’s all right to let some people leave your church.

  1. Joe…You have just provided the wisdom to have a great deal of guilt removed from many ministers. I will encourage our church staff to read this latest blog. In your writings, you are always very helpful, practical, and bold. I am grateful!

  2. Well-articulated, my friend! Controversial? Absolutely….but TRUE, nonetheless! May church pastors and Christian leaders read this and be encouraged, and may some of those “self-appointed rulers” who don’t honor Christ read this and be convicted! I will share this with my other local pastor friends, and hope that their hearts will be strengthened as they continue to hold fast to the truth rather than be swayed by lies. Blessings to you, also, as you continue to do the same!

  3. Interesting. I’ve always thought that “the church” was “people.” If you make it a practice to turn the hurting, lonely, searching, bitter people away from your “church building/congregation,” the TRUE church will receive them with open arms, and minister to them in their pain and suffering. The true church is not a “building”, not a “denomination”, not a “congregation”, but followers of Christ who live and carry the light of Jesus into the world among sinners.

    • My friend, you and I are talking about two separate things here. We are not talking about turning the hurting people away from anything, but about allowing the people-hurters to leave the church if they desire. Did you read the article?

      Did you notice anywhere that we mentioned kicking anyone out or running them off or turning them away? We’re talking about allowing the controllers and abusers to leave if they so choose.

      I think you are needlessly upset because you did not “hear” the point we were trying to make. Thank you.

  4. I just pray for the churches and the pastors to which these pepele go to. Thank you always for your great words of Godly wisdom!

  5. Joe, you have written many excellent articles through the years but I consider this to be your most insightful and helpful of them all. Only Eternity will reveal how much more could have been accomplished for the Kingdom if churches and pastors had not been held back by those folks who consider obstinacy and self-centeredness to be spiritual gifts. Sadly, such attitudes are not limited to the “old” hard-heads in the church.

  6. A pastor friend of mind tells the story of a pastor of a large Presbyterian church in Atlanta. An older male church member who was used to “getting his way” because of his money and power came to the pastor telling him he had to tell some particular person they would not be allowed to join the church. When the pastor resisted, the man said, “If you let them join our church I’m going to take my money and leave.” The pastor paused thoughtfully, the responded calmly, “We’re sure going to miss you around here, Tom.” ’nuff said.

  7. No truer words ever spoken!! Thanks so much!! I had one of “those” early on in my ministry: “if you make this change, we’re leaving, and this church won’t survive without us.” The offering and attendance INCREASED when they departed. I continued to minister to them (hospital visits, etc)…all the while thanking God for their decision to drop out. The proof is in the way the church increased when they left!

  8. The church I pastor is going through this experience right now. Your words have been an encouragement to me. I am a first time reader of your blog. A pastor friend asked me to read this article. I am so glad I did. Thank you Bro. Joe. I will now be a frequent reader of yours.

    • Thank you, Brother Keith. I’m sorry you’re going through this, but often, after you get through the first few weeks, the church will be stronger and you will be glad they left. Great to have you join our discussion here.

  9. Joe,

    Another great article. Almost a year ago my small church had a family leave. The family was very new and the young husband and father made it clear from day one he wanted leadership and teaching opportunities. I encouraged him to spend some time getting to know the church serving and letting people get to know him then we would talk. When it became obvious he wasn’t going to get to be my right hand man they left.

    On the surface its hard for a church like ours to lose a family with 4 preschool kids, but I am convinced it would have been nothing but headache and heartache if they had stayed.

    • I completely agree, David. Anyone who moves to a church expecting to a) be given leadership responsibilities quickly and/or b) become the pastor’s best friend should be watched carefully. Sometimes they are sincerely and humbly trying to serve; at other times, they are looking for a pond over which they can rule as Head Frog. (smiley face goes here)

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