In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to read this article, because you’re never leaving your church.
The reality is, though, at some point, you may decide to leave and will want or need to have a conversation with one of your pastors about it.
Before I give you a few tips to make the conversation easier, let me try and explain something almost impossible to explain. When you’re talking to a pastor — especially a senior pastor — about anything having to do with the church, you are not just talking about the church, you are talking about the pastor’s life, heart, and soul. I know you think you love the church as much as they do. I know you even believe that you’ve sacrificed and served the church as much as they have, but you haven’t. I don’t say that to be rude or mean; you just need to know that while you think about the church anywhere from two to ten hours a week (depending on your level of involvement) they are thinking about it all the time. They wake up and go to bed thinking about it. It’s probably unhealthy, but they can’t help it. They’ve invested everything in the church. They’ve sacrificed their family, health, marriage, and life to make the church the best it can be. It’s important you know that because every statement you are getting ready to make is going to be personal. It’s going to hurt, and we are probably going to get defensive.
Knowing that, let me give you some advice on how to tell your pastor you are leaving the church.
1. Don’t say, “It’s not personal.” Instead say, “I know this is going to hurt, but…”
I’ve already explained it, but this is probably the worst thing you can say. I know you don’t think it’s personal, but trust me; it’s as personal as it gets. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “We’re going to be looking for another church. Please don’t take it personally because it has nothing to do with you, it’s just…” It makes me want to scream. It would be like me saying to you, “I can’t be your friend anymore because I don’t like your kids. Please don’t take it personally because I love you and your wife, it’s just your kids.”
2. Don’t say, “I feel like God is leading me.” Instead say, “I want to leave…”
In all my years of talking to members who are leaving, I’ve never met anyone who started praying about leaving a church and heard a “no” from God. In other words, once you start praying about leaving, you’re going to leave. If you’re completely honest, you probably didn’t hear God tell you to leave; there are just some reasons you want to leave, and God didn’t stop you. That’s ok. The reason people like to use the “God card” is because they feel protected. After all, who’s going to tell you you’re lying about hearing from God? Always be leary of a God who never tells you what you don’t want to hear.
3. Don’t say, “I’m not getting fed.”
You telling a pastor you’re leaving because he doesn’t preach deep enough, or you’re not getting spiritual stimulation is like telling your spouse you’re leaving because they’re fat and ugly. It’s the most hurtful thing you can say because the pastor is doing everything they can to help their people experience God. It’s also incredibly arrogant because, whether you realize it or not, what you are saying is, “I’m at a superior spiritual level, and this church isn’t challenging or meeting my spiritual needs. And since you are the one responsible for setting the spiritual tone, I must be more spiritual than you, too.” There are many people in the congregation who are being “fed” by the teaching of the pastor. There is no good way to say this, so just don’t go there.
4. Say you’re sorry
You probably don’t feel like you need to, but it will make a big difference. If you can understand that after meeting with your pastor they probably won’t be able to sleep that night, and will probably either cry or feel like a failure once it’s over, you can understand why an apology is significant. Leave with humility and class. Leave with enough self-realization to admit it’s probably more about something going on in you than it is the shortcomings of your pastor or church. The church you’re leaving is probably doing the same things it was doing when you started attending, and you loved it and talked about how amazing it was.
Your pastor loves you. That’s why it hurts so much. He prays for you, and even though there are times you frustrate him, God has given him a burden for your soul, and when you leave you are ripping out a part of it. They understand that people are going to leave, their leadership and the church aren’t perfect, and you aren’t trying to be hurtful. Regardless, go about it like you’ve got the tweezers and you’re playing Operation — very carefully.