When Do You Leave Your Family?

(That title ought to get people curious. Don't panic, read on.)

A couple of weeks ago I came across this post at Radical Congruency which quoted an entire article by Greg Kendall-Ball at the New Wineskins blog. It was about why folks leave the church.

Now in my church family (ICoC) the upheaval in the past two years has been hard. We've learned a lot about ourselves and our churches and each other. Some, in response to what they've seen, have decided to leave for what they hoped would be greener pastures. In some cases they were long, soul wrenching times of introspection before they left, in others it seemed more spontaneous. In my church we've lost I'd guess 20 – 30 members in the past 2 -3 years. In the last year or so, several of those have been my closest friends. They've left, to some degree, over issues that I've agreed with them on, at least on some level. I'd be lying if I said that the thought that perhaps I too should leave hadn't crossed my mind. It has even been suggested by some who left, not directly but indirectly, that they thought I would eventually follow those men.

Which brings the question, when is it time to leave? Now for those members of my church reading this, don't get the wrong idea. I am not planning on leaving, I don't feel compelled to do so nor do I see myself moving in that direction. I do have some things I am frustrated with, some bigger than others, but I'm not going anywhere right now. Please don't read into this post anything of the sort. It's simply a discussion of the issue of leaving a church.

So back to the question, when leave? Or better yet, how do you decide if this is an issue worth leaving over. I can imagine things that would cause me to step down from a leadership role, but to leave to go to another church? I can't see it. I love these people; I've been here in this church from the beginning. I uprooted my family to move here to start this church. So what could be so big that I'd be willing to give it up and move on, starting over with new relationships?

Watching folks I'm close to leave has made me think about it. At times I have felt that it may inevitable that I too leave. The thought made me very sad and depressed. I don't want to start over, to try to find someplace where I can trust the people. Somewhere I'll be taken care of and where I can care for people. I think about how sad it would be that one of the founders of the church felt compelled to leave what he had started (That's already happened. One of those four in my earlier post was one of the founding members of the congregation.) I though why should I leave, I was here first! Where would I go? Move to another city? Would it be better there? All thoughts brought me back to, what would make me go through all that?

That brings me back to Greg's New Wineskins post. He writes about this thing that seems to plague not only the ICoC, but the CoC's as a whole. That is the idea that some doctrinal issue or personal disagreement is big enough that a person feels the need to leave. I know that the CoC's are not alone in this, churches have been splitting since Luther nailed his Thesis to the church door. But we seem to be particularly good at it. Greg lays out the story of a few people who have left the CoC recently, and talks about how sad it is for the church to loose those voices and their insight.

At the end of the article he acknowledges that there is no easy solution, and admits that he has no magic bullet. But then he hits on something profound:

One possible solution (and I am thinking of my family here), is for the church to act more like a family, and less like a country club. In my family we can disagree, we can argue, we can spit and scream and scratch . . . but leaving the family, breaking those bonds, is unthinkable. But in a country club, if I don't like the new members, or the greens are getting a little rough, I can always take my dues and find a better club that suits me more, or I can push members out or bar others from getting in.

This idea has shaped my thought on this in recent weeks. This is not just an organization I belong to, it's my church, my family. Family can be a real pain sometimes (family – sorry about that, but it's true), but you'd never, never, never think about leaving them. You may stay away, even for years, but only in extreme cases of physical or mental danger or abuse would you disown your family. And even then, you'd probably acknowledge that they were your family. Family is permanent, membership is temporary.

If you think about it, that's how God works with us. We call Him Father, He calls us Sons and Daughters. Jesus is our brother. We are members, not of God's club, but his household.

So yes, I may have issues with my church. Actually, I will probably always have some. Yes I may even decide I can't be a part of the leadership at some point due to that. But to leave – this is my family, why would leave and where would I go? It's possible, but things would have to get real, real bad for that to happen.


We left our home church of 10 years just about a year ago. We left because we felt the focus was no longer biblical, and because we had serious issues with the leadership.

That was secondary, though, to the fact that we also felt called to be part of something smaller, more intimate, more bible-focused, and more missions-based.

So when to leave? For us it was when we felt that it was God's plan for us to do so.

I'm guessing you will be getting more comments on this post soon, as it's linked at the icocinfo.org site.

Your words are thoughtful and attempt to answer an important question. I think I've looked at it from a variety of views at times. I agree that many leave rashly, giving little thought to it--I'd wager these are the minority (but I could be wrong), since leaving can be devastating. Interestingly, some (hopefully, also a minority, but again, I could be wrong) stay for the exact same reason--a stubborn reluctance to think seriously through the issues at hand.

Both these groups, in my opinion, are where they are (whether having left, or stayed) for questionable reasons and can't necessarily be commended for their choices. (I say this with some reluctance, since even in these situations God is their ultimate and just judge and may find some hidden virtue hidden from Christians who still "see in a mirror dimly".)

You include an important reason why some might leave, describing these circumstances as "extreme cases of physical or mental danger or abuse..." I would wager at least some who leave have done so for just this reason (at least the "mental danger" part), which is all the more evident when dealing with the effects of leaving one's family and community--it is, as you acknowledge, very difficult.

Additionally, our spiritual families are far larger than our local, or "immediate" spiritual families.

Let's consider our blood families. I have blood-family that I love and will even continue to "fellowship" with, though I would not live with them, or follow their counsel regarding certain topics, or encourage their influence on my own more immediate family. They are still my family, and just because there are boundaries to our relationships doesn't stop them from being my family--it only limits the scope of the relationship.

On a personal note, I no longer "live" (so to speak) with the part of the body of christ that I did before, but they are still my brothers and sisters and I still fellowship with them as opportunity, need, & want provide. Now the scope of their influence on my own life is different for a variety of reasons. I still meet with my "immediate" spiritual family (for we are all the body of our Lord)--it's just not composed of all the same people. I realize that my immediate spiritual family reaches outside of the boundaries of a charter list, or a particular group.

Anyway, just some thoughts to throw into the pot. Thanks for sharing yours.

God bless you and your "family"--be they near or far.

in Him,

I recently just left a congregation in the midwest. This may be just a temporary sabbatical or something longer. I left because of all the hurts I've experienced and I need time to heal. The church has made it abundantly clear that we're moving forward yet how can i stay when a battered sheep is being dragged along. I cannot change the churches focus or direction therefore I need evaluate myself and my heart. If and when I heal and unlearn all the things that has corrupted than I will return, but I cannot go back and subject myself to that again. Alot of things has been publically denounced but things haven't been publically unlearnt. For example leaders and lay members alike have apologized for bad discipling. Discipling however was never the problem it was ordinary people who all of a sudden became psycho-analyst to discipled the wrong way. We condemned the practice but never taught people the correct way. Each person is different and has had different experiences and it would be insensitive to say that people shouldn't leave over issues with leadership, or doctrinal issues or hurt feelings. In my case because of my experiences I'm a works-oriented person. I don't understand God's grace one iota. Because of that I have a lot of unlearning how to work to please God and a lot of learning how to accept grace. And atleast in the midwestern church that I fellowship at I cannot go and accomplish those things because it's still going on. Does that make sense. please feel free to contact me.


Thanks for your thoughts and I hope you'll come back again. I saw the link at icocinfo too and cringed a little. I was a little hesitant to post this for a couple of reasons.

The biggest one was that I didn't want to give the impression that I condemn all leaving or that there was a simple right and wrong to this. Two or three of those 4 men who've left my church are readers of this blog and I understand much about why they left. Besides, as you said, it is mot my role to judge, it's God's. It is my role to listen and council, but that's it. There is no inherent sin in leaving just as there's no inherent righteousness in staying. What i didn't want to convey was that this was the answer for everyone. I hope the short, one line at icocinfo didn't give that impression (I understand that you can't boil an article to a link and retain all of the meaning.) If folks actually come and read it I don't think they will get that impression.

Two, I worry a little that one day I will decide to leave and that this will then be seen as hypocritical. I truly don't see that day coming, but I guess it may one day and I hope that this won't come back to haunt me. :-)

Thanks again for your thoughts.


You and I were typing at the same time.

I can understand the thought of not being able to see God through all the hurt you are reminded of when you go to church. My best friend, one of those four, told me of his desire to leave. He had just come back from a weekend at another church. He said something like "I could go and just be focused on God. I know they have problems, but they weren't my problems."

It hurts me to hear that you feel 'dragged along' by your church. A church should be where the lost or 'damaged' sheep get found and cared for. I hope you find a place - or better yet a person who can be your good shepherd, and a place where you can see God.

I hope you too can find a way to experience God's grace. It has hard to see in our churches (I'm assuming you are in an ICoC church) over the years. We were all about performance, measuring our worth by what we do. God doesn't do that at all, I'm convinced, instead measuring our worth by who He is. It's just like a parent does. My girls blow it every day, but they are more valuable to me that anything on earth (except my wife.), not because of what they do but who they are and who I am.

Thanks for your comments.

I think it boils down to what Ryan said "We condemned the practice but never taught people the correct way." I thought many times that we focused on the what your doing wrong instead of yes that's wrong but here's how to do it the right way. And, when the "right" way was taught it often depended on the discipler what was the right way. Perhaps arrogantly or just with having a desire to help but not knowing exactly how. What happened, I believe, is we lost sight of Jesus. We focused on our knowledge instead of God's, our experiences instead of God's and our glory instead of God's.

And, what Salgoud said "A church should be where the lost or 'damaged' sheep get found and cared for." I think an indicator of what a Chritian is and what a group of Chritian's are is their love. John 13:34-35 and Luke 7:20-23
20When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' "
21At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

My wife and I left one church about a year and a half ago and another one about a half a year ago. I always hoped to be a person who helped those who were "poor." Not only poor financially but poor socially or physically or mentally. And, it hurts me deeply to see, hear and know of people beeing hurt. It seems every other week my wife and I have a conversation about how the church failed in it's love and we spoke about Luke 7 recently. "Are you the one?" was the question and Jesus' reply was I take care of the poor physically and mentally so they can be healed Spiritually. Many people ask their church "are you the one?"

Dear God, please help me glorify you. In Jesus name amen.

I left a church about two years ago and I have to tell you that my walk with God and my faith have increased ten-fold since then.

We left our church because we were a praise team for a contemporary service. However, it was a contemporary service that no one supported. The church wasn't growing and the people in the church resented what we did. The funny thing is that we knew that we were the best hope for this small church's growth.

At first, when I left the church, I sat around for about a week asking, "Why, God, Why?" Then, a friend of mine came to me and helped me to understand that God had a plan for me. That conversation started something in me and I went the other members of our praise team and asked them if they would like to start a music ministry. We are now reaching the end of our second year of providing religious services to two separate convalescent homes. We touch hearts, hands, and lives evertime we meet.

What I am trying to say by this is that God called us out of the church in order to put us into service. Sometimes, I believe that God does this to start new things along the way. Just since I have left my home church, I have started a Bible study at my office, a weekly prayer group at my office, workshops on music ministries for a local Bible college, and the ministry to the convalescent homes. I have stopped looking back, and have started to look forward.

When people are members of a church, often their focus becomes on the workings of the church. In a sense, they become focused on helping the church and that isn't always the same as helping God. It took my leaving the church to put my focus on working for God, and it has been the most wonderful transition that I have had. It has enriched my walk with God and it has made me a more relevant Christian. Let's face it, God transcends the constraints of the church walls. He sees beyond them and sees the possibilities and sometimes, if we really listen to His voice, we find out what those possibilities are.

With that said, my biggest and greatest frustration is watching churches be unable to see beyond their own walls. I look for ways to empower churches to do that, and I would work hard for any church that really, really wanted to try to do that.

Hey Douglas,
Sorry I am only now getting around to reading your post. I didn't even know it was here until my WordPress dashboard showed me the link!

Anyway, thanks for posting this here, too, and for your thoughts. I have had some good conversations with people because of it, and I hope to have more. Perhaps it is because I am a white male that I haven't really reached the point of having irreconcilable differences with my church family, but I think there is an element of truth to the whole "family" idea.

Thanks again for helping get this issue out in the open. I just hope people don't see this as a condemnation of those who are leaving, but rather a cry of mourning for those who are staying.

God bless,
Greg K-B

I am glad to read this post. As I have said over and over again, Christianity = family. It IS Christian to love each other. Not what a Christian does, but what a Christian IS. Never should you stop loving, and caring, and fighting for our families. Especially if they are headed in a self-distructive direction. But sometimes, in order to get a clear veiw of things, you need to step back.

Here is what I mean. If you grew up with a somewhat but acceptable abusive family, you would probably think that all families are like that. You would come to accept these abuses as the norm. Then, as you grow up, you start to question the way your family has functioned this whole time. You start to realize that this family of yours IS abusive. At first, you are indignant and want to react radically, then you calm down, remember your love for the family and start taking action to heal that. Instead of subjecting yourself to that abuse and trying to make change (to deaf ears who refuse to see things soberly and contritely) so you go out and get your own apartment. After you move out, and start spending time with another family, you realize that not only was your family abusive, but the reason they were abusive is because they were addicts (not to drink, but to the lifestyle). And then you notice that in addictive behavior, the ability to see the truth clearly is clouded by what they have always known. So what to do? It's a hard question.

What more if that addiction is in the Name of Christ, and your addiction is confused with devotion? Well, we all have the bible to stear us straight, but if we can only see the bible the way that we were taught, and are perfectly fine with that because it works for you, then why would you want to change? Regardless if your "view" is slightly off track, it is still self-distructive. I'm not talking about sin, or disputable matters, but realizing that you had it wrong the whole time, and your family continues in the same track. How do you deal with that family circumstance. I don't think that we should be niave to the point of assuming that our family is healthy and a place where your best interest are always in the front of thinking.

Or, let me put it like this: If you are adopted, and the family you were adopted with is convinced that they are following the guide rules of living correctly, plus or minus some forgivable mistakes, you would believe that everything is hunky-dorey. Then, one day, while you were reading the guide rules of living, you find some chapters that are not being acknowleged. What do you do? You can try to tell them, but they ignore you. How do you act? You don't stop loving them, you don't stop caring, but maybe you need to take some time reading those ingnored chapters in the book. That might just take a step out for a time. Then, notice that even when confronting the family, they continue to do what they have always done, and decide that the other chapters are incorrect and unimportant, mainly because they have never needed those chapters before, and why should they need them now?

Just few thoughts and questions!

Hey, I didn't mean to make you cringe! (smile) I thought it was a well written, thought-provoking piece.


No worries, I know it isn't easy to sum up an article on one sentence. It's just that some in the past couple of years have looked down on those leaving and I don't want to condemn them or give support to those who do. "See, that Columbus guy isn't leaving!" Ugh.

As I said, I think that if folks come and read they'll get what I'm talking about. If all they see is that one line, well, shame on them for not coming and reading the whole thing!

Thanks for your mentioning my site (again).

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