Ep. 208 How to Leave a Legalistic Church

Shows Main Idea – A lady sent in a note, asking if I would do a podcast on leaving a legalistic church. Here are a few thoughts, many of which apply to how to leave any church.

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Show Notes

Leading – If you are married, your husband should lead this process.

Unity – The husband and wife must agree on leaving.

Decision-making – You must know how to make a biblical decision. Familiarize yourself with my article on biblical decision-making: Canon, Comforter, Community, and Conscience.  One of the questions you want to answer is the shepherding question: Who do you want to be your pastor—the shepherding question?

Children – Depending on the ages of the children, you want to walk them through this process. If they are older, there could be relational connections with the church. They may also have sentimental reasons for not leaving. And some children struggle with changing familiar environments.

Security – If the children are younger, it won’t matter as much. The more vital thing is parental unity. They will find their security through familial agreement more than church choices.

Leave Well – The way that you want to leave is “well.” You must “leave well.” I have written several articles on the local church, specifically on how to exit one. Please read the ones at the top of these Show Notes.

On Gossip – You will have to guard your heart against gossip. Your friends will always love you, and some of the rest will gossip about you. You can’t cave to the fear of others (Proverbs 29:25). Read my article about how not to be controlled by the opinions of others.

On the Gospel – If this church is preaching the gospel, you can rejoice on that (Philippians 1:15). And if they are right on the gospel, it’s not a wrong church; you’re only struggling about preferential matters (Galatians 1:8-9).

On Imperfection – Remember that your pastor is a fallen individual like you. So are the church members, and the rest of the leadership. I used to be a fundamentalist, in the harsh, legalistic sense of that word. I’m not that way any longer.

The doctrine of progressive sanctification teaches that we all change. Perhaps this church will change too. There is no need to go out of your way to criticize this church. Don’t let your hurt or disappointment rule your heart.

On the Conscience – Remember that these people “believe” that they are correct in how they interpret and apply the Bible; it’s a conscience issue. You don’t want to come across as the puffed-up person (arrogance) because you have more “light” than they do.

People who believe preferential things as a matter of conscience will take great offense in your “knowledge.” You steward their consciences well.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).

On Sharing with Others – If someone asks you why you left, you can tell them. But you can do this with a grateful attitude for your time there and the things you learned. If the pastor is not sinning, there is no use in tearing him or other church members down.

Think about it like this: If someone asks you why you like this restaurant over the other restaurant, tell them why you have your preference. If both restaurants serve edible food and are doing business legally, it’s not a problem to have different ways of doing it.

You can share your views without frustration, malice, deception, or vengeance. The Lord brought you there for a reason and a season. Now it’s time to move on, and if someone wants to know, tell them with discretion and redemptive purposes in view.

You don’t have to tweet your move or post anything Facebook. If nobody asks, move on, and praise God that you had an opportunity to be there for that season.

On Retaliation – If they spin your reasons for leaving to suit their agenda, don’t worry about it. Again, your friends will always love you. If they talk critically about you, do not respond in return. You continue committing yourself to Him who judges justly.

For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly ( 1 Peter 2:21-23).

Call to Action

  1. If you’re married, is your husband leading your family?
  2. Are you both “in faith” for this move? Are you sure you don’t want this pastor to be your shepherd or your children’s shepherd?
  3. What is your gameplan to walk your children through this move? How are you planning to communicate as you consider the uniqueness of each child?
  4. Are your hearts guarded, to the extent that you’re not going to gossip about anyone?
  5. What are you going to say to those who ask you why you’re leaving?
  6. What is your response if they gossip about you?
  7. Will you be able to visit this church for weddings or other special events? (If you can’t return to a church you left, there is something wrong? Start with you when looking for what is not right if you can’t visit that fellowship in the future.)
  8. If you want to discuss this with me, you’ll have to get your free username and password, and then jump on our free community forums.
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