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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Obama Leaves His Church (and 10 things to know about leaving yours)

Tonight, The Times reported that Senator Barack Obama left his church. Obama was an active member for two decades at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago where he was married and his daughters were baptized. But, as we all know (unless we’ve been under that proverbial rock) the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor of TUCC hasn’t made life too easy for Mr. Obama in recent days.

Some folks are speculating this will be great for his general election campaign while others are questioning why it took him so long to leave since this controversy is probably indicative of a deeper sentiment the church has always communicated.

I cannot begin to speculate whether this was a good decision for Obama or not. I don’t know the “whole” story. I don’t know how they handled themselves behind closed doors. I don’t know if they followed biblical means of confrontation and/or reconciliation. Since I don’t know, I won’t form an opinion.

However, it does have me thinking tonight about people leaving churches.

I have read so many articles and heard so many opinions about when it is “okay” to leave a church. And, quite frankly, unless you know the situation inside out it is hard to make a blanket statement about when it is okay.

For instance, some would say it is okay—and even necessary—to leave a church when the “truth” is no longer preached. While that makes some sense, there is also honor in staying at a church and lovingly holding leadership accountable through the proper channels in order to save the church’s reputation and not drag the name of Jesus through the mud.

There is a bigger question behind the question of “when is it appropriate to leave a church?” and that question is “have you committed to the church you are thinking of leaving?” In other words, if you are not a member (partner, owner, etc.) of your church, you can pretty much do what you want.

If you have issues with your church but you aren't a member, you haven’t committed to anything so your leaving is just like switching grocery stores.

I'm only halfway joking.

So then, if you haven’t committed to any church body there may be a bigger question you may want to ask yourself—“why?’

P.S. If you haven’t committed to that body (through whatever process the local body has in place) and you are not an active participant and financial giver, you should keep in mind you really don’t have any "right" to voice your opinion on your way out.

If you have committed, there is a higher standard for you on how you “go about your business” with raising concerns, communicating issues, and/or leaving.

A commitment to a church is like a commitment to a spouse or a relationship or your family. You don’t just walk out on a family. You don’t just give up on a relationship when it doesn’t “meet your needs.” When you have an issue with your spouse you talk it through—maybe even with a counselor (third party). When the passion wanes, you work on bringing back the original passion.

And, if you do break up with someone or air your grievances, it is not looked upon favorably when you do so by note, letter, or email.

So, without talking about all the possible reasons you might have to leave your church. Let’s talk about “how to do it.”

Let’s assume you have every biblical reason to leave, you have had every conversation you need to have, you have prayed incessantly about your decision, you have gone through the proper channels, and you have exhausted all other possibilities. Now what?

It is 99% inevitable that the church you belong to now is the church you will be from one day.

But, there is a right way and a wrong way to leave a church.

In no particular order, here are some suggestions : : :

1. Don’t make a scene. This is Jesus’ church. No matter how pissed you are at Pastor Bob, Jesus does not deserve your prideful attention grabbing hissy fit.

2. Don’t slander. Again, Pastor Bob and his wife may be idiots. His kid may be the demon seed of Mayberry. But, the church belongs to Jesus. You owe it to your own reputation, the reputation of Bob and his family, and the reputation of Jesus and his church to keep your mouth shut.

3. Ask your pastor(s) out for lunch and explain your decision to leave. Let them know what the “agenda” is before asking them out. Give them the option of not going to lunch with you. Depending on the circumstances that have led up to your departure it may be best you part friends without talking any further. However, give them the courtesy of the lunch invite.

4. In the best of all possible scenarios, part on good terms. It is always better to go out like Seinfeld did—nothing wrong, top of your game. Make sure when you leave you are leaving on the kind of terms where you won’t have to duck down aisle 3 of the supermarket when Bob is on aisle 5 up ahead. Make it the kind of departure where you would be asked to come volunteer in a heartbeat if you ever came back.

5. Do not write a letter or email listing your grievances. Seriously. Trust me. A departure letter gives your church leadership no way to win and leaves them with a bad parting opinion of you. It would be better for you to slip away quietly never to be heard from again than to send a flaming email and disappear.

6. Do not take anyone with you. A common disaster in most churches happens when someone gets their shorts in a wad and starts to build a network of support they take with them on the way out. Truth be told? Most of the folks who were invited to take up pitchforks usually end up coming back after they realize how dumb it was to leave and how invested they are in a place they call home.

7. Don’t talk about “your old church” with your “new church.” Trust me, your new pastor doesn’t want to hear your smack talk. We are all on the same team. Truth be told, when I hear talk about the “last church” I know it is only a matter of time before we fit the profile.

8. Never use your tithe to hold the church hostage. Believe it or not, some will dangle their tithe in front of the church leadership as a way to grab their attention—“I’m gonna leave and take my money with me.” First, your money is Jesus’ money. Second, said money does not buy you privileges.

9. Set an example. Be cognizant of the fact that others are watching you. Young believers, not-yet believers, seasoned believers, and everyone in-between is watching. So is Jesus.

10. Don’t say anything you will regret. Words mean something. Words have lasting effects.

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