Initially, the church had felt like the perfect home for their family. Great preaching, great music, the right balance of opportunities and a growing community. But with a change in church leadership and a deeper involvement in the activities of the church, they felt a shift in priorities and direction that they just weren’t comfortable with. Nothing was really unBiblical or even extraBiblical, it just felt like their time at that church might be over. Together they discussed their concerns and brought them before God’s throne in prayer, and still no peace…just a feeling of uncertainty and uneasiness. What was their next step?
In another town, a family had been involved with a ministry related group for some time. The group met regularly for classes, field trips, activities and more. The family had initially been very excited to join the group but over time, realized that it just wasn’t the best fit for their family priorities. They didn’t always agree with the direction of the group they had joined, they were sometimes frustrated by various challenges within the group, and yet there were other things that they greatly appreciated about the group. Bottom line, it felt like God had something else for them. So, what was their next step?
Before I describe what I would call a “graceful exit”…let me first describe what I often see done in these types of circumstances. To be quite honest, I’ve even employed some of these methods, not always understanding the damage I was doing, the lack of Biblical principles in my actions, or the poor testimony that I was leaving in my wake.
*A “grace full” disclaimer – In recent days there has been a lot controversy surrounding fallen Christian leaders, and the sad reality that there some people who try to bring their concerns, offenses and issues, to light are simply “not heard”. Instead these wounded and offended individuals are subdued, or silenced. While some of what I may share below, would apply to larger issues like these, I also want to be clear to state that for the purpose of this particular article, I am speaking of those issues that are not “go to the mat” issues of morality, major doctrinal issues, etc. For the purpose of this article, I’m speaking of issues that are more peripheral in nature…more preference and relationship oriented.
Now…onto these “ungraceful exit” methods.
- 1. The silent method – Instead of sharing any concerns, offenses or reasons for leaving a church or program, this “ungraceful exit” just slowly begins to pull away from people with whom they have been in community…no explanation, no good-byes….no nothing. All those left behind are left wondering what in the world…just happened.
- 2. The “tell-all” method – Instead of sharing concerns with leadership or those that could actually make changes or make a difference, people using method feel compelled to share all the negative thoughts they have ever had about the church or program from which they are exiting…even when those negatives are not the true reason for their departure.
- 3. The “no fault” method – Instead of taking responsibility for any part they may have played in any conflicts, offenses, or misunderstandings, the “no fault” method instead, begins finding fault with every little thing within the church or program in an effort to make themselves feel better about their choice to exit.
- 4. The “hostage” method – Instead of making it a personal decision upon which they can base their actions, and move forward in what God has called them to do, individuals employing this method feel compelled to convince others to see circumstances the same way they do and to feel the same way they do about the church or program. They are not comfortable making their own choices. They have to have company in their views, opinions and choices.
- 5. The “blame it on the kids” method – Instead of being the adults and making a decision that is right for their family, and stating it as such, this group bases their decisions on the happiness or stress level of their children. NO time for leading the child through challenges and difficulties and teaching them how to handle conflict…only panic over their child’s unhappiness, their child’s feeling of being uncomfortable, or their child’s stress level.
Whew…even as I describe these “methods”, I realize that I’ve been the recipient of each of them, and sad to say, I’ve probably demonstrated each “method” at one time or another.
All of these “methods” have the potential to leave misunderstandings, confusion, and division in their wake. They have the potential to discourage leaders within the church and ministry. They discourage those lay leaders who pour their heart, soul, energy and time into providing opportunities for the body of Christ. I don’t think that’s what any of us want to happen when we exit a church or group.
We all know that there are times when God leads us on to new horizons. We all know that there are times when we have to “exit.” That’s part of life. That’s part of following the individual paths that God has for each of us and for our families. But is there a way to do exit gracefully, without leaving carnage behind us? Yes…Yes indeed there is!
So, how can we make a graceful exit?
1. The Matthew 18 method – If there is an offense, a concern, a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, perhaps we should consider following the instructions given in Matthew 18. GO TO THE PERSON involved with the concern…someone that can do something to solve the problem. It doesn’t say discuss it with everyone else first…it says to go to them. GO TO THE PERSON that has caused the offense or miscommunication….and talk with them. It doesn’t say to ask the rest of the group if they are feeling the same way you are. It says to GO TO THE PERSON. To go to someone else not directly involved with the problem or the solution, is nothing short of gossip. If after going to the right person, there is no resolution then take another person with you to help mediate the situation. But at least, give people a chance to discuss your concerns, issues and/or offenses.
Dave Ramsey has a “no gossip” policy within his organization. In other words, if you are discussing an issue with anyone that is not directly involved in either the problem or the solution, you will no longer be a member of his organization. Gossip causes division…no matter how harmless it may seem to us…it isn’t something that God takes lightly. Look what He says about it.
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time.
After that, have nothing to do with them. Titus 3:10
2. The “Bottom Line Method” – Make your decision on whether to stay or go, and then stand by it…on your own two feet. Bottom line, you feel like God has something else for your family that better fits His plan and lines up with your priorities. You don’t have to convince anyone that your reasoning and your decisions are right. If you’ve prayed about it and are convinced that God is leading you elsewhere, then follow that leading. Just be willing to stand alone on your decision and not be divisive in your exit. I love this quote by Benjamin Franklin.
“Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.”
Remember what your mom used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
3. The “Agree to Disagree Method” – If it is obvious that you and the organization are simply on different pages and you have talked through any issues, then consider just agreeing to disagree. Move forward by displaying brotherly love to each other, jus as Paul and Barnabas did. Then move on to the work God has called you to do and allow the other party to do the same.
Bottom line! “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35
A graceful exit is done with love, respect and by following Biblical principles in communication and relationships. It’s not that hard!..but I think many of us could use some practice at it.
Faith and Courage,