I’m Leaving My Church
Some people are called to stay in places, to plant, to sow deeply over a period of time. But some people are called to go, to leave the comfort and consistency they’ve come to expect. Lore Ferguson describes how her church encourages both in this article from our series What My Church Does Well.
In two months, I’m leaving my church.
It’s not the first time I’ve left a local church. There’s a pattern in my life of loving and leaving, rarely clinging and cleaving. The local church has been a pebble in my shoe and lump in my throat. We’ve swung the whole spectrum of love, hate, and indifference. Right now we’re still in love, but I’ve planned it out, packed my bags, handed in my resignation: I’m leaving her—and it’s breaking my heart.
In January I was offered a job at another church in another state. The church has all the markings of love already. It’s in a city nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It’s full of liturgy, local business owners, and people who love of the outdoors. We were made for one another. But taking the job means leaving what I love more than anything on earth: my local church.
Taking Off the Golden Handcuffs
Those of us in my current church call our connection to one another the “golden handcuffs.” There’s this propensity to stay where it is comfortable. We are not nestled by majestic mountains, unless you count the mountains of suburban sprawl, big box stores, and stacked highways. Any material thing we could want is within a five-minute drive. We sit under some of the best preaching and teaching available in the world today. Our lead pastor is well known for his gospel intensity and desire to see his people conformed to Christ’s likeness. We have equipping classes because we take the knowledge of Christ seriously. We affirm the equality of men, women, and every race, and we also value the diversity of men, women, and every race. We love families, service, and discipleship—and if you know us well, you know we do none of those things perfectly.
These handcuffs are pretty and comfortable, but too often they hold us back from the call to go. It is comfortable to stay here, but we know we’re not called to stay. We’re called to leave.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
More than 150 times in the book of Matthew alone, Jesus used the word “Go,” most notably in the last two verses: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The seeming contradiction of “go” and “make disciples” leaves us in a bit of a conundrum. To make disciples, we have to be long-suffering, sure-footed, steady, and faithful. Disciples are not made by brief conversations in half-hearted confessional groups. They are made in the day-by-day commitment to seeing growth and sanctification worked out in God’s people. This means staying. How can we be stay-ers and go-ers?
I am a natural go-er. Moving is just another challenge, and new jobs are good risks. I have little fear of starting afresh in new places with new faces. In some ways, I thrive in the midst of these challenges. People like me often are called to go, to leave the comfort and consistency they’ve come to expect, to leave and sow in new places among new people. If I’m not careful, though, I can begin to laud being a go-er as more Christ-like than being a stay-er, as though my willingness to be flexible and go is somehow superior to another’s willingness to be planted and stay wherever the Lord calls.
Because other people are called to stay in places, to plant, to sow deeply over a long period of time, and they do it in complete joy. It is treasure worth more than gold to commit to one people and place for life. My pastor says to us often, “I’m asking the Lord for forty years with you.” He is not here because it is comfortable but because he is called.
What my local church has taught me is that sometimes those golden handcuffs are more golden than cuffs, and sometimes they are more cuffs than golden.
Embracing the Gospel Goodbyes
We have another short phrase we use in my church, what we call “gospel goodbyes.” These are not just “goodbye, see you laters.” These are goodbyes with a sense of calling. They are reserved for those who go and also are sent. We send missionaries and businesspeople, pastors and church plants, college students and families—we send them with prayer and counsel and friendship and a longevity that says, “Life is taking us far apart from one another, but the gospel binds us together more than blood ever could.”
I confess, it is painful to take off these golden handcuffs, to embrace the gospel goodbye that’s waiting for me. The pain in my heart doesn’t eclipse the joy of the new season ahead, but it does cast a shadow over it. I love my church and our people and our vision and our desire to see all nations come to the knowledge of Christ. But I am a go-er. God made me with a flexible spirit and a pioneering heart. He made me to go, and so I go, knowing that I do not go alone because Matthew 28 ends with these words, “And behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”