You are planning to leave your church and are contemplating writing something, or talking to, the pastor. In a healthy church, this would be easy…but in an unhealthy one, it is best to be cautious.
We are familiar with people being read their rights upon arrest and part of what is said is that “Anything you say can, and will, be used against you.” Unfortunately, though an unhealthy church doesn’t warn you of this, the same holds true with them.
For years I have cautioned people against giving details in any email or letter they may write to a pastor when they leave. If you include anything perceived to be negative, it will most likely be used against you. That would include sharing any thoughts on doctrine being erroneous, how the church is run, problems, and so on. The letter itself, or portions thereof, may be shared with members and it might be featured in a sermon. In an unhealthy church, your observations and complaints may be shared in an effort to place you in a negative light and to keep members from having contact with you. This, in turn, causes others pause who are having similar thoughts, by getting a glimpse of how they may be treated.
If you write a letter of resignation, and I would encourage it (more in a future post), keep it brief and simple. Avoid sharing your reasons for leaving. If you can do it sincerely, consider thanking the pastor or church for something that helped you during your time there or share that you leave with some good memories. I would not mention where you will be attending church, if you have decided that. (Some pastors will call the church to warn them about you.) By keeping it short and nice, you will save yourself some heartache and won’t be giving the leadership any ammunition to use against you. Keep a copy for yourself.
The pastor may push to meet with you, but understand that the purpose may be to persuade you to remain and perhaps tell you where you have gone wrong or attempt to scare you. While you may not have shared the reason for your exit, sometimes one can give off unspoken signals in the weeks or days before leaving. These may be interpreted as you being backslid, rebellious, unteachable, and anything else negative.
You have no obligation to speak to the pastor. If you know the pastor to be abusive, I would advise against it. Consider having someone go with you as a witness if you do meet. Be aware that sometimes they will take the opposite approach and perhaps even sympathize and promise things will change. This has worked in causing some to remain, leaving them trying to reach the proverbial carrot on a stick that will never be within reach.
For anyone interested, below is my resignation letter, with the church name removed. Today I would probably write it differently, omitting the part about changing churches. It was also written before I learned about spiritual abuse. Though he called fellow UPCI church pastors to warn them about me, I never heard of him sharing this letter with members.
Dear Bro. Taylor:
Recently I have made the decision to leave the ___ Church and attend another church. I have not yet made the decision on which church this will be, but I am attending church services.
This has not been an easy decision to make, nor was it done hastily. It is not being done to hurt anyone. I feel that this is a move I need to make regardless of what anyone may think or say, be it good or bad. I myself have always felt that it was wrong to change churches unless you were moving, getting married, etc., but now feel that there are times when one may move on for other reasons than these.
I want to say that I have learned much from the many years I was a member of the church and have grown spiritually. There are things which you have taught that will always stay with me. I will always remember and love you and Sister Taylor.
Though I am still praying about which church to attend, I felt I needed to let you know about my decision to leave. I wish you and Sister Taylor the best. May God lead and bless you.
Again, guard your own heart in how you leave and maintain your integrity. And remember- anything you say can, and will, be used against you…..
Leaving An Unhealthy Church #1: You and Those Who Remain
Leaving An Unhealthy Church #2: Anything You Say Can, And Will, Be Used Against You
Leaving An Unhealthy Church #3: Why It May Be Important To Resign Your Membership
Leaving An Unhealthy Church #4: Remaining in the Same Organization
Leaving An Unhealthy Church #5: Don’t Listen To The Gossip
Leaving an Unhealthy Church #6: How You Are Treated
Leaving an Unhealthy Church #7: It Happens To Ministers, Too
Leaving an Unhealthy Church #8: The Way Of The Transgressor Is Hard!
Leaving an Unhealthy Church #9: Some Must Return To Remember Why They Left
Leaving An Unhealthy Church #10: Sorting Through The Teachings
Leaving an Unhealthy Church #11: Confusion & Not Knowing Who or What to Believe
Leaving An Unhealthy Church #12: Can I Go To A Church Where I Don’t Agree With Everything?