Home Pastors When It’s OK to Let People Walk Away from Church

When It’s OK to Let People Walk Away from Church

“As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66).

“They went out from us because they were not of us” (I John 2:19).

Sometimes the best thing to happen to your church is for a few people to leave.

Not long ago I ministered in a church where a few longtime leaders had just left. From the little I know, these were the ones who had controlled that church for decades, who dominated pastors and drove them away whenever it suited them, and who resisted anything remotely looking like change. The pastor’s greatest surprise was that they had left. He was one happy camper.

My seminary professor used to say: “People measure the effectiveness of a revival by the additions to the church. Sometimes, a better gauge is the subtractions.”

Recently, I unfriended a person on Facebook. This troubled individual latches on to the Lord’s workers and devotes herself to controlling their lives, playing on their guilt and making demands on their time. I don’t need this. After we unfriended her, she began leaving critical messages on this blog—two one day and four the next morning.

Don’t bother looking for them.

One of the luxuries of having your own blog is the ability to manage it. We went into the program and erased her comments.

“It’s pastors like you,” she said on one of the now-erased comments, “who cause people to quit going to church.”

Interesting logic. According to that, pastors who refuse to let strangers manipulate them are responsible if that person leaves the church.

I don’t think I’ll buy any of that today, thank you.

Plenty of people believe it. Some who swallow that poison are pastors and sincere Christian workers with a heart for ministry and a love for people. They obsess that someone somewhere might be offended if they did this thing or that thing—or did not do this or that—and the result being to harm their eternal souls. They worry and grieve themselves to death.

A teenager called me on the phone one day. This was back in the days when public schools would invite preachers to come on campus and address the student body on topics of faith and morality.

I forget what I had said in the message, but the student wanted to argue. He said, “I do not agree with you.” I said: “Well, that’s fine. Not everyone does.”

He proceeded to tell me how smart he was, and he had read all the “Great Books” series (something I once tried, got about halfway through Marcus Aurelius and called it off). Whether he actually had or not is anyone’s guess. The last thing I said to him was, “When you’re ready to have a real discussion about this and not just argue, call me back and we can talk.”

A couple of weeks later, he committed suicide.

I grieved about that then and am sorry about it to this day.

Previous articleWatch Out for the Good-Idea Snipers
Next article21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change
Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.