that is the question.
When I hear people wrestling with that question, I am concerned for them. I remember the turmoil of making our decision to leave our former church, and I remember the emotional storm that followed our decision.
Are people ever allowed to leave with a blessing? Can they be given respect and support in facing a difficult decision? What would it be like if relationships were affirmed during times of transition?
I know that many people face accusations if they decide to leave-accusations that they are abandoning their relationships, accusations that they lack commitment, and accusations that they are out of God's will. They will also likely experience separation and rejection.
Sometimes people are threatened that they are spiritually in danger because of leaving the flock. The banana that leaves the bunch gets peeled. The ember apart from the other coals soon dies out. They are told that they are an open target for the enemy.
I recently read that emerging people who have left their churches should have stayed in order to help bring reform. Personally, I think that when bringing reform is an option, people often do stay.
Many times though, the people who desire something more or different from their church don't have the voice or influence to bring change. Being in that position of unmet expectations can be damaging relationally on both ends.
I think this is an important point in deciding whether to stay or leave. Can you stay without burdening others with your expectations? Can you keep your own heart free of judgment and criticism? Has it become damaging to your emotional and spiritual health?
George Barna is already taking a lot of flack about his book and being accused of encouraging people to leave their churches. But what if he is simply reporting a phenomenon that is already underway?
Many of the people who have left traditional churches are following Christ. Their intent is not to abandon the church, but to allow the Lord to develop their expression of church in a way that is authentic for them.
Perhaps we could quit referring to people as having left the church. Most have not left the church. They have not removed themselves from the body of Christ.
Also, we could give people credit for listening to God and obeying Him to the best of their ability. Some people may be mistaken in their decision. Some may be immature or wrongly motivated. I dare say though that leaving is exactly what God wants in some situations.
I know I'm probably preaching to the choir. Jesus is building His church. It is in our buildings and denominations. It is also beyond our denominations and beyond our walls. We can trust Him to determine how and where the members fit.