Asking People to Leave Church

Donald Miller wonders when it's OK and right to ask congregants to move on.

A couple times at a church here in Portland, the lead pastor has very kindly asked people to leave. I remember a specific time he just stood up and asked how many people had been coming to church for a year or more but hadn’t found a way to plug into the community. He then invited them to plug in (which at this church means to serve or find a home group or work in a ministry), and then told them if they hadn’t found a place that fit them, it might be time to try another church. It sounds rude, and the pastor wasn’t making anybody feel guilty—he just needed the chairs. He didn’t want to have to preach another service. The next week, there was a slight drop in attendance which freed up some chairs. I always admired that about this pastor.

To be clear, he hadn’t given up on them. And to be more clear, he hadn’t asked them to leave the Church (capital-C). What he was doing was leading; he was saying “this is where this community is going, where God has called us to go, and there may be other churches that God has called to just preach sermons and have people come and listen, perhaps doing ministry outside the community.” This pastor felt very strongly that the sermons, and even Sunday morning, weren’t what defined the church he had planted, but rather it was the act of “doing” work “together.”

Perhaps I admire this for the wrong reasons. Perhaps I get a bit tired of the unwritten rule of be as absolutely friendly to everybody as you can, nearly kissing up to them. I wonder if that doesn’t make a group of people spoiled. That idea is certainly debatable. My “black and white thinking” readers will see it as one way or another, but I think this is largely contextual. And it’s also a matter of calling for each church, perhaps.

There are other church leaders who, perhaps lacking in maturity, are just offensive. They talk like shock jocks, like slightly cleaned-up Howard Sterns, offending people and polarizing communities into people who are “with us” and “against us” (interestingly, this characteristic has been said to come from having been personally abused, needing to know who will submit to me and who won’t in order to feel safe) but this really isn’t what I’m talking about.

I think we are often afraid to say to somebody “You know, you don’t fit” because we might hurt them, so we get into relationships (and church is all about relationships) that simply aren’t right. We do this instead of helping people move on to a relationship that is right for them.

The truth is, there may be some people who simply aren’t a fit. It’s not that they are bad, it’s just that they aren’t really contributing anything, either because they haven’t been provided with a way for them to contribute (poor leadership) or because the system is allowing them to hang on as a pariah. Either way, something has to change, or else your church will become a place people come in order to be entertained.

Another pastor friend of mine planted a church several years ago. It was an offshoot of another church that was rightly falling apart due to divisions and lack of leadership. About 150 people came to that first meeting, and my friend stood up and asked everybody to really think about why they were there. He said that if anybody had come there with torches, with an axe to grind against the old church, to please leave. He didn’t want to build a reactionary church filled with people who were against something. He wanted to build a church filled with people who are for something, instead. The next week, only 50 people showed up. Years later, though, his church is healthy and vibrant and, well, quite large.

So what do you think? Are churches supposed to be warm and inviting to everybody, no matter what, or is it OK to identify people who just need to move on and find something else that fits them better? What’s your feeling about this? Aren’t there people in your church who, quite honestly, just need to move on?

This article originally appeared on Donald Miller's blog.




markus commented…

I once belonged to a church the pastor asked several individuals to leave the church. from that point that ministry has never grew although the pastor has changed the name of the church over 8 times with in a 10 year period, all marriages in that ministry failed and no new ones was ever started. in other words the church became dead don't know if him asking people to leave or not had anything to do with it but, it sure seems as though it started right after that.

Jason Morris


Jason Morris commented…

This article pretty much lost my interest when it stated that the pastor simply needed the seats because he didn't want to have to preach another service. So, in reality, it's not so much that people weren't plugging's more about congregational size control...and to be convenient for the pastors schedule. It's one thing to hold members accountable...but, I'm not sure that what this is about.

Steve Orris


Steve Orris commented…

Wow. What a topic.

I've been in two churches that have asked a pastor to leave. Neither had a good reason to do so. And in a third church I was asked to leave because I didn't support the pastor.

As to whether asking someone to leave is right or wrong I would say it very much depends on the circumstances. Every possible situation that could ever exist is not addressed in Scripture. We have guidelines to follow but not every detail of every church will be addressed in the Bible or we would have "Read your Bible through in a decade" programs.

I can understand the opinion that one should never ask someone to leave the church other than for unrepentant sin. But for now let's say there is a time and a place for everything and in a certain time and place someone should be asked to leave a particular local body of believers. There are dozens of wrong ways to go about it. And one right way.

Every effort should be made to work together first.
Gossip should never be a tool to effectively do the job without direct contact.
Creating an atmosphere that encourages people to leave should not be tolerated.
Personal opinions should not be a reason to "ask" someone to leave.

In my case, I was very "plugged in". But for some never-spoken reason the pastor wanted me gone. He never told me so. He just made me feel unwelcome, unwanted, unneeded, in the way. And then others started treating me differently as well. Something was very wrong there. I do not know the reasons or motives behind it all. Nor does it really matter. God will use every situation to change you into a more perfect reflection of His Son, if you let him. Satan will use every opportunity to destroy that image. Wherever you find yourself in this "debate" remember this:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, and against the worldly governors, the princes of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness, which are in the high places.

I later heard a term that I think sums it up nicely if you want more info on this subject.

"Spiritual Abuse."
Google it. There are some good books about it.

David Gooding


David Gooding replied to Steve Orris's comment

As I said in my comment, I was born and raised in the bible belt, and I have NEVER heard of a pastor asking someone to leave a church (for these reasons). There must be a psycho/social reason for it...thanks for providing the info - I will google it.

David Gooding


David Gooding commented…

I don't know where the heck these so-called "churches" are, but I was born and raised in the bible belt, and I have NEVER, EVER heard - or even heard OF - a pastor asking someone to leave a church under this type of circumstance! In fact, if I did, I would be the one leaving. That may be one of the most flagrant examples of just how hypocritical and out-of-touch with reality the modern church is. Demanding adherence to specific behavior and actions for "admittance" to a church sounds more like fraternity/sorority pledging than worship, and goes against everything Christianity stands for. Who's to say what personal salvation, meaning, or faith an indivudual might glean from a church service?? - regardless of whether or not they participate in the church's "Meals on Wheels" program? Folks - if you see this happening in your "church", run as fast as you can in the opposite direction! That is moving dangerously toward "cult" status.

Bede Laracy


Bede Laracy commented…

Asking people to leave because they aren't plugged into the church community - appalling and UnChristian!
So we invite the hurt and lost into church, only to cast them out when they turn out to be not quite like us?
Wasn't Jesus a friend of sinners and outcasts - people who didn't fit in?
Ok, so people need to be connected - that's a given.
And sure, lots of people should help out more.But people fit in at different levels and in different ways.
But should people now be focusing on being church helpers as their main calling?
What of those who work tirelessly within the community?
I would have thought the call should be to stop pew sitting and start being salt and light. Bit hard to be salt and light when all your energy goes into church building.
Maybe there are times when a Pastor needs to suggest that people move on, but the type of situation described in the article shows that maybe it's time for the Pastor to reconsider his own ideals and priorities.

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