An Exit Strategy – From Someone Who’s Been There

September 11, 2008 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

The following was posted by a reader who goes by the handle of “Flotsam and Jetsam,” in response to a question from someone who is contemplating leaving their Sovereign Grace church.  I thought it was so absolutely excellent, I wanted to bring it out of the relative obscurity of the “comments” section (from this post) and highlight it so all of you can get the chance to read and respond to it. 

I will take a moment to add a disclaimer here, however.  You might be surprised to discover that I, as moderator of this blog, typically do NOT take a stand as to whether or not someone needs to leave his or her SGM church.  Many people write to me and ask me for advice (go figure!), and whenever they raise the question of leaving, I typically try to direct them back around to discovering what the Lord, through His Spirit and His Word, might be saying to them.  The answer to the “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” question will be different for different individuals.  I realize that this is probably obvious to most of you.  But in case there is someone out there reading this who thinks that this blog is here to outright condemn all Sovereign Grace churches, and that I personally think everyone ought to leave, that someone would be WRONG.

OK, now that my disclaimer is out of the way, here it is, from the wise pen of “Flotsam and Jetsam”:

Kris,

Regarding your post #90, here is my firsthand experience with leaving SGM.

My wife and I were deeply involved, having served on the leadership team of a church plant for almost 8 years, and being very actively involved in SGM for another 8 years before.

I would 100% agree that your exit strategy makes leaving easy. I have seen many, many families leave SGM in the past 8 years who did exactly that. I have run into some of these people years later; they often express ‘real’ reason why they left – which almost always parallels what is expressed here.

Your 3rd point is key:

“3. Keep your expectations very low, as to the responses you’ll get from your leaders and SGM friends. I don’t mean this in a negative way, just that if you go into meetings expecting that they’ll be unhappy with you, you’ll be better prepared for such a thing to happen. If all goes well, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Some of the worst exits have happened when people have high expectations of their leaders and then are deeply disappointed. “

That said, my exit strategy: – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

If you are married,
HUSBANDS LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR WIFE IS SAYING!!!!!!
That may take rethinking what you have learned! If I had listened carefully, and drawn out my wife’s earliest concerns, we would have probably moved on 8 years sooner, without all of the pain.

Be prepared to not be heard. Be prepared to see friendships that you thought deep evaporate into nothingness

Pray. A lot.

Identify reasons. Ask open ended questions such as “How do you view accountability between a pastor and his congregation?”, “What do you view as unacceptable roles for women?”. This will help bring clarity to what you are feeling. Develop a list. Search scriptures. Make a detailed outline. Mine looked something like this (this is the very, very short version!)

When I examine the current and future impact of remaining in this church on my family and I, it is impossible to remain. I feel this because:

– My family is not getting fed by the poor quality of most messages

– I can no longer follow your leadership because:
• You have removed yourself from accountability to those who know you best
• You have made yourself increasingly unapproachable
• You use the doctrine of indwelling sin as a weapon to attack those who are attempting to bring input to you
– As a pastor, you have failed us in terms of providing assistance with our marriage at a time when we desperately needed help.
– We are in disagreement with your definition of the role of women. In the meeting on ___ you said ____. I believe that to be an inaccurate interpretation of ______

After you have made an outline, Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Be prepared to not be heard. As you leave, be prepared to see friendships that you thought deep evaporate into nothingness.

Pray. A lot.

By this time, you should know your reasons with crystal clarity. Remember you are not *really* married to the local church. You don’t need a seal of approval or endorsement or permission to leave. Nor do you need the leadership to acknowledge the correctness of your observations. Is there anything that would get you to stay? Decide in advance, not in the emotion of the meeting. Don’t set yourself up for being manipulated.

My hope is that you would have already made some attempts to bring your concerns and to ask questions so that you are not ‘blind sighting’ the pastor. If you are in leadership and have not done so, you should be asking yourself “why am I in leadership?” If you are increasingly at odds with the vision/doctrine of the church… you really should step down from any leadership position even if you are not at the point of leaving.

Set a meeting and pray. A lot. A Kindred Spirit, you said “You can’t imagine how skilled these men are at turning legitimate concerns around and making the person sharing or confronting feel confused and condemned.” How right you are!!! Having a detailed outline prepared in advance with much time spent in preparation will help a lot. But you need to be ready to counter any confusing and condemning statements with something like, “I’m sorry, but you are wrong.” Don’t get derailed. Don’t get angry. Don’t omit anything on your outline. Get through it.

Painful? Yes. A lot of work? YES. Worth it? You will have to answer that. For me, a person who struggles with fear of man, is easily cowed, and all too willing to take the easy road, I felt it was. I was terrified of this meeting and feared the worst. Did this meeting go well? Nope. At one point I was threatened with Church Discipline because I was not hearing what the pastor was saying! Over two hours of meeting in which I battled feeling confused, accused and condemned. But I got through every point, every issue. Did it change anything in the church? Not as far as I can tell. But I was changed. I found myself thrust into a situation where I was broken by God and rebuilt into something more than I ever thought I could be. And I discovered anew God’s mercy and grace.