Revisiting…The Strange Concept Of “Leaving Well”

August 8, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Kris says:  Lately, the topic of “leaving well” has been coming up in the conversations here.  I thought it might be helpful to revisit this post from February 2010.

Awhile back, I put up a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post about the many ways the churches of Sovereign Grace Ministries differ from the rest of “normal” Reformed/Evangelical Christian churches. #33 and #34 on the list were as follows:

33. In “normal” Christianity, if one ponders leaving one’s church, one’s first reaction is not FEAR.

34. Similarly, in “normal” Christianity, if one decides that one needs to leave one’s church, one does NOT need an “exit strategy” in order to avoid being talked about, disciplined, black-listed, or otherwise made to feel bad.

Lately, as I’ve been carrying on some interesting email conversations with a couple of different individuals who have written to discuss their exit strategies, I’ve been thinking more about this particular SGM abnormality.

Something suddenly hit me that I’d never thought of before…a way to explain why the whole “leaving well” thing can seem so strange and cult-like and abnormal to outsiders.

And that is, if you’ve decided to leave an organization, then you no longer need to follow the organization’s rules and procedures. The organization no longer gets to set the terms for what you do. The organization no longer has any authority over you.

I think that’s what people (outsiders) don’t understand about the seeming drive to seek one’s pastor’s permission to leave SGM. Or even, to seek one’s pastor’s approval of one’s decision to leave. If you’ve become convinced that you no longer want the organization ruling over you, and that they have no authority to do so, then…they truly don’t have authority, and you don’t need to follow their rules.

So the whole “leave well” thing is weird. It’s like SGM teaches its members that the organization retains control over them even if they have become convinced that God Himself is leading them to leave.

Of course, there’s really no reason to be so surprised. This thinking is, after all, spelled out right there in the membership covenant, where members sign off on the idea that their pastors will always have the last word on discipline matters – to the point where they can contact your future non-SGM church to poison your new pastor’s thinking and share all about what they think you did wrong. Here is the statement, which you can find in Appendix C of Covenant Life Church’s Starting Points manual (available here for download):

If a member leaves the church while he is under the scrutiny of the disciplinary process or while a censure against him is still in effect, and if the leadership team learns that he is attending another church, the team may inform that church that the person is currently under church discipline and may ask that church to encourage the accused to repent of his sin and to be restored to the Lord and to any people whom he has offended.

Yes, finding yourself worrying about making sure your soon-to-be-former pastor will approve of the manner in which you leave, and – more importantly – believing that this pastor is the one who gets to define what “leaving well” looks like…well, some people may get mad at me for saying so, but this is one of those things that makes SGM seem more like an aberrant group than a “normal” Christian church.

© 2011, Kris. All rights reserved.