Can a pastor ask a member to leave the church? It seems like such a counterintuitive thing to do. We’re aware of how in the New Testament, the apostles preached God’s word to as many people as they could reach, so many souls could be saved. This is the church’s mission. It takes so much time and effort to guide a soul to return to God. Why then would we ask them to leave?
The reality is that in modern times, it is not unheard of for pastors to ask a member to leave. Certain situations call for this course of action—sometimes as a last resort but at times, as the best solution. Our fellow Christians in the church can feel no different than our own family members. So, it can be hard to fathom that asking them to leave would even be a choice.
If you’re a new pastor or a curious church member, then our discussion for today will help you understand legitimate reasons that make it necessary to ask church members to leave. We’ll tackle the most common situations that make this action necessary, as well as how to properly ask a member to leave church.
As churches will have varying rules regarding this matter, be sure to consult your church bylaws and church leaders before proceeding to ask a member to leave. If some of the things we will discuss go against your bylaws, remember that these are just some and not all of the situations you may encounter, and what your church leaders advise and what the church bylaws state should always be followed.
With that, let’s start this discussion with this question.
Is there a benefit to asking a member to leave?
The benefits of having additional churchgoers are quite obvious: more people during service makes for livelier gatherings; more people that care for the church means more people to support the ministry of preaching the gospel; more people means more souls who have repented and found their way back to God.
Meanwhile, it’s harder to think of the benefits of people leaving, isn’t it? Certainly, though, there are benefits to the church, the other members, and the pastors themselves.
The benefit to the church’s health
From the situations we’ll discuss below, you’ll see how some members are better off removed from the congregation entirely. Their actions and, in some cases, their presence could be affecting other members in a way that endangers the church’s overall health. By asking members like these to leave, the welfare of a majority of the congregation can be preserved.
The benefit to the member’s spiritual life
Asking a member to leave isn’t always because they did something wrong. It could be that to keep them in the church means to hinder their growth spiritually. We are not all called to one church to remain there forever. With some, going to a new church can enrich their spiritual life much more than their previous church could have done.
The benefit to the pastor
For a pastor, the welfare of the congregation is always ranked above theirs. So, it can seem strange for a pastor to benefit when members leave. However, the benefit we speak of is about a pastor’s experience in leadership. Each member that a pastor can correctly identify and guide towards leaving is an experience that can help them reach maturity in their pastoral ministry. Of course, such a skill can only come to you if you pray for it and hope that God bestows it upon you. With experience, much prayer, and God’s guidance, you’ll easily be able to identify people that will be better off leaving, for their sake and the church’s.
1. The member drains all joy from the church.
Let’s first discuss the foremost reason why a member should be asked to leave: draining all joy from the church. That sounds quite vague, but you’ll know this kind of person once you’ve met one. They’re overly critical of everything. They always have a negative view of practically all the things that go on around them. They resist any and every kind of encouragement from people, even from the lead pastor. The cynical spirit they possess can spread throughout the church home, affecting the church’s joy, hope, and faith.
When approaching members like these, be patient and gentle. Do not ignore them and simply hope for things to get better. As the church home’s pastor, you need to act and not just hope. They are likely not aware of the damage they’re causing to the church and church members. Try to see if you can talk things through with them. If they will not listen to you, see if there’s a senior pastor or a seasoned church member they will hear. When they see the error of their ways and are willing to change for the better, then there’s hope for them.
Sadly, not everyone will be receptive to counsel. If you and all that you can ask to help have done everything, yet the person remains the same or promise to be better but show no actual change, then it might be time to let them go.
2. The member is unhappy with changes in the church.
Change is inevitable in life. While on the outside, most people welcome change or even demand change, inside their hearts, the story may be different. The truth is that as much as we may want change, it’s not easy when it calls for changing ourselves first. Some may try their hardest to go along with the change, but eventually, they will tire when their heart is against the change.
One event at a church home recounted to us by a former pastor illustrates this point perfectly. They were part of a newly established church, having only a few church homes in a couple of cities. A married couple joined their small church as they loved the tight-knit, small groups that made them feel like they belong to one family.
As God blessed the church with steady growth, their church home was able to start a Sunday school, where children of church members could attend. Before this time, most of the members have been requesting a Sunday school. The former pastor observed how all seemed to be genuinely excited, except for the couple.
The married couple, as it turned out, was not fond of children. Though the children were generally behaved and would only make a ruckus once service is over, their presence did bring a significant change. By then, the husband and wife would leave earlier than they used to, no longer staying to chat with other church members. One day, before the pastor could talk to them, they just stopped attending church.
Why people leave churches can vary a lot due to so many factors. When you notice members not reacting well to change, make sure to talk to them about it. Perhaps you can help them find other church homes that will suit their needs and preferences. Invite people to leave when it is clear they will be better suited elsewhere.
3. The member is burdened by the church’s distance.
Love knows no distance. That is a truth we all know, especially as Christians taught to love one another as God loved us with an everlasting love. However, certain situations may prompt us to reconsider this truth—that is when we see a member is burdened by the church’s distance.
It is not unheard of for the church or the members themselves to relocate, making it more difficult for the member to attend church. In most cases, the members can be greatly attached to their church family, enough to wholeheartedly accept that they’ll need to travel quite a bit to attend church worship service.
But it can take a toll on these members. A significant amount of their budget starts going to the gas bills they’ve racked up or to financing their commutes. When you start to notice this, it may be time to encourage them to attend a church nearer to them.
It could be hard for them to hear this. But as long as you guide them through this decision and let them know they’re always welcome to come back when it won’t be as much of a burden to them, then they’ll take this as good advice and act on it.
4. The member joined to make their previous church feel guilty.
Here’s another situation that is not unheard of in the pastoral ministry. When you’ve spent a long time in leadership, you can almost immediately identify people that transferred to your church just to make their previous church feel guilty. They could have come from a church a few blocks away where misunderstandings caused them to feel unwanted and unloved in the other church.
In some cases, the new transfer is truly trying to find the one church that will make them feel like family. They are not church hopping haphazardly. This kind of member won’t make you wonder as to what their motive is for transferring to your church. Instead, you’ll see them actively participate, make friends, help with the mission of the church, and all-around be a good church member to have.
However, there are also cases where the new transfer has a hidden agenda. Usually, their reason for leaving their church stemmed from something petty, like minor disagreements with their church leaders or senior pastor, receiving rightful church discipline, small arguments with fellow members, among others. They seek other churches and play the victim of their wrongdoing.
You might wonder as to what they get out of this. For one, they can escape church discipline by going to other churches. Another thing is that they can find people who will sympathize with their situation, even though they’ve brought it upon themselves.
When a church member like this finds their way to your church, encourage them to talk things through with their previous church. We should indeed be welcoming of every person that walks through the church doors. However, if letting them stay means condoning their actions against their own church, then it’s clear that inviting them to leave will be for their own good.
5. The member harmed another member.
This is a situation that would hardly have you asking whether it’s right or not to ask the member to leave. However, we believe this should be emphasized as to not leave for any hesitation when a situation as unfavorable as this arises in your own church. When a member clearly harmed another member, it’s time for the pastor to step in and ask the offending member to leave.
Of course, the severity of the wrong-doing should be considered and consulted with your church bylaws and church leadership. But while this is being done, it will be better for the member that was wronged if the offending member left the church in the meantime. This is especially true when they begin to fear for their safety within the church walls because of the probable presence of the member that harmed them.
When it’s clear that the church membership of the offending member will be revoked, remember to not let emotions overcome you. Even if what they did was wrong, they should still be approached with care and gentleness. It could be that they are going through a tough season in their life. To be certain though, they must still be asked to leave for the sake of the person they’ve harmed, especially if retaining their church membership means causing more harm and pain to the member that was wronged.
How to properly ask a member to leave the church
From our discussion above, we’ve briefly mentioned ways to properly ask a member to leave. In this section, we’ll discuss these ways a little more in-depth to help guide you when you encounter any situations that will require you to invite people to leave the church.
Above all listed below, consulting God through prayer and deep meditation, and consulting His teachings written in the Bible are sure ways to invite the Holy Spirit when preparing to ask church members to leave. Doing so will ensure that your heart is clear as you approach the member, making it easier for them to feel your love for them and understand the reason behind this decision.
Approach them sincerely
Imagine being in their position. If you’re going to be asked to leave, wouldn’t you want to be approached as sincerely as possible? You’d want to hear the reason you’re being asked to leave and have proper closure. You wouldn’t want things to be so thickly sugar-coated that you’re left unsure what to feel, think, or do.
This doesn’t mean that we should be severely blunt or harsh when asking them to leave. We must remain gentle when speaking to them. Help them understand through sincere words coming from a tender heart, rather than through indelicate, sharp, hard-hitting words.
Do not blame them
Yes, they may be the only ones responsible for being asked to leave. But that doesn’t mean we should blame them. This can make it seem like we’re framing the situation to make them look bad, so they’ll leave with no questions asked. You need to be prepared to take responsibility where it is due and keep the burden of the situation off their shoulders. There’s no reason to add to the heaviness of their heart by placing all the blame on them when they’re already being asked to leave.
Have their best interest at heart
One of the best ways to invite people to leave is to have their best interest at heart. They are more than just “members.” They already are like our family. When we ask them to leave, we must be certain that it will be for their best and not just because it will benefit the church.
Don’t make them feel like you’re asking them to leave for the sake of saving church attendance. Try to understand how this decision will affect their future. See how this will benefit them. If asking them to leave will mean exposing them to physical and/or spiritual danger, then try to reconsider.
Give utmost care and consideration to their situation before reaching a decision. Pray for guidance—better yet, pray with them. Walk them through everything that needs to be considered. If at the end of all you’ve considered, their leaving is truly the best option, then having them be involved in reaching that decision will help make them feel that you have their best interest at heart.
Being a pastor in a leadership position can certainly be difficult. Encountering situations in the church where you’ll need to consider if a member should be asked to leave is just one of the hardships that come with being a lead pastor. Hopefully, all that we’ve discussed in this post can help you in upholding your ministry, the welfare of the flock you’ve been entrusted with, as well as the betterment of the church.
While you’re here, do have a look at our previous post.