Q. What’s an acceptable reason for leaving a church?
The Rev. Justin Hoye, pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kansas City, Mo.
A. When one leaves a worshipping community, I fear it has more to do with evading an issue and less to do with following Jesus.
In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, when Jesus delivers a long and intense pronouncement on the reception of his body and blood, many of Jesus’ disciples leave. His words carry scandal; too hard to accept.
However, the Twelve remain with Jesus, and Simon Peter speaks to their mindset: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
A Catholic would iterate these words as a way of understanding why one remains, when there may be other forces pressing for a departure from a faith community: the arrival of new pastoral leadership, challenging words from the pulpit, the loss of favorite parishioners or familiar customs.
The issue truly does boil down to the situation of John 6: In departing, am I leaving Jesus Christ?
This should be a sobering moment of reflection, hopefully overriding departures that are weighted with seriousness but which might not meet the requirements of discipleship.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to follow Jesus Christ.
The only acceptable move is to follow him.
In leaving a church, would I actually be following our Lord, or moving away from the one who has the words of eternal life?
The Rev. Duke Tufty, pastor of Unity Temple on the Plaza, Kansas City, Mo.:
A. If you choose to leave a church you have been attending, there is a reason you do so. If that reason is acceptable to you, it is a valid reason.
Say you go to a restaurant for a wonderful evening of fine dining.
Afterward you reflect on the experience and come to the determination that the food didn’t taste good.
It gave you an ill feeling, and the service was very bad.
You excuse the restaurant and give it a second chance, but the results are the same.
Now then, would you consider going back and spending good money on a bad time?
Attending a particular church is a similar situation.
If you aren’t uplifted or inspired and don’t feel good about the experience after it’s over, why go back?
If you leave feeling guilty, shameful, put upon or at odds with the theology, why go back?
Your time is like money.
You can spend it any way you choose.
But you only have so much of it, so indeed it behooves you to spend it wisely in a way that makes you feel good and leaves you with something of value.
An acceptable reason for leaving a church is if the answer to the following question is “no”: “Was this a good and beneficial way to spend my time?”