Are You Thinking about Leaving Your Church?
This story will help you clarify your thinking on this topic.
In 2020, Barbara Brabec decided to leave a church she had been a member of for several years. This story features the letter she sent to her church with her reasons for leaving and the affirming responses she received from six Christian friends who told why they too decided to leave a church they’d once loved. It also includes the story of how God miraculously led Barbara to the new church He wanted her to be in.
In an email to a few close Christian friends in late 2020, I shared the following thoughts, which serve as an introduction to the rest of this story:
“My Bible study over many years, and especially my study this year, tells me that the Lord does not want me to stay in a church that no longer adheres to the commandments of the Bible. When I officially leave Knox Presbyterian Church at the end of the year (at which time my 2020 pledge will have been fulfilled), I won’t miss the preaching of the temporary Knox pastor, but I will certainly miss hearing the church’s amazing organist and the many talented musicians in the choir and the instrumentalists that frequently performed during a service. I’ll especially miss the weekly fellowship over coffee after the service, but of course I lost that anyway in March because of Covid. I know I won’t lose the closest friendships I made at Knox, and if the world ever opens up again, I’ll be able to see them again from time to time.
“I don’t know where I will finally find a new church close enough to me to be able to drive to safely; just know that I need to stay off main roads in my old age. My heart wants a traditional service, one where I can sing the traditional hymns I love so much (I can’t abide contemporary music in a service). Above all, my heart needs SOLID Biblical preaching at this stage of my life. I’m too old to “bend my beliefs,” and if I have to attend church on the internet the rest of my life to get the preaching my heart needs, then that’s what I’ll do. Meanwhile, I’m trusting that if God wants me in a new church, He will lead me where He wants me to be.
“I have no idea where my spiritual life is going to take me in the years I have left, but I think God still has some surprises in store for me. Since I’m excited about opening a new Christian website, I strongly related to this message from Pastor David Jeremiah on why he will never retire from his work.”
“If you’re a Christian, God has a right to your life, and if you will give him the opportunity to use you, even in the days after you have finished your full vocational experience, you may discover that God will do the greatest things in your life at the end than all the things He has ever done in your life up until that point. Sometimes God saves the best for last. Stay faithful until you’re finished.”
Letter to Knox Presbyterian Church, January 2021
(Shared with family members and several close Christian friends)
I feel called to share most of this letter’s contents publicly now because I believe many people are uncomfortable (to say the least) about their church’s leadership or preaching but lack the courage to walk away. To protect their privacy, I’m not naming any of the pastors mentioned in the letter. At the time of this writing, the church was being led by an interim pastor until a new pastor could be found.
To Whom It May Concern:
This is to tell you that, having fulfilled my pledge to Knox for 2020, I no longer consider myself a member of Knox Presbyterian Church. In this letter, I want to explain exactly why I have left the church that I have loved so much for so many years. Please forward it to anyone who might be interested.
The turning point for me was the last church service I attended in March before the pandemic forced the church to close. On that day, it was announced that Knox would perform its first same-sex marriage in the fall. I spoke to (interim pastor) after the service, expressing how upset I was about this, saying that the Bible clearly tells us that marriage is between a man and a woman. Period. I was told (and I’m paraphrasing here now) that “Things are changing and there are good reasons for why we’re doing this, but I can’t discuss them with you now because there are other members behind you that want to speak to me. Perhaps we can discuss this later.”
I’ve long known that the USA branch of the Presbyterian Church was open to the spiritual needs of the LGBTQ community, but Pastor (now retired) made it clear that it was up to the pastors themselves as to whether they would marry same-sex couples or bring one of them into the church as a pastor. He made it clear that he wasn’t in favor of this. But he’s gone, and now all three pastors in Knox are in agreement about “bending” the word of God to conform to the call of today’s culture, which is demanding that we all become more inclusive and accepting of everyone. Because of Covid, I don’t know if that same-sex marriage took place or not, but it doesn’t matter. The fact is that Knox is now heading in a spiritual direction I cannot go.
I have no problem with being kind and welcoming to anyone who wants to worship at Knox, including those who are part of the LGBTQ movement. But as a Bible-believing Christian, I can’t stay in a church that is agreeable to marrying same-sex couples. This signifies that the church is no longer following God’s teaching in Genesis about who’s a man and who’s a woman, or heeding Jesus’ teaching about marriage in the New Testament. There is much discussion of these topics on the web, but I liked the summary I found in an article titled, “The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Common but Mistaken Claims.” It stated:
“Jesus addresses and defines marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 and Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 and Genesis 2:24 to parse it out. Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together. With this definition, same-sex marriage is excluded. Had Jesus wished to extend the right of marriage beyond this definition, here was his opportunity. But he didn’t take it.”
I am distressed to have come to this point after being so happy as a Knox member for so many years. I often told friends that Knox was a perfect trilogy of preaching, music, and fellowship. I love the salt-of-the-earth people of Knox, those in the congregation—some of whom went out of their way to help me when I needed help in getting to medical appointments—and all those in management who were so kind to me when I was teaching a free life-writing class in 2018. When I was baptized and became a member in 2015 after several years of regular attendance, I began to join Bible study groups and made new friends. I will always cherish the memories I have of being in (pastor’s class), the biblical lessons I learned there, and all the encouragement she gave me.
I know that some of my friends in Knox are as unhappy as I am about the Church now open to marrying same-sex couples. But I also know that they have good and understandable reasons for why they will not leave the church over this one issue. While not happy about same-sex marriages, their responsibilities or position in the church, or pressure from family members and friends, will no doubt persuade them to look the other way as they bend on the same-sex issue.
But I’m too old to change my beliefs on this issue, and I’m not accountable to anyone but God.
It’s a bitter truth that sometimes we have to give up something we love to do what we believe is the will of God for our life. When I asked myself “What would Jesus do here?” the clear answer I got was that it was time for me to leave Knox and find a new church that would give me the solid biblical teaching and spiritual encouragement I need at this stage of my life. I trust that my true friends in Knox will still be my friends if I leave the church over this issue.
God led me to Knox after I was widowed because He knew that with my whole family living in California, I needed an “extended family” for support, and I found it in Knox. But as (temporary pastor) put it, things are changing now, and like everyone else, my life and spiritual needs changed dramatically in 2020 because of the Coronavirus. But more than anything, it was the upsetting cultural changes and divisive political climate that pushed me to the edge last year and prompted me to get back into serious Bible study on my own. In the fall I also attended a life-changing Christian women’s retreat that drew me nearer to Christ.
If churches are ever allowed to be open as usual, and people will no longer have to social distance and wear face masks and can once again shake hands or exchange hugs without fear, that will be a blessed day indeed. And if God wants me back in a church, I know He’ll direct me to where He wants me to go, just as He did when He directed me to Knox. In the meantime, I’m getting plenty of what I need from three online ministries I’m now partnering with. In fact, I’m now an extended member of one of them: Jonathan Cahn’s Beth Israel Worship Center. I find it interesting that I’m now getting some of the best biblical teaching I’ve ever had from a Messianic Jewish Rabbi, pastor, and author of The Harbinger books and many others.
In closing, I want to thank everyone in Knox who treated me like family and was there for me when I needed them. I’ll never forget the many blessings I received while attending Knox, and I wish all of you well. Thanks for your understanding.
Responses from Christian Friends
I received several affirming responses to my letter, six of which were from close Christian friends who knew exactly how I felt about this. I’m sharing their stories here (anonymously, of course) because each one offers different perspective on this topic as they share their particular reasons for leaving a church they once loved:
G.S. wrote: “Twice I’ve put my heart into a church and felt I had a church home, and then we had to leave. Once was when we left the Catholic church and the other was when the church began turning into a cult. Both times were traumatic. You mourn the loss like you’d mourn a friend or family member. With hindsight, it was our only choice and we aren’t sorry we left, but it took me a long time to recover both times. We’ve now been at our church for 21 years, are founding members, and both of us hold multiple positions, but now I hold the relationship with the church more loosely. If we needed to leave, it wouldn’t be as hard.”
J.G. wrote: “I applaud you for taking a stance and making it public in this way. One of the problems in our society today is that most people with a religious upbringing and strong personal convictions are (for whatever reason) unwilling to take a public stand on issues such as these. The political left deserves most of the blame in this as they have branded anyone with differing views as racists and right-wing wackos. Obviously, most of us would be devastated to be labeled as such, so we remain silent. Most people will run a long way from a heated political or religious discussion and are afraid that they won’t be able to state their views adequately (or be criticized and even ridiculed), so they remain silent (which is just what the left wingers are hoping for!)
“If enough people remain silent, eventually their views will become mainstream and the ‘law of the land,’ and unfortunately we’re pretty close to that already (especially with the outcome of the election.) It’s hard to remain positive—many people I know are trying to stay hopeful but are pretty darned depressed. Once again, kudos to you for making your opinions known to the powers that be!”
M.O. wrote: “We left our membership in the Methodist Church in 1986 due to similar themes (what they called ‘social justice’ even then), and more recently felt we had to leave our membership in the Reformed Church of America (affiliated with the Presbyterian Church) over two years ago because it repeatedly created committees at annual conferences to ‘discuss’ the issue even after votes to end such discussions. It is very clear that their headquarters’ staff and professors at their seminaries think it is long overdue to embrace this practice.
“We joined the Evangelical Free Church of America (which currently still believes as you and I do . . . although even here we wonder about what some consider an individual pastor’s or congregation’s ‘freedom’ to make decisions in what some call ‘gray areas.’
“Like you, we see what God has said in several Bible passages and see it as simple and clear: marriage is only between a man and a woman before God. Sexual sin is always offered as a temptation to hurting people, and helping the hurting is what we are called to do. For over 20 years, I have financially supported several Midwest ministries whose staff members assist suffering individuals who desire to leave their homosexual practices.
“It is truly sad and difficult to ‘stand out’ and humbly stay true to Him with honesty about our own failures as we witness of His ways to overcome sin while detractors embrace things God has condemned and claim to still honor Him.”
E.S. wrote: “You absolutely did the right thing to remove yourself from that entity. I have some years of experience with them, and the errors are very blatant. In fact, all Reformed church theology is skewed and affects many areas. It’s so hard to recognize, for our love for the people there pull us to compromise sound doctrine.
“A wonderful book on this subject is Hitler’s Cross by Erwin Lutzer, which describes the process that churches allowed at the onset of the Nazi era. American churches are guilty of the same trap. Our own solution is to avoid denominations and find a Bible church. The internet provides great information to fill in the teaching gap—lots of ‘kooks’ there too, but you have enough background discernment to avoid them. Your courageous stand will be a blessing to you and all your associations. We in our 80s and 90s wouldn’t mind the rapture right about now, would we?”
L.L. wrote: “The issue is not going away and is already worse since President Biden’s election. I can tell you that, after fighting the homosexual forces for over 35 years, I have come to the conclusion that this is a spiritual battle. This issue now includes every area of our life: Gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, sports, government, Churches (freedom of religion) school curriculum, family differences, friends, business, etc. You are not going to be able to talk someone into your thinking, because the starting point must be that God has said it is SIN. Otherwise, nothing is ‘wrong’ and you will be labeled a homophobe. But stay strong in the Lord. God will continue to take good care of you and put people in your life that will bless you and help meet your needs.”
R.S. wrote: “As you stated in your letter, God will lead you to another church. I think this will impress others who haven’t left to search their hearts as to what they should do. You said it best when you said ‘. . . sometimes we have to give up something we love to do what we believe is the will of God for our life.’ I also liked the notion of ‘bending the word of God to conform to the call of today’s culture.’ Too much of the Christian church (the people) keep sliding down that slope. Thanks for sharing your letter. It is very uplifting to me.”
How God Miraculously Let Me to a New Church
Throughout 2020, I searched online for a new church but found nothing that was right for my needs. When I finally gave up that search in late 2020, I told God I’d done my best but was now trusting Him to lead me at the right time to the church He wanted me to be in, adding, “and please make it close to my home so I can drive there without worries about traffic and road conditions.”
This story of how God answered my prayerful request should be an encouragement to others because it perfectly illustrates one of the Bible’s greatest promises: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28; NKJV).
One morning in late June 2021, I suddenly awoke at 2:30 a.m., immediately sensing that God was once again communicating with me via radio, as explained in my “Testimony for Christ” (see below). Since Harry died, I’ve gone to bed with the radio tuned to WYLL, falling asleep peacefully as I listen to whatever pastor is preaching at that time (I love all of them). But on this morning, I came fully awake when I realized I was hearing a voice I’d never heard before. At the end of that 30-minute program, the pastor said his Christ Community Church had six campuses around my area. I liked his message, so I hit the internet the next morning searching for “Christ Community Church Naperville” to see if one of them was close to me. Nope . . . but the church Christ wanted me in was tucked in the middle of listings on page 8. and when I saw it was just six minutes from my door on a street I’m on all the time, I emailed Pastor Tom Schmidt for more information and got an immediate response.
On July 4th, I attended my first service at Cross of Christ Fellowship, a gospel-centered, evangelistic church led by an inspiring Bible-teaching pastor who is feeding my soul. After attending for three Sundays, I knew I was exactly where God wanted me to be. This is a small and growing church with a congregation that includes several young families, and even though I seem to be the oldest person attending services in church, I immediately felt at home here because I was welcomed with so much Christian love.
As important as the sermons are to me—and also the kind of music and hymns I was looking for—is the fact that the new friends I quickly made here have embraced me and given me a new church family—just one more example of how I see God continually working all things together for my good.
A “Coincidence” or a Miracle?
I believe in miracles, so I cannot look at my finding this new church when I did as mere coincidence. One thing I know for sure is that whenever I’ve prayed for something I really needed (versus things I only wished for or wanted), God has answered that prayer—in His own timing, of course, when it fit into His plans for my life.
Regarding God’s timing, I’d like to point out why it sometimes takes a long time for our prayers to be answered. In this case, my prayer for a new church wasn’t answered for nine months. Covid played a role here, of course, but many churches had reopened before before Cross of Christ could reopen in its current location in late spring 2021. We can only guess at God’s reasons for doing anything, but I like to think that he wanted this church to “settle into” its new location before I attended my first service. No matter how I look at it now, God’s timing here was perfect, as always, and it seems appropriate that my first Sunday there was on Independence Day, a good day to celebrate starting over in a new church.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7;NIV).
Testimony for Christ [PDF]. Barbara shares the story of how she came to learn life’s greatest secret so late in life and how this dramatic experience changed her life forever.
Barbara’s Favorite Bible-Teaching Ministries and Pastors—those she has followed throughout her walk with Christ, through the pandemic, and now. Includes her personal comments about each and some books she particularly recommends.
Christian Encouragement T/C