When to Leave Your Church
I regularly answer questions about the faith from believers here, on social media, in person, and by email. The questions tend to repeat and deal with common issues. So I thought I would post some of them here and provide simple answers for those who don’t have a pastor or person to ask directly.
This one deals with one of the most painful for a devoted Christian. Should I leave my church? I get this one repeatedly with different details:
“I grew up in this church and love people but it has changed a lot. My family still goes but I want more, should I leave?”
“My church is slowly being swept along with political and social changes but I can’t figure out if I should leave?”
“I love the music and the people are great but there just seems to be something missing?”
“I know the teaching is light and the people are halfhearted but what if all of the mature Christians left?”
This is an important issue and my response is quite long. So lets start with the first issue: Should you leave your church? I will then follow up with a second post detailing the signs of when you should depart.
Leaving a church is never easy but it also can be the right thing to do.
Is it Okay for You to Leave Your Church?
There is a large number of Christians who would be blessed by leaving their church. There are also a large number of Biblical churches that would be strengthened with the addition of people seeking Jesus.
No one benefits from you treading water filled with frustration in a church that doesn’t want to glorify Jesus.
The New Testament does not provide a specific answer on when to leave a local church. The church world was different at the time. The writers never had to address the question. There was often just one church in each city filled with brand new believers. There was certainly not a church on every corner. The troubled church at Corinth, for example, was likely the only group of believers in that ancient city. You had very little choice of where to worship in the early church.
There are churches of all types of doctrine, styles and culture in most places these days. This can be a good or bad thing. It is good in that you have a church to flee to when yours goes off the rails. There are also many acceptable styles of church where you can feel comfortable. It is bad that you may end up stuck in a cult hiding itself as a church or a bad church…and there are many. It is really hard to leave a church once you have been there for any amount of time…even the ones that are off.
I have really good news if you are in one of these troubled churches. I also have hard news that goes along with the good.
The good news is there are wonderful, God honoring, Bible teaching churches out there. You can be part of one of them. You can grow in all the good things the Bible promises: love, joy, peace, faith, courage to share the Gospel, and more. You can be on fire for Jesus and worship and fellowship with others who are as well. This is great news, obviously. It very well may be your church that is hindering your walk in Christ. There are churches where it is impossible to follow their doctrine and not depart from Jesus. There are others that make it incredibly hard to grow as a Christian. It could also be you.
The goal is becoming a mature Christian. If you are still drinking milk like a baby Christian, determining why is vitally important.
The hard news is more challenging. You might need to leave your current church to get to get back to Jesus. It is often hard and scary. It takes the willingness to engage in self examination. It may ask you judge your loyalties. It may pit you personal allegiance and all that goes along with it – tradition, love of people, comfort, good music, what yourself comfortable with, and what is easy and not painful – against what Jesus calls you to. This is a difficult process. The Israelites first had to leave the security of Egypt to get the Promise Land. It is also good for you.
Paul commended the Bereans for examining everything he said against the Bible to make sure it was true. They rejoiced in love when they agreed it was. You should apply the same level of discernment to your church. Just because it comes from the pulpit or the national headquarters from people with religious titles, doesn’t mean it is true. The High Priest had all the best titles, position, and authority and he put Jesus to death.
Our Journey Out of Egypt
My family started our life with Christ in a seeker sensitive mega-church. This is a church defined by their great atmosphere and wonderful stirring music. They had a coffee bar and programs for every possible age and people group. It was filled with nice clean cut people. They smiled and proclaimed how great God is all the time. The teaching was initially stirring and motivational. I left each week feeling like I could take on the world. The pastors were master speakers probing deep into you psyche. There was a huge problem, though.
They did not teach the Bible. Sure, they had a couple of verses on a giant screen during service. They had funny skits and slickly produced videos about the concepts they were discussing. Yet, they consistently focused on everything but the Bible. There were plenty of self involved and worldly things:
How can you be a better person, parent, or worker for Christ.
How you can give more of your time to affect the world.
How to succeed with God’s help.
What to do about the DaVinci Code.
There was no real Bible teaching. They did not teach what Jesus said in context, why Jesus said it and what it teaches about God. They did not layer the Word of God in my heart line upon line, precept upon precept. They did not seek to build my independent life in Christ. Rather, they used the couple of verses on the screen as a springboard to discuss what they wanted. They taught about Christian life but did not teach the Bible.
There is a huge difference between getting you active as a Christian building your faith as a Christian.
The result was what I remember as a weekly church “high”. It felt wonderful being present for church. It was emotional and motivating. I felt so much while in those 4 walls. But it wore off about 15 minutes after I left the church like the effects of an intoxicant. No one matured in Christ. It was a mile wide and 2 inches deep.
I left the church each week the same person I arrived as each week once the atmosphere wore off. I was not alone in this. The seeker sensitive movement as designed is meant to be light, inoffensive, and palatable for Christians and non alike. The result is the Christians hear the same light inoffensive messages each week. Whole books of the Bible and teachings are avoided as being too controversial. The people are drawn into an emotional connection by the music, lights, and atmosphere without any real foundational transformation. The flesh is fed but the spirit neglected.
The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to change you. He does not work through the charisma of a motivational speaker playing the role of a Bible teacher.
We realized the problems with the church 2 years before we actually left. Theses were two years of being unsatisfied, yearning for more, struggling with why, and being frustrated. Too many hours were spent in discussion of the problems and trying to compensate. We spent hours each Sunday deconstructing the service due to all of the issues with it. It was a huge waste of time and opportunity, in hindsight.
Why didn’t we leave?
We felt like it was too much of a risk. Our kids were settled there. We attended a small group, had friends, and were used to it. We felt disloyal. We loved the atmosphere. A church feeding our flesh was downright confusing. We did not understand why something bad for our spiritual life could feel good. We also lost hope and blamed ourselves.
God finally got through to us through a bolt out of the blue. I randomly heard a sermon one day on the radio. I realized almost immediately this was what we were missing for the past 5 years at church. The pastor simply taught the Bible unapologetically. He did not seek to entertain, regale me with stories, or motivate me with his wisdom. He laid out God’s word, what it meant in context, why it happened, and what it said about God and me. He trusted God to teach the listeners not his own persuasion. It felt like God reached down into my soul and started reworking everything. It was wonderful and has been since that moment. We left the mega-church and have never regretted it or looked back. Following Jesus required it and we have not been disappointed.
The sad part is that church had been there teaching for all of those two years prior. We could have enjoyed the unfiltered Word of God each of those frustrating and painful 114 Sundays. We just needed to trust God and go.
A Great Church, if You Can Keep It
Benjamin Franklin was asked what sort of government was formed at the Constitutional Convention of America as he walked home. His famous reply, “A Republic, if you can keep it” is just as applicable to the church. You can have a better church life, if you want one.
A vital, Christ loving, Bible teaching church is entirely dependent on the people who sit in the pews. It must be demanded from leadership. It must be defended against compromise and the shifting trends of the world. It has to be fought for and sought after. You should never apologize for having a high standard for your church as long as it is Biblical and grace and love. There are those churches teaching the Bible, equipping you for the work of ministry, and building your foundation in Christ. Seek and support these churches. God will take care of the ones who are doing other things.
No one benefits from you treading water filled with frustration in a church that doesn’t want to glorify Jesus. Are you are miserable and frustrated? Are you are railing against the trends happening every Sunday? Do you feel like you are entirely alone in a body of hundreds or thousands of Christians who should be your family?
First check to see if it is you. Are you struggling with a personal issue you have put on the church? Have you done what is necessary to try to fix the issue?
If you have, then follow after Jesus and consider leaving. You belong to Jesus.
If You Find the Perfect Church…..
There is truth in the old expression, “If you find a perfect truth, don’t join it as you will mess up the perfection”. The basic idea is that all churches have problems as they are made up of imperfect people. It is the reason love is so important in the Body of Christ. We need to cover over each others mistakes, failings, sins, and all the ways we fall short of the glory of God.
If you are in a good Bible teaching church – a real one – It will have issues to work on. You may be called to specifically minister to the weak areas if God is showing them to you. Every gathering of God’s people is going to have issues.
However, the same idea is used to discourage Christians desperately looking for a church that looks more like the one in Book of Acts. Let me encourage you if you are one of them. If you are in a church that has left its purpose and our Lord behind pursuing something else, then your call is to leave and go where Jesus is glorified.
If you are frustrated with light and airy teaching,
If you are struggling with departure from the Word and Christian doctrine,
If your church teaches around the Bible and not the Bible,
Leave. Follow after Jesus and you will not be disappointed.
The last place you want to be is with the church of Laodicea. They are a group of Christians who started well as a church but have lost their way. They are last pictured gathering together as a Christian Church with a huge problem. Jesus is not with them. He is outside knocking and no one is letting Him in. So leaving a church is nothing to take lightly, but:
Go where Jesus is glorified.
Leave where Jesus is diminished.