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When To Leave Your Church

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 3 comments

I thought this was an interesting article. The question of leaving a church and having a biblical justification is something I have thought about before. I think he gives good reasons and I think there might be some more, but I also think people try to justify to themselves their own reasoning. Anyway, here is the article and as always I look forward to hearing the responses.

When To Leave Your Church
By: Bob Carpenter

Last year our church focused on the Bible's instruction to love harmony and unity. As the Bible says in Philippians 2:2, "Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." We tried to teach our church members that the laissez-faire commitment to church membership which characterizes our times is not God's way of thinking.

In response, I occasionally heard a question like this, "OK, I get it that we shouldn't just up and leave our church, but is there ever a time to leave?" The answer is "yes, there are times one should leave a church."

Let me suggest some cases in which a person should change churches:

–- False teaching. In Jude 3b, the Bible says "... I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." God's people must "contend" for the faith clearly revealed in the Bible. When God's church ceases to teach/preach faithfully the Bible, it loses the anointing of God and all spiritual authority. It's expected that well-meaning believers may have minor points of difference in interpreting God's Word. That's not the point. When the pastor and Sunday School teachers distort the obvious meaning of the Word for some preferred idea, they must be confronted. If they will not repent and return to God's Word, get out (2 John 9-11).

-– Unaddressed sin. If there is open sin, especially among the pastors, the church is in danger. If the pastors are the offenders, then deacons or other mature leaders in the church must confront them and call them to repentance (1 Timothy 5:19-20). When others are the offenders, those same leaders must join the pastors in confronting offenders (Matthew 18:15-17). God's blessing will not last for long on the church that will not confront open, unrepentant sin. If the church leaders will not confront the sin, you should shake the dust off your shoes as you go out the door.

-– Dysfunctional church life. As with families, churches can become dysfunctional. Sadly, the landscape of American church life is littered with people meeting in church-type buildings that long ago ceased to be church. When the vision dies, the agenda degrades to how we pay the bills, what we need to do to keep people happy, or arguing over who's in charge of the operation. In this state, God's church usually divides into little "fiefdoms" with people fighting over control and power. It's ugly. A church almost never recovers from this point. One must be cautious in calling a church "dysfunctional," as only God ultimately knows when He's done with a church. But when a believer finds himself/herself in that kind of church, he/she should move on to a church in which God is working. One cannot expect a perfect church but one can expect a church with evidence of God's presence (1 Corinthians 1:10-11).

In addition to these negative reasons a believer might need to leave his/her church, there are other circumstances that may lead a believer to do so that are not negative. For instance:

-– Moving. If the will of God leads one to move too far away to have meaningful involvement in one's church, he/she must move on to another church (Hebrews 11:25). Believers need to think twice about how leaving a good church might affect their walks with God when considering a move. Some should choose not to move so as to remain in the fellowship of one's church. At other times, God's leading is clear and the commute would be unwise or impossible.

There's a related application to this point: When a church member marries a believer from another church, one of them must leave his/her church and move to the spouse's church. Though the Bible doesn't specifically address this scenario, my experience points toward holding the wedding service with the woman's church. She then leaves her church to join his since he is responsible as the spiritual leader of the home. On occasion, God will direct the new family to stay in the woman's church.

–- Mission. Sometimes God calls a believer to a mission that will mean he/she must leave the church (Acts 17:2). Our church is working to plant a church, and we expect God will call believers from our church to join in that mission. We shall give our blessing to those going to serve in the planting of a new church.

There may be other reasons to leave one's church. If so, I think they would fall into one of these broader categories. The point is, many American believers who change churches do so for the wrong reasons.

When people leave churches often it is over relationship issues -- too often it's with the pastor. We need to work through any brokenness in relationships so they may be healed. We cannot forsake truth or morality just to "keep the peace" but we surely can lay aside grudges, bitterness or lack of forgiveness.

As Paul admonished Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2, "Live in harmony in the Lord." May it be so in your church!


Bob Carpenter is pastor of Cedar Street Church in Holt, Mich., and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.

3 comments: to “ When To Leave Your Church so far...

  • Anonymous February 11, 2009 at 8:36 AM

    Thanks for posting this issue. It comes at a time when I have been prayerfully considering leaving our church. I think I am emotionally not ready to make this decision but I do need to address some key issues that have surfaced in our church. The timing on this can only be of God and His will for us to do what glorifies Him and Him alone.

  • MikeT February 11, 2009 at 9:07 AM

    The false teaching one is especially important today. There are a lot of attractive heresies like the "seeker-sensitive" churches that seem very biblical, but that don't even really try to do their job. That is one thing I am struggling with about the church I sometimes go to. They have a hard time saying to their congregation "you cannot support X and really call yourself a Christian" where X is usually some serious left-wing political cause like abortion-on-demand. It's not that they condone it, but that they never challenge the congregation to realize that a lot of their own views don't match up to what their faith teaches.

  • DILinator February 11, 2009 at 10:48 AM

    Thanks for the post, and this is a very compelling topic!

    I have personally been through quite a few churches in my lifetime, though only two changes were made when I was an adult having any say in the matter. What's more, I've been in quite a few different denominations along the line! I consider this to be a good thing, as I'm not ensnared by the petty denominationalism that plagues so many die-hards in each denomination. As such, I have seen a lot of different reasons for change, and seen a lot of different people and families besides myself change churches for various reasons as well.

    The treatment of church as a disposable entity is something that has bothered me for a while, and while I am not a "hardcore" be at church every Sunday night and Wednesday night kind of guy, I do think we should not "forsake the fellowship of the saints", as the Bible commands. Far too often, I have seen people leave churches for the wrong reasons, selfish reasons, and they have been willing to throw away the fellowship and community they have built up all those years over the silliest little issues that they can't resovle Biblically.

    For all of the church changes I have gone through in my lifetime, I can honestly say that I am thankful not to have fallen into this trap, and have very thoughtfully and prayerfully considered the most recent change I made, which was a very hard one for me to do. The other change I had any control over was a clear situation of where the church had lost sight of Biblical truths, and I had no choice but to leave. My parents set a good example in this area, even though we changed churches a number of times growing up. Once it was simply from moving out of town, and once we never actually became members, but went regularly to a particular church between finding an actual church home. But the other times it was because that church was in violation of principles that were clearly Biblical to my parents, and after trying to work things through with the Pastor over the issue, they ended up leaving with Pastor's blessing.

    I think that is an important issue: putting in the effort to actually try and resolve whatever differences have arisen both with the Pastor, Elders, and whomever else is involved. I received the Pastor's blessing for my last church move, and still to this day feel fondly of that Pastor, and that church. It was simply a situation where my family's Spiritual needs were no longer being met there, for various reasons, and I had to make a change for my family's sake.

    Too often though, I see this route not being taken, and I see people simply "up and leave" when something makes them mad, with little Scriptural justification for their actions. Whether it's because somebody "did a friend of their's dirty", or they are wanting a more prominant position in the church and not getting it(even when being in that position would violate clear Biblical principles), I have seen the leaving of churches clearly abused. Some people I know seem to change churches every 4-5 years like clockwork. This makes me sad, and has always troubled me. So I appreciate this topic being brought up.

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