My previous article 6 Terrible Reasons Why People Leave Church generated such good discussion both in the comments and on Facebook that I felt a follow-up article was needed to balance out its message.
It would be irresponsible of me to talk about bad reasons to leave a church without acknowledging that there are those times when good, healthy Christians unknowingly get into an unhealthy church situation and don’t realize their situation until they’ve either become members or have considered themselves a part of that church family.
What should they do in that situation?
What happens when a good member has a genuine grievance with a church and has tried to “be the change” and resolve it, but finds their efforts are to no avail?
Should they stay and make peace with their grievance, or should they leave and find a new church?
What happens when after some time they realize that a distorted gospel is being preached or sin is being tolerated by church leadership?
What recourse do church members have when they genuinely find themselves in an unhealthy church situation?
I want to approach this topic carefully because the Bible is clear about the seriousness of biblical authority and the destruction stubbornness and resistance to authority will bring to our spiritual lives.
There is a fine line between an unhealthy church and what is perceived to be an unhealthy church; and when it comes to making that determination we must tread lightly so that we’re looking through the lens of Scripture and not our own vision that is often distorted with prejudices, past experiences, and human reasoning.
The difficulty with this topic is that there is no Scriptural example of leaving a church. However, there are Scriptural examples of what happens when people speak out against God-ordained leadership.
Given this fact, I believe that even in instances when we are faced with a truly legitimate reason to leave a church, we must do so prayerfully, carefully, and soberly.
We must determine to watch both our heart and tongue, so that in making a biblically obedient decision, we do not defile it with bitterness.
Before this decision is reached, I urge every member to first prayerfully and respectfully approach the church leadership with a genuine appeal. Not with accusations or pointed fingers, but with a heart of love and honor.
Below is my word of caution for those who find themselves in a position such as this.
Here are 5 reasons why a Christian may need to leave a church
1. A wrong gospel is being preached.
Salvation by any other means or by any other name other than faith in the final atonement of Jesus Christ is another gospel. I would include here churches that entertain and encourage ecumenism – welcoming of other faiths as legitimate houses of worship.
There is salvation in one name alone – Jesus Christ.
Christianity is not inclusive, it is exclusive. There is only one path to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ alone.
2. The church’s vision isn’t to win the lost.
Three separate times Jesus sent His disciples forth, and all three times He began His instruction with “Preach the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
When He gave the great commission He started off by saying, “Preach the gospel to every creature”.
Our mission on earth is to glorify the Father and to preach the gospel to the lost.
If a church has any other vision than to win as many souls as possible for the kingdom of heaven, they have lost their purpose.
The purpose of a church isn’t to be a mega church, to have multiple locations, or to just be a “filling station” for believers.
The church is to be the visible representation of Christ on earth; and Christ came to glorify His Father and to seek and save that which was lost.
3. The pastor abusing his position of authority.
I want to be very, very delicate in this point, for two reasons.
a) I know that this does happen in some congregations, and as a result it is very easy for Christians to allow a root of bitterness to spring up in their hearts and color all future church experiences.
b) I know many pastors have been wrongfully accused despite operating legitimately in their God-given authority.
If a pastor is using his position as pastor to manipulate and control the personal lives of those in his congregation and/or leading a congregation into blatant sin, and then condemning their reluctance to follow his lead by manipulating through anger or fear, it is time to leave. To stay in a manipulative and toxic situation will only bring confusion to you and your family.
4. Sin is being tolerated by leadership or there is a lack of reverence for God’s presence.
Scripture is clear about the danger of tolerating sin in the house of God.
Eli’s sons perverted the temple by their “mixed worship”. They were immoral and they worshiped God with pagan practices.
When giving Moses the Law, God instructed the children of Israel over and over to not worship Him the way the pagan nations worshiped their gods.
Furthermore, the New Testament is clear about how church leadership is to deal with sin in the church, and it is clear that sin in the church is not to be tolerated.
When sin is tolerated, iniquity grows, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit is lost, and the church loses it’s testimony in the community.
5. Error or heresy is taught and tolerated.
Any time teaching in addition to Scripture is equal to or elevated above Scripture, a false doctrine or teaching that directly contradicts Scripture is taught in the church and is tolerated by church leadership, it is time to leave.
Scripture is clear that false teachers are to be rejected because their teachings defile and confuse.
5 Warnings to Those In This Position
1. Seek godly counsel first.
If you discern that you are in a church with one or more of these traits, seek godly counsel from a trusted, mature believer before you leave.
In seeking counsel, I urge you not use this as an opportunity to gossip, and let your trusted source be someone who is able to be objective. Allow this person to speak plainly to you about whether they sense your reasons for wanting to leave are legitimate or not.
2. Do not rally troops around you.
If you find yourself in a position where you need to leave your church for one of the reasons above, respectfully inform the church leadership in private and leave quietly.
If members ask why you have left, let them know that it is a private matter between you and the church leadership and do not spread a negative report.
One of the most damaging things someone can do in this position is to begin spreading a negative report about a pastor and the church leadership.
If you feel the church is a cult or is preaching heresy, pray that God will open the eyes of those left behind in the church.
3. Do not speak evil of the church or pastor.
If others in the church you’re leaving come to you, make it a policy to not speak evil of the church or pastor. If they begin speaking evil, stop them and ask them, “Have you spoken with the pastor about this?” If they haven’t, offer to go with them to make an respectful appeal to the pastor.
My caution is that in leaving a church, a member should leave respectfully and with a right spirit.
Even if the church is preaching a wrong gospel or heresy, we must maintain a clear conscience.
4. Leave to a church, don’t leave church.
Many times when leaving a church, members grow bitter at church in general. They allow a bad experience to color their perception of church as a whole.
Yet Scripture clearly teaches that we not abandon church. We are to not forsake the gathering of the bretheren.
Just because you may need to leave a church, do not leave church. It leaves you vulnerable to the strategy of the enemy.
5. Seek peace and pursue it.
After your decision to leave a church, continue to pray for your former church, pastor, and church leadership. If they are in heresy or teaching wrong doctrine, pray that God will open their eyes and bring them to a place of full repentance.