Christians leaving their churches is not new, and the fact that some churches grow at the expense of other churches isn’t either. Generally, this kind of movement is not good or healthy. It brings shame upon the body when people bounce from church to church with whatever whim happens to be fashionable that day.
Still, there are good reasons to leave a church, and when faced with the decision, it is not simple, and the choice should not be made lightly. I thought I would share a few thoughts I’ve had on some good reasons to leave a church.
Some Reasons to Leave…
A lack of gospel preaching. I mean by this that the preaching needs to be primarily focused on Jesus and him crucified. There are lots of different preaching styles, and a few different preaching philosophies, but the most important thing is that the good news of Jesus is proclaimed clearly. This is not just done in an evangelistic way to convince people to follow Christ, but also in a way to remind each of us that we need God’s grace every day. The preaching should point us constantly to Jesus. Practical sermons about various issues are fine on an occasion, but a steady diet of this leads to spiritual atrophy. It’s about Jesus.
You can’t follow the preaching. I hesitate to write the one because I know from personal experience how hard it is to prepare and deliver a sermon, and I know how every criticism feels like someone just stabbed you through the chest. But…if you can’t understand what your preacher is trying to explain, and this is the norm of your experience under that preaching, then you need to consider if you should move one. Now, hear what I am saying. I am not saying you should leave if your pastor is “boring.” You should not leave because he doesn’t tell you what to do with your life, or give you 5 steps to a happier whatever. That’s just moralism. You should not leave if your pastor only opens up the Bible and gives you clear teaching, even if he is boring. Opening up the Bible is what he is supposed to do. Don’t go to the church with the popular, young, celebrity preacher just because that is the cool thing to do. Find a preacher that helps you see Jesus and what he has done. If Jesus isn’t in it then it is all just smoke and mirrors.
Church leadership is controlling and abusive. If the leadership in your church is manipulative, dishonest, controlling, or abusive, you will want to consider moving on. Having a disagreement with someone does not equal abuse. Being called to accountability for something you’ve done is not abusive either.
Irreconcilable differences. Sometimes two parties simply disagree on the direction a church is going. While it is always best to try to work out differences and come to some sort of understanding, sometimes this may not be possible. Be careful here, make sure the reason you’re disagreeing are really good reasons, and not just a matter of you wanting things your way. This is especially true if there are core Christian doctrines at stake.
Heresy has crept in. This is where it is up to you to be biblically literate and discerning. I read an account recently of an independent church where the pastor began to teach a form of heresy called Arianism. The Elders of that church began to suspect something was wrong, but had no way of addressing the problem. This is a problem with how independent churches operate, but the good part of this story is that the elders knew they were hearing something wrong, and after some time, they developed a plan to deal with it. The caution here is that we need to be very clear about what are primary issues of right belief, and what are secondary issues within which there is room for Christians to disagree. One of the big problems with Christians running around trying to be “discerning” is they start throwing around the word “heresy” and name calling anyone who simply disagrees with them on a particular topic. That is a profoundly un-Christ like attitude.
You need a place to heal. If your church has been through a battle, it may be that you have become the walking wounded. If may be that you were faithful through the difficulties, but now you find yourself discouraged and empty of any desire to continue where you are. There is nothing wrong with taking a sabbatical from a particular situation. That isn’t to say you should make dropping out of church life a norm, but that there is a season for everything. Even a season of rest.
Moving to a new community. This should go without saying, but if you are moving away, you should feel free to find a church that is close to you, and gives you a place to worship. I’m not a fan of driving 30-40 minutes to go to church if it can be helped. Find a church in your (new) community and make it work.
God calls you away. This is probably the best and most healthy reason a Christian can be leave a church: God wants you somewhere else. No one can answer this question for you, but if you sens there is a reason God might want you to join another church because there is some purpose you feel compelled to fulfill, then you should go. Follow the will of God. This happens all the time, and when it does, the people involved generally know that God has moved, and there is a sense that we are fulfilling the calling of God in our lives. Don’t be afraid to take a risk, do what God is asking.