As a follow up to my post about good reasons to leave a church, I wanted to talk about bad reasons to leave a church. Please note that none of the examples I mention here are reflective of any particular person in the church where I serve. I have been in churches all my life, and been working in churches since 1996. Only 7 of those years have been in my current location. I have anecdotes from lots of previous ministry experiences.
So here goes…
Unhappiness In Your Personal Life
Sometimes when people are going through difficulties in their personal lives, they’ll do just about anything to feel better. When hurting, they look for someone or something to blame. Most often, the blame falls on someone or something close to them. The cause of the pain can be any number of things: a stressful marriage, the death of a loved one, depression, job stress, or perhaps a dark night of the soul. I’ve seen people who seem rather lost in the world decide to switch churches in an effort to find themselves. It doesn’t work.
The signs of this are observable and predictable. Normally, there will be a significant stresser in a person’s life. They will become distant from their church. You won’t see them much, or when you do, the conversations will be shallow and awkward. Then you’ll start hearing whispers, “Where is so-and-so? I haven’t seen them in a while.” Next, someone will make a call to the missing friend, and they’ll hear something about how the music in the church they’ve been attending for many years just isn’t “doing it” for them, or how the preaching they’ve sat under for years is now not speaking to them. They feel “dry”. Of course, this means he is not having the desired emotional response from the worship experience, and in man-centered modern worship how we feel is most important. The problem is that unless something had recently changed in the preaching or the music they’ve sat under for years, there is no logical reason why those would be causing the problem. The only conclusion is that the real problem lies elsewhere, and while the life stressers are legitimate, and may be spiritual problems that need to be addressed, only occasionally is the cause of pain actually connected to the church one attends. Changing churches will not solve the problem. In my experience, this is probably the number one reason people leave churches. They are unhappy, expect the church (or the pastor) to fix the problem for them, and when that proves to be impossible, they move on in disillusionment. In situations like these, the stated problem is never the actual problem.
Most often, when one is going through a truly dark night of the soul, the best action to take is to buckle down, reduce your activity level, hit your knees in prayer, and in faith persevere trusting in Christ for grace and comfort. Dark nights are horrible, but the only way through them is forward in faith.
You don’t like the music
You don’t like the music? So what? Nobody in any church I’ve ever been to liked the church’s music all the time. To leave your church over music is shallow, and misses the point of being a body called to sacrifice for one another as Jesus sacrificed for us. If the music has good content, speaks truth, and is performed to the best of the ability of those participating, then we all need to get over ourselves and praise God that we have been blessed. Of course, as mentioned above, leaving over music is likely really about something else, but music is an easy scapegoat.
Now, let me add this: It is true that some worship styles can feel completely alien to you. This is a legitimate consideration when thinking about where you want to worship.
You don’t like the preaching
Here I’ll be more gracious than when talking about music. There are times when the preaching can be of such low quality, theologically empty, or so “academic” that the hearer is left scratching her head as to what she just heard. These are good reasons to leave a church. However, it has been my observation that people often sour on their pastor’s preaching after there has been some sort of conflict. This is not to say that pastors are innocent of being knuckleheads, but let’s face it, rarely in a conflict is one party totally to blame. I always find it fascinating that after a disagreement with a pastor, some will leave a church saying it is the preaching they just can’t live with. Of course, the stated problem is almost never the real problem, and unless the actual problem is faced honestly and assertively, the leaving person will simply carry their wounds and their problems to the next church.
Some people want a preacher to tell them what to do. They want simple moralism in their preaching. A Christian actually told me once that he was leaving his church because his pastor wouldn’t tell him what to do while he was preaching. People want to be told how to manage money, get along with their kids, or have a happy life. Some feel like they haven’t heard a good sermon until the pastor has made them feel guilty. This is just moralism. Jesus is the subject of Bible, and preaching needs to always bring us back to Jesus and his crucifixion.
One last point on this: your pastor will likely never be as good a preacher as your favorite radio preacher. But guess what, that radio preacher doesn’t pray for you. He can’t. He doesn’t cry when you cry. He can’t. He doesn’t laugh when you laugh. He doesn’t know you. He didn’t baptize you. He won’t celebrate the birth of your child. He didn’t come to your kid’s high school graduation party. He won’t be there when your spouse dies. He can’t because as far as your life is concerned, he is just a preacher on the radio. He is not your pastor. Cut the guy who prays, laughs, cries, and lives with you a little slack on Sunday morning, he’s got problems too.
Your kids are bored
I’m sorry, but I missed the part in the rulebook of life where it says your 15 year old is supposed to be properly entertained in church according to the whims of pop-culture. Tell your kid to get over himself. Oh wait, if you’ve waited until he is 15 to tell him this, you’ve probably waited to long, and if you’re leaving a church over music, there is a good chance he got his attitude from you. Be the parent.
You’ve had a conflict with someone in the church
While many reasons to leave a church are shallow, this one is just tragic. Running from conflict is not the right approach. It is passive, and does not demonstrate a willingness to be humble. Conflict happens constantly. It is a normal part of human existence. What happens often in church settings is that folks elevate their own opinions and preferences far too high, and this naturally brings them into conflict with others. I’ve yet to see a conflict where one of the parties involved (or both) wasn’t acting selfishly.
You’re running from sin
There is nothing more cynical than when a person has been caught, or about to be caught in an egregious sin situation, and his response is to leave his church to avoid accountability or public embarrassment. This is the sort of stuff that causes young Christians to become really hardened and cynical. It can have detrimental effects the whole body.
In an ideal world, we are to be showing grace to one another. Forgiveness should be the norm, but forgiveness where there is no repentance is hollow. If you are caught in some sort of sin, then repent. You have brought the situation on yourself, and the best way to heal is to repent, and trust the Holy Spirit to move the hearts of your brothers and sisters toward forgiveness. I understand that some churches are inherently dysfunctional, and that this sort of grace and forgiveness is unlikely, but I also know that sometimes a church will surprise you.
I know of a church that has a reputation for being very hard on pastors. They have had a steady flow of pastors moving through their church, with most of them having been run off by a few powerful people within the church. But this same church can surprise you too. The church recently hired a pastor, and shortly after coming to the church, he confessed a private sin and resigned from the church. Surprisingly, the church did not want to see him go, and they waited for him to get his life in order, and about a year later, they accepted him back as pastor. Even hard people can be moved to grace and compassion in the presence of honest, humble repentance.
Related to running from sin, this one can be somewhat different. When people have had a conflict or caught in sin, even if they survive the initial problem, will often carry with them a sense of shame. I wish this weren’t so. It certainly doesn’t have to be this way. Shame is Satan’s weapon to keep us separated from God and from those who truly care for us. Shame is not the same as true conviction. The Holy Spirit brings conviction in order to turn our hearts toward God, while Satan uses shame to drive us from God.
You’re not getting your way
I end with selfishness. Some Christians are quite skilled at taking their opinions, wrapping them in a few cherry-picked Bible verses, and then defending those opinions as if they came directly from God. They do this to defend everything from their choice of music, Bible study topics, political opinions, to the color of the carpet. When others disagree with these opinions, they run the risk of being labeled as some sort of inferior Christian. Just because you disagree with someone is not a good reason to leave a church.