Friday, July 18, 2008

Reasons to Leave a Church

I've got a question for you... should believers leave their current local church for another one? If so, why?

Ever thought about this? Our church culture would have you believe that switching churches is just a normal part of the Christian life. It happens all the time. But should it be this way?

Every month, our church gets several couples who are "looking for a new church." You'll hear them say things like "shopping" for a church and seeking a church that "meets our needs." Where do we get such phrases? From the Bible? No. Paul never advised believers to find a "better" church. We get our church lingo from our consumer culture. To hear Christians talk, it's as though a church is no different from a store. Home Depot didn't have what I wanted, so I took my business to Lowe's; service at Sam's Club was poor, so we're shopping at Costco now; the youth group at First Baptist wasn't good, so we moved to Second Baptist.

We carry our consumer mentality into the local church, and it ought not to be so!
Leaving a church because someone offended you is sinful. Such behavior completely ignores Christ's commands to be reconciled, forgive, and love your neighbor.
Leaving a church because it doesn't meet your needs is sinful. Can you see the selfishness in that? The local church does not exist to serve ME and MY FAMILY. The local church exists to serve Jesus Christ.
Leaving a church because you don't like the pastor might be sinful. Notice the "might"! If you don't like him because he didn't visit you or because his sermons are too serious, then those would be sinful reasons to leave. God calls you to love, pray for, support, and forgive your pastor. But if his preaching is unbiblical and he doesn't meet the qualifications listed in 1 Tim. 3 & Titus 1, then those might be grounds for leaving a church.

As far as I can see, there are only a handful of reasons to leave your local church:
1) For Ministry - Leaving your church to serve another one or to start a new one is clearly supported in the NT. (Philippians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:2)
2) Relocation - Obviously, when you move, you will need a new church. I think we see this in the NT as well. (Romans 16:1-2)
3) False Teaching - If the church you are in strays from the truth and begins teaching and embracing false doctrine, you need to get out! (Galatians 1:9)
4) Doctrinal Disagreement - I don't think we see examples of this in Scripture simply because there seems to be complete agreement in doctrine among the early church. That is not the case today. Where there is serious doctrinal disagreement, the church member and church leadership should thoroughly discuss the matter. If an agreement cannot be reached, it is sometimes wise to move churches. This must be done in a way that does not break the commands given in Colossians 3:12-14.

The vast majority of church switching that goes on these days is sinful. We should not desert the brothers just because we're mad or we didn't get our way. We, like our LORD, must be longsuffering, slow to anger, quick to forgive, and humble in everything.

Here's what I think all this means for us...
Church members, stay where you are. Learn to love your local body with all her flaws (as they learn to love you with all your flaws!) Fight the temptation to be a church-critic or church-consumer.
Pastors, don't accept church-hoppers into membership. Get in touch with their current pastors and strive with them to be reconciled.

I'm curious to hear what you think of all this...


mooreboysmama said...

I love this post. Since Chad and I have been married, we have attended 3 different churches. The first one we attended for 3 years. We ended up leaving for a few reasons, but mostly because we could no longer support the pastor as a "man of God." He may have been ordained and certainly saved, but the fruits were SO not there. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Chad had a private meeting with him before we left so that he would understand our decision. It's such a long story to get into on a blog comment, but you'll have to just trust me when I say that we just could not sit and listen to him behind the pulpit each week knowing that he was not living what he was preaching.

Ok, now for #2 - After we left the first church, we did visit around for a while. After finding a church in which we felt we could serve and be fed, we moved our membership. We truly found a family in this church and felt we would be there for a long time. However, it was not long before Chad was asked by our former music minister (from church #1) to think about playing in the praise band at his new church. This was NOT an easy decision. Yet once we visited the church, we felt a real peace about it and actually felt called to be there.

And now for church #3 - we've been in our current church for 5 years. We've had ups and downs - the pastor who was there when we first joined is now gone, as well as many church members, and now we have a new pastor and many new church members. For many of the reasons you stated, we chose to remain. Are we 100% happy with everything and every decision? No. But, over the years we have come to learn - it's not about us. We have put down roots, dug our feet in, rolled up our sleeves and have joyfully found a place to serve and the people there are our family. And, as you know, we don't always agree with or get alone with family. But we love them - and it's unconditional - and so we remain and we love...and we will continue to do so until/unless we are led/called by the Lord to go elsewhere.

Whew - sorry for the book!

The Lindholms said...

I doubt there was anything like doctrinal agreement in the early church. Isn't Paul's visit to Jerusalem to talk about whether gentiles first needed to convert to Judaism before being able to be Christians already show an obvious one? (This is probably in acts, I think...)

Sorry for nitpicking; liked your post in other respects.


The Culbertsons said...

Great testimony to all of this, Tonya. I really respect the fact that Chad talked to the first pastor before leaving... that's exactly what Christ would have us do.

Will... good point. I thought about Acts 15 as I was writing this post. The bottom line there is that they "came to one accord." They discussed it and all agreed. In fact, the issue discussed there (Acts 15:1) later becomes clearly identified as false teaching (Gal. 5:2,4,12). During apostolic times, I just don't see any disagreement on doctrine (Acts 2:42).
Even still, the example of Acts 15 supports the idea of the believers - especially pastors - gathering for serious discussion whenever doctrinal disputes arise.

Anonymous said...

Joshua, I am just reading this and I am so glad you wrote this. I have heard many times people tell people to leave their church when they are not happy. I never agreed with this. I almost left mine one time from hurt feelings. I look back and think how spiritually immature that was. I will tell you 2 very strong christians from the church came and spoke with me and I did not leave (until we relocated). One of those was your Dad.

I learned a long time ago it was not about me. I learned worship required work on my part. God has never failed to show me why I am where I am and I lean on that, it gives me strength.

I hope you, Dianna, and Thomas are well, you certainly seem happy!

Deb Wheeler