There was a day not too long ago when Christian men and Christian women were at a church for life. In that same church, they were born, raised, married, and eventually raised their own children. But times have changed. These days, Christians who’ve been in the same church their entire lives are rare indeed.
We are far more transient nowadays and, in many places, have a whole smorgasbord of churches to choose from. The pressure is on our pastors and their staffs to make our church experiences as pleasant as possible, because at the first twinge of distress, the Lord may lead us to try something a little more amiable. Please forgive my sarcasm. I do lament the loss of rugged commitment and steadfastness these days. It seems the sting and embarrassment of breaking an oath or making a change has all but slipped away. I must admit, however, there are times when it is appropriate to leave your church. It is not something we should decide hastily or alone, but with tested motives.
Transitioning churches is something the Lord may lead us to do, but it can be a challenge to determine whether we are leaving for the right or wrong reasons. For those thinking about leaving:
First, consider the gifts you’ve been given to edify the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul taught the church in Corinth that they each had been given different spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. He taught them to “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). Every Christian should focus on using the gifts they’ve been given to serve and bless the church. You’ve been given gifts the community of believers needs. As you consider leaving your church, think about the use of your gifts.
Second, be honest about what you don’t like about your current church and what may be drawing you to a different one. There are some issues that are worth leaving over, but most issues can be worked through. If your church doesn’t preach Christ crucified as the only way of salvation that is a big issue. But if your church is going through a change and you miss the old days, that’s less serious. Write down the reasons you want to leave, and ask someone you respect if your reasons are worth leaving over.
Third, leave with love. The church community can sometimes be messy. There are times when others will disappoint us, and we will disappoint others. This has always been the case. Even Paul and Peter had disagreements. But Christ’s people are a loving, forgiving people. Like a strong family, we work through issues. We love as God first loved us and are quick to forgive. There are times when leaving may be the selfless, loving thing to do and times when leaving may be the selfish, self-loving thing to do. Jesus is familiar with the failures of His followers, yet He promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). If our Lord refuses to leave us, shouldn’t we also be slow to leave each other? If you do leave your church, seek to love the body of Christ as you do.
There are other things to think through on this topic. Justin Helopoulos has compiled a great list of good and bad reasons for leaving your church. Overall, we should honestly determine if our desire to leave reflects a desire to serve Christ wherever He may lead or rather a covetous desire to go where the grass seems greener.
If and when you do decide to leave, Kevin DeYoung offers great advice on how to leave well. I do believe God calls us to sink our roots deep within our faith communities, guarding against the temptation to habitually uproot and replant ourselves. But there will be times to leave, and at those times, we must keep loving and serving the people of God as our highest priority.
Copyright 2013 Andrew Hess. All Rights Reserved.