There are many really bad reasons to leave a church. Some common but silly excuses for leaving a church are the following: somebody hurt your feelings, the church is getting too big, and you aren’t getting your way on some issue. There are some reasons one should prayerfully consider leaving a church. But how does somebody know when he should definitely leave a church?
Church membership and attendance should not be taken lightly. We enter into a family relationship when we join a church. It is the body of Christ. We should take joining and leaving a church very seriously, but sometimes circumstances leave no doubt that it’s time to go.
As a regular church attendee my entire life, and as a pastor who has been in some form of ministry leadership for over 15 years, I have some experience with church-attendance issues. I offer 5 reasons that a church member most likely should exit his place of worship and find another one.
5. Members (especially leaders) in the church are in grave sin but no one is holding them accountable.
All of us sin; that includes leaders in the church. We all mess up. We all fall short. But the Bible makes it clear that the immediate response to sin is repentance. And if we do not repent then we need discipline. So if church members are living in blatant sin, and especially if its leaders are involved (who are held to a higher standard), there needs to be quick repentance — or discipline if there isn’t.
Let me be clear: I’m not telling you to only attend perfect churches where no one sins. If you join that church then you will immediately mess it up. But the name of Jesus is destroyed by churches that refuse to deal with rampant sin. Simply read the news to hear about church after church that ignored or covered up sin and are now facing lawsuits. Church members and leaders should be quick to admit wrongdoing and quick to try to make things right.
The Bible is filled with teachings on holiness and repentance when we mess up. And the Bible takes sin in the church seriously. It’s so serious that if people refuse to repent then the worst-case scenario is to remove them from the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-12). However, if your church is refusing to deal with sin in the camp, then you must leave the camp. You cannot associate with a church that refuses to repent and seek Christ.
4. The pastor is preaching blatant heresy.
A lot of times people love to say they are leaving a church because “they are not being fed.” What does that mean? I have no idea. Usually it simply suggests the person is looking for any old excuse to leave. But there is a type of teaching from the pulpit that demands we leave a church. If a pastor is preaching falsehoods and heresies and refuses correction, then the members should try to remove the pastor from the pulpit. However, if the church refuses to remove the pastor, then you will eventually need to remove yourself.
The Apostle Paul felt so strongly about this he wrote:
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! 9 As we have said before, I now say again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! Galatians 1:8-9. And Paul wrote to Titus and other pastors that they must teach “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
Churches should take hiring pastors very seriously and make sure they have sound doctrine. But if they falter or if a pastor changes his views to heresy and no one corrects him, then pack up your Sunday shoes and move on.
3. The church consistently ignores qualifications for elders and deacons.
In multiple books of the Bible we learn qualifications for two church offices: elders and deacons (1 Timothy and Titus). Now while the Bible doesn’t tell us everything elders (pastors) and deacons should do, it is quite clear on some of the standards we should have before calling people to those positions. We should take those lists seriously and, if your church doesn’t, then seek change or seek a new church.
One problem is churches will pick a few things to hold their elders and deacons to but ignore others. For example, here are the qualifications Paul gives for elders in the first chapter of Titus:
“6 someone who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. 7 For an overseer, as God’s manager, must be blameless, not arrogant, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.”
You will find many churches that require that their pastor never have been divorced or not drink alcohol (even though it is debatable that the qualifications say either of those things), but you will be hard-pressed to find a church that considers whether that pastor or deacon is “not quick tempered” or “not a bully.” I’ve personally known many churches ripped apart by pastors or leaders who fly off the handle and bully people into doing whatever they want. A church must not ignore such mandatory qualifications as a leader being loving, patient, and humble. And if they do, then it’s time to go.
2. The church is not attempting to live out the marks and purposes of the church.
There is disagreement on exactly what all the marks and purposes of a church are, but the point is that a church cannot narrow in on only one aspect of what a church is called to be. For example, Rick Warren famously wrote that a church has five purposes: worship, evangelism, discipleship, service, and fellowship. So if a church is only about singing worship songs but refuses to share the gospel, teach toward growth, serve needy people, and the like, then it really isn’t being a church. It’s just a weekly concert.
The vast majority of churches are attempting all the things they’re supposed to do. And if it is lacking in some areas, then it could probably use your help in getting better. But if you talk to leadership and they tell you they aren’t interested in doing anything but just one or two things, you probably need to start looking for a new church. There are great service organizations out there, there are great evangelism ministries, there are great clubs to fellowship in, and there are quality teaching podcasts to listen to online. But the church is where you are supposed to be able to participate in all those types of things. If the church isn’t being the church, then go find a real church.
1. There is simply no sense or expression of love among the people.
A church could see miracles every day, could be preaching the greatest truths in the world, could have the biggest building and the most programs, could be doing everything just right — but if it isn’t marked by love, then you should not walk but run away (1 Corinthians 13).
If Jesus is known for anything, it is love. Jesus is love. He defines love. And if a church doesn’t love, then that church simply doesn’t know Jesus. And do you really want to be part of a church that doesn’t know Jesus?
It’s sad to say but there are churches in America where everyone is just angry. People are mad. They have a list of rules they want you to follow and they will tear you down if you don’t. They are known for their criticisms and what they hate. If that is your church, and it shows no hope of change: run away! It is not a church if it doesn’t love. It’s a club of cranks who are making things worse instead of better.
I sincerely hope that no one reading this article is experiencing any of these 5 problems in your church. I hope your church, though imperfect, is seeking to be a great family of God. But if not, then leave with grace and peace. But don’t just leave. Go find another church that won’t be perfect but has people seeking love and truth.
image illustration via shutterstock / Tami Freed