A few weeks ago, I shared “3 Stupid Reasons that Millenials are Leaving Churches.” That sort of piece is common, almost a rite of passage for Christian bloggers these days. As I was brainstorming some blog posts the other day, I realized that I’ve read a bunch of posts on why not to leave your church, but I’ve read very few on reasons why you should leave your church.
Allow me a bit of disclaimer as well: even among these “good” reasons to leave your church—it is my hope, as one who deeply cares about the local church, that even these problems wouldn’t cause you to leave. My hope is that somehow you could work through the problems listed below, stay at your church, and see them through to health and new life. However, not everyone is in a position to enact major change in their churches, so leaving may be the best option, unfortunately.
Here are three good reasons to leave your church:
1. The church leadership is abusing its power.
This sort of issue manifests itself in a number of ways: simple power abuse, law-breaking, emotional/physical/sexual abuse, and other ways. If you have a pastor berating you for you infrequent attendance or inability to volunteer as a nursery worker, you may need to examine the legitimacy of the leadership.
Pray for your church leaders—they need it.
Naturally, like I said above, if you’re aware of some criminal activity within the church leadership, whether its financial or otherwise do two things: 1) report it to the police and 2) leave the church. But, don’t hear me saying you have to leave the church. It just may be better for the spiritual (and emotional) health of you and your family if you worshiped someplace else.
Leadership abuse can also manifest itself in an overreach of the elder or church board. Perhaps someone at your church has been unjustly terminated from his or her position and no sufficient reasoning is given to the congregation. If the elder or church board at your church is clearly subverting the purposes of the church simply because they don’t like people on staff, this may be something to be concerned about.
If decisions are being made that you fear may be an abuse of leadership, ask to get coffee or have dinner with an elder to talk through your concerns. Clear communication of decisions made by church leadership to the broader church body is incredibly important. I’ve seen too many people hurt by churches who had legitimate grounds to do what they were doing, they just didn’t communicate it well.
Abusive church leadership clouded by conveniently poor communication is a dangerous combo.
Be aware of the possibility of power abuse in church leadership, but try to talk personally with church leaders before jumping to conclusions and leaving the church. If you find true abuses of power are present, it may be wise for you to worship elsewhere.
2. The philosophy/mission of the church has become unbiblical.
This one is pretty straightforward. Whether the church’s mission has always been unbiblical and you’re just now realizing it, or a change has taken place and the church is pursuing an unbiblical mission, leaving a church because its mission or philosophy is unbiblical isn’t a bad idea.
What does this look like? Here are a couple of examples:
When you joined First Church of Cityville, the church leadership had a clear mission: believe the gospel, live in community built upon that gospel, and live on mission, sharing the gospel with your community and the world. However, the new pastor of First Church has established a new mission: share the Good News that the rapture is coming and prep your communities for Armageddon. This is clearly a flawed mission. Whether or not you believe there will be a “rapture,” the mission of the church needs to be on something far more foundational—the good news of salvation in Jesus.
Help the church stay faithful to the calling God has for it.
After leaving First Church of Cityville, you hop over to CrossJourney Fellowship Collective, the hot new church in town. The week you visit, they’re announcing their new mission statement: feed and clothe the needy of the whole world, being careful not to offend with the Bible. This, like First Church of Cityville’s, is an unbiblical mission. Obviously, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and working to eradicate social ills is a truly Christ-like task; it is right and good. But CrossJourney and First Church have the same problem: they’re missing the Jesus-centered mission of the church:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20).
Like I said before, it is my hope that, somehow, you could help affect change in your church and help move them in the right direction, but if your church has built its mission on anything but Jesus, you may need to move on and find a church that does.
3. The doctrine and practices of the church differ from your convictions.
This is similar to leaving a church over its unbiblical mission, but the line is a bit more blurry here. If something the church believes or does violates convictions of yours in a way that it affects your conscience—meaning you would personally feel wrong believing or doing what your church believes or does—you should probably leave the church.
What does this look like?
Let’s say you’ve attended First Church of Cityville since you were a kid. First Church practices infant baptism, and in your personal study of Scripture you’ve come to the conclusion that you think baptism should take place after someone confesses faith in Jesus, and that baptism should be through immersion in water not by sprinkling of water. If you get to the point at which you feel as though baptizing infants is not obeying Jesus’ command to baptize, you may want to consider finding a church that aligns more with your convictions.
Protect your own heart and your convictions about what Scripture says.
Or perhaps you attend CrossJourney Fellowship Collective, which as recently decided that it is not going to ordain women as ministers. Perhaps you think Scripture says women can, and should, be ministers in the local church. You may want to find another church that aligns more with your convictions.
I think it’s important to note here that if you come to the conclusion you disagree with how First Church does baptism, how CrossJourney does leadership, or you disagree with other similar issues in your church, these are issues over which you may leave, but if so, leave quietly.
What I mean by that is this: faithful Christians have disagreed over issues such as these for millennia. Your convictions about issues like these do not give you grounds to yell and scream about how bad your church is on the way out.
You shouldn’t be in a church the violates your conscience by how it conducts worship, but you also should remember these are issues of your conscience.
This point is a perfect example of the importance of “Theological Triage.” Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, introduced this idea a number of years ago, and it’s been helpful for me. In short, we need to sort what we believe about God and the Church into varying levels of importance so that we understand how to better relate to people who disagree with us. More about this on Monday.
If you’ve found yourself in a position that may lead you to leave your church, I encourage you to first pray. Pray that God would give you the grace and strength to work for change in the church so that it may be more faithful to the calling God has given it in the Great Commission.
After you’ve prayed, worked graciously and humbly with church leaders to assess and examine possible areas for change, and prayed some more, if no change is happening, you may consider finding another group of believers with whom you can worship.
Pray for your church leaders—they need it. Help the church stay faithful to the calling God has for it. Protect your own heart and your convictions about what Scripture says.