Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


When do you leave a church?

posted by Scot McKnight

Thinker.jpgWe occasionally post letters from readers and friends, and the letter below comes from a reader. The letter expresses a really good question and it also gets to the heart of the pain of many folks. So, how would you respond to the questions?

Dear Scot,


When is appropriate to leave a church?

I have always thought that membership in a local congregation of a  church is an important part of christian life. This relationship is a  
commitment to a group of people and to the mission of God. Now in our  
mobile society this relationship is often changed by change in  
location. Clearly this requires leaving one congregation and joining  
another.  But assuming no change in location when is it appropriate to  
leave, or to divorce, a church?

Clearly it is, or may be, appropriate to leave if the leadership of a church is  
leading the church away from the gospel.

It may be appropriate if the leadership is abusive in some fashion.

This isn’t my question though – rather I’d put it like this… When is  
it best to “divorce” for irreconcilable differences? When is it not  
self-centeredness or “consumerism” to simply walk away?



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Ben

posted January 20, 2010 at 6:59 am


I?ve come to a realization that if we go from Gospel to life and from life to Gospel, love God and love others and try to be true to what we honestly believe he has said in his word then after that we should feel free to what ever we want.
So in this situation I?d say if I wanted to leave I?d leave, so long as it was consistent with loving God & others. What does this mean in practice is that I would not do what I did 10 year ago which was to send a letter to the pastor saying ?I resign my membership, do not call me or contact me I consider myself done with X Baptist Church? . I would still have left but I?ve have done it with more love for those I was leaving (even if I did not ?feel? it).
10 years later I am now returning to this church from time to time and reconnecting with this pastor and while we will never be friends and I still feel leaving was the right thing to do at the time, I?m more able to see these people through God?s eyes and treat them with more grace.



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Steve S

posted January 20, 2010 at 7:20 am


How about a real attempt at Christian brotherhood and submission?
I don’t think it is ever appropriate to abandon relationships.
If you are having problems, work them out.
If God is moving you somewhere else for His purposes, the people in your church community will be on board with that, and will be encouraging you to leave.
If you are concerned that they are in some sort of heresy, then there should be regional overseers, etc.
Obviously, just as in marriage, there is a point at which we must say, “I have been trying my hardest to salvage this relationship, but, have now come to realize, we don’t actually have a relationship.” It is when this happens, or, when the relationship has actually become dangerous, that ‘divorce’ becomes an option to place on the table.
I think we should view this question more in relational terms, “when should I abandon my family?’ instead of in consumer terms, ‘when should I stop participating in services.”



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Rick

posted January 20, 2010 at 7:34 am


Steve S-
It is not always so black and white, as in “work it out” or “heresy” (not to mention that non-denominational churches generally do not have regional oversight).
The problem may not be in regards to relationships, and it may have something to do with the overall direction or teaching (but not heresy). It also may have something to do with new theological positions the person has adopted, that stand opposed to the main stance of the church.
There are many gray situations.



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Adam Omelianchuk

posted January 20, 2010 at 8:04 am


From the language of the letter it sounds like the writer is under the impression that being part of a local church is like a marriage, and leaving is like a divorce. This should not be. Scripture does not present it to us this way, and the marriage metaphor is reserved for Christ.
I left a church about two years ago now, and this confusion about being committed to the church persisted. One message I heard took the vine and the branches parable of Jesus (John 15) and replaced Jesus with the church!
I am not sure why this happened, but there seems to be a gospel of churchmanship that subtlely replaces the gospel of Christ. The good life is one that is in the community of believers, and fellowship is to be committed and unbroken.
Once we free ourselves from this thinking we are free to explore good reasons for leaving a church. For example, the pastoral ministry may be inadequate. This may be a reflection on the person pastoring , and it may not. He or she may be equipped to care for many people’s souls, but not equipped to care for your soul. You may have strained relationships with others that are constantly taxing your spirit. You may not see yourself as part of the community because you don’t see yourself buying into the vision. There can be many good reasons to leave a church, but you ought not leave church altogether.



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Darryl

posted January 20, 2010 at 8:18 am


Agreed one should not abandon relationships and should try to work out problems rather than just leaving. We have made it way too easy to avoid dealing with conflict.
However,Adam has a legitimate point, too. The dynamic is not exactly the same as the first century. Do we actually have the same creature with the 21st century church?
I think we should major on working on relationships and learning to follow Matthew 18 as a rule for community living (confront problems and forgive). But I also think we should not allow our mission to Christ to be compromised by a congregation or leadership that is either abusive or refuses to stay faithful to Christ’s call. It’s a tough decision and one that should be made with prayer, good counsel, and a lot of thought.



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mark jackson

posted January 20, 2010 at 8:36 am


The church has strayed so far from the faith-community model that my question is: why would you invest major spiritual, fiscal and personal capital in a broken system? My real church is the community of believers God has placed around me. This group evolves as I go through life. I sort of tolerate the offical church system – I view it as irrelevant to me and the world we are called to impact for God.
One good test for a church – stop offering free childcare and babysetting and see how the crowd holds up?



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Burly

posted January 20, 2010 at 8:40 am


A huge theological issue surrounding when/if to leave surrounds the theology of forgiveness/reconciliation. Often the approach in a church (whether it is a core belief or a cowardly practice [or something else]) is that a.) a person can be forgiven without being repentant and/or b.) forgiveness can happen without reconciliation. I’m playing my had intentionally when I say that I disagree with both (though as a qualifier, love should cover a multitude of sins). So, when the church takes these positions (a &/or b) whether in theory (they firmly believe it) or in practice (they allow unresolved relationships to remain in the church body) or both, it makes it exceedingly difficult to live out loving one another. But this happens. And it’s especially difficult when it’s the pastor VS. parishoner.
Paul and Barnabas separated and it “worked out” okay as they weren’t actively involved in the same local body. But the situation is not presented as ideal. So, in my view (as far as I’ve thought it through), the Gospel is being compromised in relationships (no reconciliation), but the whole Gospel hasn’t been thrown out. In other words many churches rightly emphasize the need for forgiveness and reconciliation to Christ, but do not emphasize this in the “conversion” to Christ’s body.
So it’s horrible and painful, but my bottom line answer is “stay” (except in the million qualified circumstances where it’s right to leave). Crystal clear.



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Diane

posted January 20, 2010 at 8:56 am


We are asked to “love God,” not our particular church. I have been through this, and I believe that if God is leading you to a new church, you have no recourse but to obey. For me, I kept hearing the thought, “You need to look in “XYZ” denomination. I kept brushing the thought away with “that’s crazy,” or “no,” or “what?” but the thought persisted and nagged and persisted and nagged. I’d read a book that forcefully spoke to me –and lo and behold, guess which denomination the author came from? I thought, but I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I’m in the denomination of all my relatives and my kids are established (actually they were quite young) and I can’t do this … Well, finally I did( and God timed it perfectly.) it was the right move, not easy, but right.
So, if God is truly calling, answer. And I believe this gets to the heart of one’s motivation. Do you want to leave for your own convenience or do you want to leave because God is calling you? Sometimes, you can discern that you are really leaving for your own convenience: if it’s because there aren’t many children in the Sunday School and your kids are complaining, that’s probably not God’s call. God may want them to learn to deal intergenerationally with others in the church. If it’s because the pastor annoys you, that’s probably not a reason. Even if the pastor is not preaching what you think is good Gospel that may not be a reason: You may be called to stay for that very reason, at least to provide a prayer cover for the congregation.
So the question is–do you feel God–not family, friends or fashion– calling you somewhere else? If so, and especially if it is a persistent and in some ways “unexpected or outside the box” call, I woudl suggest at least to examine it.



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Name Withheld for Obvious Reasons

posted January 20, 2010 at 9:15 am


Good question and one that I’ve been wrestling with myself for about 5 months now. I think I’m now at a place that I’ll be okay if God leads me somewhere else because after 11 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have some serious differences with our church on matters related to faith and culture. I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer over these matters, but at some point I think if you are unable to reconcile yourself to the differences that you have with a church, it’s best to move on for the sake of Christ.



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Wally Harrison

posted January 20, 2010 at 9:33 am


I agree with many that this is a difficult question, and I think the eject button is pushed way to quickly and easily today. I would ask a number of questions: First, is the church centered on Jesus the Christ? (a loaded question, I know) How is the church living out its message to the surrounding community and beyond? How am I participating in that? If they are not, why? If I am not, why? Who is leading the leadership, or who are they following? I hear way to many people complaining and saying they are the church with people around them, and then they pick apart the organized church. Does this “new” church challenge, sharpen one another and bless the world around them? Was it constructed out of a hunger for what you are for or what you are against? I would suggest stepping into the church to do something about it, rather than bail and complain, which is unhelpful all together. I think it takes a lot of wrestling and prayer.



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Josh

posted January 20, 2010 at 9:36 am


My wife and I went through this a few years back.
We were members of a small congregation (~50 members). We were burned out. We spent 4-5 days at week at the church for some activity or another. In addition, my wife had just given birth to our first child and was still recovering and adjusting to being a mom. Our energy was gone. We were also feeling distinctly shamed by a few people in church leadership for trying to draw back a bit and not participate in as much. We finally ended up leaving to go to a multi-site mega church.
What we found there was the polar opposite of what we had just left. Nobody cared if we were there. Also, we repeatedly asked for ways we could get more involved and never heard back from anyone.
After a year we ended up going back to our old church. We still have some of the same struggles, but our experience at the other church taught us a lot about ourselves and what role we think God wants us to play in the church, thereby helping us deal with any struggles we have.
Do I regret leaving my church to go to the mega-church, especially since it didn’t work out? Absolutely not. I learned much about myself, my gifts, and my ministry passions during that ‘year off’.
Do I regret how I handled (or better said ‘abandoned’) some relationships when I left my old church? Yes. I failed pretty miserably there.
Am I glad I went back to my old church? Yes. It felt like returning to family.



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cleric60

posted January 20, 2010 at 9:38 am


Recently, my family and I transferred to another faith community. After much prayer and family discussions, we felt that we were not being spiritually fed from the pulpit or in the classrooms.
We felt that as a whole, the members of that congregation truly believed and practiced the 7 last words of a dying church: “We have never done it that way before.”
We are rejoicing in the worship/Bible study/fellowship of our new church family!



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Phil

posted January 20, 2010 at 9:47 am


# 6, Mark
For some within the body, caring for other’s children is their ministry and purpose. However, often child/nursery is what is constantly need for volunteer service. How do we deal with this?
In general I’m hearing that we need to be aligned with God, but not others. That is too individualistic and missing the corporate responsibility of the gospel. We will be known by others due to our love for one another. However, if you are in a church that has radically different vision for evangelism, reconciliation, gender roles, the role of culture in general you have two choices: 1) Voice your concerns to see if these are minors that don’t interfere with the churches understanding of Gospel proclamation and mission where you can coexist with others that see things differently, or 2) seek a congregation that you feel an affinity with both theologically and missionally, however, do they even exist?
Unity must be given a priority at some time over my personal wants and desires. I find this distressing because I’m setting out for a church plant for this very reason. I have a strong affinity for the beliefs and mission of our denomination, but realizing that our present congregation cannot make the leaps necessary to accommodate mission on this scale, there is too much baggage to effectively bring gospel to our community.



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Todd

posted January 20, 2010 at 9:48 am


I have heard it stated and fully believe that after your commitment to Christ and your commitment to your spouse, your commitment to a local church is the next most important one you make. Hebrews 10:19-25 gives some of the reasons this is so important. Our hearts are deceitful (Jer 17:9) and left by ourselves we will not clearly see our path of salvation. I would challenge anyone who thinks they do not need the local church to re-evaluate your situation. Is there pride underpinning your position? Are you growing to be like Christ outside of a local body of believers or are you fooling yourself? However, the church you attend MUST be a gospel centered church and be preaching from the Word (http://www.9marks.org/). I am in agreement with Diane; listen to God. Pray to Him to clearly give you the direction on staying or going. Pray that in obeying Him you will fulfill your purpose in bringing Him honor and glory and enjoying Him forever!!!



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Adam

posted January 20, 2010 at 10:09 am


This is one of those questions that can’t be easily answered in a dichotomous way (stay or go). There are too many variables to make a definitive rule. Those variables include the variety of church structures, people’s personal development and life circumstances, and national/governmental situations, to name just a few. The biblical ideal, however, is to be united with a local body of believers in a significant way.
I disagree that we are called to love God, but not our church. I don’t believe these can be separated. The scriptures seem to be pretty clear that our unity is of paramount concern and that it’s impossible to think of loving God and not loving our brother. So, I believe we should seek to find a group of believers that we ?throw away the key? commit to. That would be the goal, but getting there is as varied as the people seeking to find that body.



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Elaine

posted January 20, 2010 at 10:11 am


Interesting question about when is it okay to leave a church. We each have to find our own way – I don’t think there is a right or wrong – just continue to seek.
I’ve attended both small churches 40-150 members to very large 6000. I’ve also attended different denominations – 20 years Church of Christ, 10 years Catholic, 10 years Presbyterian, 15 years Vineyard Community church – and now I’m church alumni as I try to figure out what I think of institutionalized church. Every time I changed denominations – God became bigger for me. I love that – I’ve even sampled other denominations along the way – Episcopal and Quaker and…
Where ever I show up, I need to volunteer and I did.
Having now been exposed to James Fowler’s Stages of Faith – I understand I was on a journey that I could not have done from one vantage point.
The Vineyard Community Church was the last church I was active in…I was even on staff for the last 5 years. I left because I lost my voice with them. There was a lack of transparency and no room for dissent (different point of view or experience of God). How much of this was because I am a woman, I’ll never know. They had put me in a box and would not allow me to give my gifts to the community. This became an abusive place for me to be. I was not learning and growing in this environment.
My commitment is to God/Christ/Holy Spirit – not an institution. I continue to seek to follow the One.



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sean leroy

posted January 20, 2010 at 10:35 am


Like Ben I think the answer is much, much less dire and complicated than we often make it. I get the analogy, but church attendance and/or membership is not like a marriage.
When is it appropriate to leave a church? – When God says so…



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Steve S

posted January 20, 2010 at 10:41 am


The one piece of the puzzle that I keep seeing left out of all of the comments is this:
If we actually belong to the community we are considering leaving, then we will include those people in the decision-making/discerning process.
If we refuse to include them, then that speak volumes about our own ability to trust God, and to engage in any degree of human relationship…
I don’t think anyone is positing some sort of dichotomy (leave or stay, as the only options), but rather pointing to actual relationship (ie intimacy, affection, submission, etc.) as either being present, or absent…
I was intimately involved with a community, they remain my intimate companions even though many of us have been scattered to various continents. This intimacy persists because they were all included in the discernment process, and were in fact instrumental in our family discerning a call to leave that church.



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Steve S

posted January 20, 2010 at 10:42 am


The one piece of the puzzle that I keep seeing left out of all of the comments is this:
If we actually belong to the community we are considering leaving, then we will include those people in the decision-making/discerning process.
If we refuse to include them, then that speak volumes about our own ability to trust God, and to engage in any degree of human relationship…
I don’t think anyone is positing some sort of dichotomy (leave or stay, as the only options), but rather pointing to actual relationship (ie intimacy, affection, submission, etc.) as either being present, or absent…
I was intimately involved with a community, they remain my intimate companions even though many of us have been scattered to various continents. This intimacy persists because they were all included in the discernment process, and were in fact instrumental in our family discerning a call to leave that church.



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dopderbeck

posted January 20, 2010 at 10:54 am


This is a really difficult question, which in my experience isn’t susceptible to a simple formula. A few years ago I left a church where I had been a member for almost 20 years, where I had grown up and in which I was baptized, and in which I had served in a wide variety of leadership roles. For many of those years I had felt various tensions but had remained in the church for many of the reasons of commitment and so on that some folks have mentioned in this thread. During those years, I think it was right and good that I stayed.
There came a point, however, at which the theological and cultural differences were so great, and the personality conflicts so severe, that it became clear to me that the best thing for me, my family, and the church itself, was for me to leave.
I say it “became clear,” and in a sense it did, but the clarity was accompanied by great anguish. It did indeed feel like a divorce, and it involved for me a real grieving process. I think it was the “right” decision in the sense that under all the circumstances God supplied and directed according to the needs. Still, the needs were significantly the result of human sin and brokenness (in this case, not any “obvious” sin such as abuse — just the “ordinary” sinfulness of proud and stubborn people). It was not “ideal” or “God’s will” in the “best” sense, but it was realistically the only option.
Long and short: with much prayer and reflection and counsel and even anguish, I think there will come a point when you’ll know if it’s time to move on.



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Name Withheld for Obvious Reasons

posted January 20, 2010 at 11:08 am


Steve S., you make a good point about including others in the discernment process about leaving, but I can say that I haven’t done that yet because I anticipate people with poo-poo my feelings and go with their natural inclination, which would be to get me to stay. I say natural inclination because most people’s initial reaction is, “Oh no, don’t go” without truly listening to people and trying to objectively listen and consider that maybe the person should leave. But maybe they shouldn’t. Either way, I find that finding objective people mature enough to listen to your issues and offer sound counsel is often lacking, at least at the church in question. What one may have to do is go outside of their immediate community to find someone willing to listen and give the advice needed. Those in the community may be too vested to objectively tell the person what they need to hear.



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_Rob

posted January 20, 2010 at 11:13 am


I think one reason to leave a community of faith is when you are no longer able in good conscience to agree to their unifying doctrinal statement. I have come across this dilemma, and had to walk away from the church. I expressed my thoughts and changes of belief with my elders, and expressed my sadness that I could no longer be in communion with their Regula Fidei. I think I place a high priority on the rule of faith as a guide for the church. In like manner when my own views happened to stray from their rule, I had to do the what I could to maintain the unity of the church while stepping aside and outside of their community rule.



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joanne

posted January 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm


I think there are appropriate times to leave a church and that leaving a specific church is not the same as leaving the body of Christ. Even Jesus advised his followers to shake the dust from their feet and move on when a community was not receptive to the gospel. It is not to be taken lightly… we are to carefully discern in prayer and that there is not a specific answer that will apply in all situations.



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Your Name

posted January 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm


The question in the post takes theological differences off the table. This can be a reason but are there others … style, focus, or other such changes? Or do we inevitably wander into a “consumer” approach?



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Barry

posted January 20, 2010 at 1:28 pm


Burly,
“Paul and Barnabas separated and it ‘worked out’ okay as they weren’t actively involved in the same local body. But the situation is not presented as ideal.”
I would argue that the problem was not that they didn’t worked their differences so that their ministry together could move forward, but that they didn’t realize the timeliness or season of their work together. They were clinging to a ministry as though the ministry was the goal. To this day, we Christians struggle to maintain ministries and church congregations once they are started. Maybe we need to learn to let go and move on.
So often we fight to keep a congregation alive and in doing so the congregation comes out the other side with less vitality. Not that they aren’t still doing good and reaching out, but they lose something ~ maybe that something is the Spirit. I read one 20th century author say something like:
“The early church relied heavily on the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit stopped moving in their midst, they would fall apart. Today we could lose the Spirit moving in our midst and 90% of our activity would continue as though nothing happened.”
My point is sometimes maybe we just need to move on. Other times we need to work out issues.



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ActionJackson

posted January 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm


Sadly, my wife and I made the decision to leave a church that we were very involved in over an eleven year period. As a deacon, I was privy to many of the backroom decisions and issues that reside in may churches and there was an increasing lack of accountability for the actions of the staff. Leaving during the middle of the day only to come back before evening in case an alder stopped in after work, the pastor’s wife using church and it’s members as her personal Arbonne money-maker, the pastor caught using, not only another’s sermon without noting, but their personal family anecdotes. A new, very young worship minister telling an older woman on praise team that she was too old to be on stage. All of this and many more examples of how un-Christ-like the environment had become. After several years of trying to correct the course with example, scripture, and reason, many of the congregation started trickling out with little effort of the leadership to close the back door. The church dwindled from a congregation of 550-600 to less than 300 and is now in financial difficulties. Five of the seven elders have left the church, but the pastor and worship minister remain.
We’ve been at our new home for almost five years. I can tell you from experience that it was the best thing we could have done to maintain our connection with Christ and begin in a new, loving environment. I believe whole-heartedly in my commitment to the Church. That’s the big C, not little c.



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Brian in NZ

posted January 20, 2010 at 1:31 pm


Interestingly, no one has commented on the use of the word “divorce” in relationship to leaving a church. A marriage is a covenant agreement, or at least in civil terms a contract. Divorce is the canceling of that agreement. Leaving a church is not like leaving a marriage.
I can think of several good reasons for leaving one church to join another:
1. The church is focused on a different demographic
2. The church leadership is controlling
3. The church is inwardly focused, with no impact or concern for the world around it
4. The leadership is building a church based on his/her/their own personality
One BIG reason not to stay is the thought that by staying, you can change it from the inside. This never works.



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Rick

posted January 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm


Your Name #24-
“The question in the post takes theological differences off the table.”
Although there is a hint of that, I am not sure that is clearly the case.
There can be theological differences that may be important, but not necessarily mean heresy or moving “away from the gospel”.



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E.G.

posted January 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm


A person should do their best to stick with their church, as long as there is not some form of heresy or an overall “deadness” that hinder the ministry of the local body.
Even in those two situations, love and grace mean sticking it out as long as possible. But, there has to be an endpoint at some point. That will differ for different people.
My wife and I were at a church that was quite dead and had a real doctrinal problem. But, we found a ministry niche there and stuck it out. We contemplated leaving, but didn’t.
HOWEVER, as soon as we had kids, we had to think about them as well. Our decision was to stick it out until our kids were at some age where the doctrinal and ministry issues of the church would potentially affect them. Our strategy was to work from within, with a deadline based on our kids’ maturity, for change.
Thankfully, our prayers and the work of a new pastor and our friends there (and hopefully us) seem to have turned things around for the better. Our kids are getting to the stage where a healthy and vibrant church body is important, and our church has begun to mature into just such a body.
Main point – it is not only just the person making the decision that is important here. It can also be other for whom that person has some amount of spiritual leadership responsibility… in this case kids.



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RJS

posted January 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm


Brian in NZ,
Interesting. Your comment suggests that a local gathering of Christians committed to each other is not in fact the local church. Rather a local church is the vision of the leadership and people come and go as this changes. We float through connections as they suit.



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DJ

posted January 20, 2010 at 2:10 pm


We left a church in 2009 because the pastor turned out to be a hypocrite and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rules that applied to some did not apply to others (if you were his friends, you got away with things while others were ousted from the church for similar actions). He dismissed his bad behavior while angry as “righteous anger” while holding others accountable for their actions while angry. Some people were held accountable for being gossips. Others (including the pastor and his wife) participated in gossip on a daily basis.
When the lone church deacon tried to talk to him on behalf of members of the congregation, the deacon was denounced as a double-minded man who was sinning against God by daring to side against the pastor. According to the pastor, God had appointed him and elevated him to the position of pastor, and he answered only to God. No man has the right to question anything he does. Talking to him one-on-one about issues was totally futile. He never acknowledged any fault on his own part. It was always *your* sin that made you think you saw issues with him.
The final straw for us was when we asked what had happened to a $1500 donation that we had made specifically for buying new hymn books. A year later, there were still no books, and when we asked him about the money, he told us that it was none of our business and was a sin against God to question him. That made us dig deeper into church finances, only to find that there were several large, unexplained expenses and balance transfers from the pastor’s personal credit card to the church one. However, the pastor “forgot” what these were for. He also told us point-blank that he frequently used the church credit card for his own use and then paid it back in the form of a “donation” to the church so that he could use it for more deductions on his taxes.
This was a small (maybe 20 official members, some “friends of the church,” and their families), independent Baptist church in northeastern Lower Michigan, so he was accountable to no people, only to his own lip-service to God. A group of seven members left at the same time, including the church deacon. We continue to hear stories of him bad-mouthing us around town, but thankfully, we have been blessed with another church that welcomed us in spite of our old pastor. You see, our old pastor used to go to this church, until he decided to start his own, including trying to entice others from the church to go with him (none did). So even though he insisted on a meeting with our new pastor to tell him “all about” us, his efforts to sabotage us didn’t work.
Unfortunately, many people still remain at our old church because they simply can’t believe that what we’ve told them is true. On the surface, this man appears to be a candidate for sainthood. However, one family at a time, their eyes are being opened. The latest story is that the pastor is trying to make people feel guilty about not donating enough to the church, including mentioning how he donates more than his actual salary (he has a full-time job and is a pastor part-time). The fact that they’re donating as much as they ever have even though most of them are now unemployed, combined with the lack of financial meetings since we left, have left people suspicious. We pray that they will eventually have the courage to walk away themselves.
The time to walk away from a church is when you try to resolve disagreements biblically, but the pastor instead acts like a cult leader and not a man of God. Any pastor who deliberately cheats to get out of paying taxes is not a man of God, nor is one who refuses to listen to the people around him, setting himself above the congregation. Listen to that still, small voice if it’s telling you to run!



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Barb

posted January 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm


as an elder in a PC(USA) church i have pondered leaving several times in the past couple of years. My despair usually came when something i had given myself heart and soul to was dismissed by the rest. But, i’m still there and for a couple of reasons: One, i do see my membership in this church like a marriage and leaving it like a divorce. Two, where would I go? unless i move to another place (which we may do) i don’t have many options where my voice, as a women, is allowed in the church. Three, I do see hope. Four, i see the reasons some have given for leaving and they are self-serving reasons–not theological. Worship service time changes, changes to Sunday School that meant one had to sit with one’s children in worship, etc.
my church’s theology is sound and our new pastor preaches the Gospel every Sunday.



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EricG

posted January 20, 2010 at 3:46 pm


A couple of tests I used in deciding to leave a faith community a couple of years ago:
Am I comfortable inviting someone to it?
Does it refuse membership to people who are Christians on grounds that are questionable?
Is it inward focused?
Is it driving me or my family farther from God?
Some folks might claim that last one sounds consumer focused, but I don’t think so. If a church has that effect there is something fundamentally wrong.



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E.G.

posted January 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm


EricG: Couldn’t agree more; great way to articulate it.



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dopderbeck

posted January 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm


Brian (#27) – I used the word “divorce” but only as a shorthand for the emotional and social consequences of my decision. I agree with you that it’s not appropriate to analogize local church membership to the marriage covenant. Marriage is a creational ordinance, given by God to human beings as a basic form of relationship, that is sealed by vows of permanence taken before God and witnesses. Membership in a local church body has covenantal or fiduciary components, but they are not permanent or binding in the same way as a marriage. “Membership” in the Church universal is of course a different matter.



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Craig

posted January 20, 2010 at 7:14 pm


I think that we should be wary trying to come up with an arbitrary set of rules which will tell us when we should or shouldn’t leave a church. In any situation where a member of the congregation is being abused, in any sense of the word, including spiritually it is time to leave. However it might also be worth thinking about how to decide where to go next because the next church might be worse!
What should people look for when trying to find a church? How do you spot that it is a bad group to join?
At my own previous church I have struggled with unsupportive leadership, pastoral care who never cared, and an awful amount of politics which were unnecessary. My decision to leave in the end had more to do with my inability to overcome my cynicism when there. The week I decided to leave I immediately found my self able to forgive the Church as a whole for its failing, and thus myself for mine. I cannot say that there was a criteria which applies to everyone because within that church I know there are others who have seen the same issues as me and in a similar light who are staying on, determined to see it change.
After it is easy to blame an institution for failing us, but in the case of the Church we are part of it, and with the exception of abuse, i.e. DJ’s post above, we have to decided whether we can live with our decision to leave, especially if we feel called to stay and work at it but leave because “this church doesn’t meet our needs'; Whatever happen to the mutual part of mutual edification?



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Nigel Alston

posted January 20, 2010 at 9:19 pm


Leave when it becomes unhealthy!



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chaplain mike

posted January 20, 2010 at 11:53 pm


Brian Z (#27) It’s OK to leave a church because “the church is focused on a different demographic”? What on earth does that mean?



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chaplain mike

posted January 20, 2010 at 11:59 pm


To the first question: Leaving a local church does not mean you are leaving the Church. Church is not an option, despite my suspicion that evangelical theology ultimately makes it so.
There may be legitimate or illegitimate reasons for changing one’s affiliation with a particular local assembly. My only counsel would be that if you do decide you have good reason to leave, do so well. Leave in a healthy manner, with integrity, good communication with everyone involved, and committed to always speaking well of one’s brothers and sisters, even if you must go a separate direction.



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Rog

posted January 21, 2010 at 12:05 am


This is a favorite topic of mine in recent years (having changed churches several times myself in the past 15 years and having several good, solid friends leave my current fellowship). I hope we can continue this discussion.
Some thoughts that resonate with me:
1. We are the Body of Christ, albeit with many imperfections individually and collectively.
So we shouldn’t leave lightly or flippantly. In this, I think being a part of the local body IS like marriage–something we should take seriously and only leave when God permits/directs. Or certainly like a family of siblings. We wouldn’t want to break off those relationships without very good reason.
2. “When you criticize the Church, you’re criticizing another Man’s wife.”
Sure, this can be overdone and abused, but Jesus IS perfectly capable of changing/growing us as His bride. And as His bride, we should have a very high view of the importance and value of the Church. Perhaps He wants us to stay and be a part of the solution/change in a local fellowship more than we’re sometimes willing to tolerate. Still, I suspect some err on the other side–staying when they should get out for very good reasons.
3. When to change churches is (mostly) a Western “luxury.”
The thought probably doesn’t occur often to Chinese or Indian or Muslim background believers. They often don’t have any alternative (although God could certainly lead someone to form another fellowship).
4. Favorite “worst” joke.
A man stranded on a deserted island for many years is finally rescued after flagging down a passing boat. He invites the captain and crew to see where he’d been living all those years. He takes them to a clearing with 3 small huts. He explains that the one in the middle is where he lives and the one on the right is where he goes to church. The 3rd hut? “That’s where I used to go to church.”



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Burly

posted January 21, 2010 at 8:15 am


Barry #25. Thanks for the response. I think you may be right (re: moving in different ministry directions/ministry idolatry, etc). I think it’s a shame that Paul & Barnabas were unable to reconcile relationally at that point. But they are human on this side of the second coming. Things got heated. I’m glad that ultimately it looks like they reconciled (and not necessarily in terms of “ministry goals” – that’s totally secondary).



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Josh R

posted January 21, 2010 at 11:56 am


I have struggled with this a bit at times myself. I come down to 2 solid reasons.
1 God Calls you to serve elsewhere.
2 The Church or it’s leadership asks or suggests you to leave.
If I think of myself as a servant rather than a consumer, then my presence becomes more important, not less important, when needs are not being met. Rather than complaining or leaving I feel I should equip myself and provide. I have never felt that the church leadership that I was under was corrupt, but I suspect I would try to stand up for the truth in that context too. If standing up for the truth leads to #2, so be it.



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Barb

posted January 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm


Rog@40–I’m printing out your response and carrying it with me!
Josh R@42–yes i think those are the two solid reasons. All else is “me directed”.



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Ann

posted January 22, 2010 at 10:26 pm


I recommend leaving anything that calls itself “church” whose leader(s) justify the disregard of Scripture, and excuse the harm, abuse or financial bilking its members for worldly gain and ambition. If an institution calls itself “church” and fails to reflect Christ in the core of its treatment of fellow members and community, and in its purpose and mission, it isn’t “church.” Church really is the members of the Body of Christ. The building is a convenience, most of the time.



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Brian in NZ

posted January 24, 2010 at 1:48 pm


@ RJS #30
“Your comment suggests that a local gathering of Christians committed to each other is not in fact the local church. Rather a local church is the vision of the leadership and people come and go as this changes. We float through connections as they suit.”
Yes, I do largely agree with your summary. Most people initially attend churches because of the style of preaching, worship, missions focus, location etc. Friends grow out of that. Commitment to a structure or organisation is not the same as being committed to other Christians. I do not believe that we are called to join and commit to an organisation, but we are called to join with and support other Christians.
I do not believe that we need to stay with a church if either I have “moved on” and need something different or if the church leadership changes and moves in a direction or style that isn’t my preference. A classic case would be if the church does not have a suitable youth program for my teenage kids. Should I stay there for the sake of the church or move for the sake of my kids? Or if the leadership changes and becomes highly focused on evangelism (for example), should I stay even though the preaching/teaching/home groups etc. are only providing Christianity 101?



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A.P. Jelses

posted June 8, 2010 at 8:42 am


I suppose what is my sole concern is where is the scripture that directly supports or speaks to church ‘membership’ and when men/women can and cannot leave their current local body to move onto to something different?
I understand the value of respecting the relationships and authority placed in the local body but I don’t see how we can make a biblical case for specific conditions to which one can leave? Church hopping is obviously inappropriate but where are the biblical instructions as to how we approach leaving a local body of believers?



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Jennifer

posted April 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm


Recently, I was told that I must leave a large church through a letter from the minister. The body of the letter stated that the clergy have tried to help me on numerous concerns and it has not helped. The real truth is that I had 1 appointment with the main minister who told me I cannot talk about my abusive partner or the women’s leader who was approaching the security guard to have me removed just for being in the church. The women’s leader intercepted me from joining the choir or participating in any activities of the church. She did not want me to participate in women’s classes, choir, drama team,…..When I was talking to my girlfriend after the class, she walked up to me and her, separated us and had security guard forcably tell me to leave. When I responded that I need fellowship, I was told “We are throwing you into the fire and pruning you”. I was given a letter from the clergy that if I come to this church again, I will be arrested and they called the police. When they gave me the letter, absolutely nothing happened. I to this day do not know why this church has been so cruel to me. When I asked to speak to them, they told me to get away. This is not what Jesus would have done. They are not open to work through it. There was alot of gossip that this women’s leader has said about me. I am banned from events that they have participated in with other churches I am trying to join.



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Brad

posted April 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm


Maybe I’m being na├»ve but having the name Jennifer and talking to your” girlfriend” and not being allowed to participate in services and being removed by security is not the norm. If by “girlfriend” you mean homosexual partner your particpation in the service should be limited to hearing the gospel. The fellowship Jennifer needs is with Christ. Unless this church is some kind of cult there’s no way jennifer would be treated in this manner without reason.



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