In this series on the Church, we’ve been writing about a great deal of topics that hopefully are relevant and helpful to you as you think through the importance of the local Church for your Christian life and ministry. As I’ve thought about the Church, one topic that keeps coming up, at least to me is the subject of when to leave your church. In this post, I want to explore this topic, but before I do let me tell you what I don’t mean by leaving your local Church. Also, this post should not be viewed as a suggestion that I think you should leave your Church if you see these things occurring. I firmly believe there is something to be said for staying at one’s local Church and working through issues. With that said, I see four reasons why you could biblically leave your local Church.
Before we get started I’d like to be clear why this topic is important but before I do I want to be perfectly honest with you this is tricky territory and requires a great deal of wisdom. I can’t speak to your exact situation and why you should leave your local Church. I will say though if your pastor isn’t preaching the Word of God or prefers to preach his opinion, then you should leave that Church and find another one. You should never leave your local Church if you don’t like the singing, the way they pray, the way they fellowship, or the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Do not let preference related issues stop you from enjoying your local Church. With that said if the Church you are attending refuses to preach the Word of God, essential doctrine issues related to biblical Christianity, or refuses to take a stand on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality or even to talk about them, I encourage you to find a different Church.
The first reason you should leave your local Church but not the Church itself is because of spiritual abuse. Over the years I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received about people who have been spiritually abused by their pastor. Every email and situation is different. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to help many people by the grace of God to come back to the Church. Stories of spiritual abuse are not new to me in fact I’ve experienced it in several churches I’ve been at.
Spiritual abuse occurs when the pastor and the elders overstep their bounds and rather than providing loving and caring leadership of the people of God, begin acting like dictators instead of servants. In my experience, you may be experiencing spiritual abuse when your pastor is more interested in lecturing you than ministering to you, especially after you’ve opened up to him and shared what was going on with you. If after opening up extensively to your pastor about various things he demonstrates no desire to shepherd you and care for you, I encourage you to resign your membership at that church.
Now that may be shocking to you. You may think throughout this series the writers have emphasized the importance of church membership and now you’ve just said I should leave my local Church because of spiritual abuse. As noted earlier, each situation is different. In the specific instance of spiritual abuse, it may be wise to consider leaving the Church you are at presently. Moreover, there is a significant difference between leaving the Church entirely and leaving one local Church to find another place to fellowship. I’m also not advocating for church shopping. Even if there is spiritual abuse occurring, as a Christian you have a responsibility to go to your brother in Christ who is your Pastor and talk to him. If he won’t listen then do as the Bible teaches and bring two witnesses that you might go before the board of elders to state your case. If all that fails to resolve the issue, it is then time to prayerfully seek God’s guidance regarding a new place to call your Church home.
Second, for married couples, before you even consider leaving your church it is vital to be of the same mind on this issue. I encourage you to seek godly counsel outside of your local Church about why you want to leave. Growing up I attended the same Church until I was thirteen years old when I moved to another part of Seattle. I then attended that same church into my early 20’s before I moved to another Church. When I moved to Idaho, my wife and I started attending another Church. After a few years, my wife and I left that Church to attend the one we are at now. We’ve been at our current church for almost two years and love it. I note that to comment that at times, change is necessary and as a husband and wife, it is a must to be of one accord when seeking out and planting down roots in a new fellowship of believers.
Third, if you’ve decided that leaving your local church is the best course of action and you have legitimate reasons for doing so, I encourage you to go to your pastor with those reasons. When you meet with him, you don’t need to go into everything and you shouldn’t feel the need to get defensive if he asks you why you desire to leave. Simply state why you and your spouse (if you are married) feel the need to leave and share that you are resigning your membership in this Church. I also encourage you if you can to let those you’ve done life with know that you are leaving the Church and it isn’t about them but rather a personal choice you’ve made through much prayer and after receiving godly counsel. Also, please make it clear you are not leaving the corporate Church, but this particular local expression of the Church. Encourage them to keep in contact with you and state that you care about them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Fourth, while I can’t tell you when to leave your local Church, I can tell you from my personal experience that leaving a Church for whatever reason is hard. Please know that I haven’t always followed the advice I’m giving you to the letter but have learned through experience of leaving several churches that this is the best way to leave if you need to do so.
If you decide to leave your local Church but not the Church I encourage you to have a good system of accountability in place from Christians outside the situation. This will help you to transition from your previous church to a new one and help you deal with any unresolved issues. This will also help you to deal with any stress, feelings of shell-shock or hurt by the situation that you likely will feel or experience as you transition.
My advice is to make sure the reasons are really good ones tested by friends who know you well and who will pray for you. Also make sure you have a plan before you leave about churches you want to attend. Maybe seek out local Christian friends about where they attend and try to go there. Whatever you do, I urge you if you do decide to leave your local Church to not reject the Church. Christ bled, died, and rose to save you and placed you in His family, the Body of Christ. As such, every Christian needs you, your gifts, talents, and abilities to be used in conjunction with fellow believers so that the Gospel may advance and spread to the glory of God. I urge you to continue to love Christ and His Church at all times.
Finally, no one in any church is perfect and you aren’t either. We are works in progress becoming like Jesus by His grace and for His glory. One day we will be like Jesus but until then, it is likely you may get hurt by those in the Church. If you do experience hurt, I encourage you to not run away but to deal with the issues that are brought up. By doing so you will learn what it means to “one another” as we have been commanded by God to do. At the end of day those who love Jesus love His Church. I urge you to fall in love all the more with Jesus with the result being that you will love the people in His Body, the Church all the more by His grace and for His glory.