Green Lights: When It’s Time to Leave a Church
Here are three basic and acceptable reasons for leaving a church.
A gospel reason. If the church you are a member of does not believe or teach the biblical gospel, you need to leave. Now. Sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ, plus or minus nothing. Nothing we do saves us. Salvation is God’s free gift to those who trust in the righteousness of Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification. Anyone who teaches any other “gospel” is accursed (Galatians 1:6-9). And any church that embraces a false gospel is not a Christian church. Run for your life!
A doctrinal reason. Here’s the bottom line: You must leave a church when a church requires you to deny what you believe or believe what you deny. You have three responsibilities when it comes to faith: (1) the duty to live by faith (Romans 14:23); (2) the guarding of your conscience against sin (James 4:17); and (3) the command to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21-21). Don’t treat doctrinal matters lightly. Truth and peace must be protected. But to ignore truth in the name of people only produces a pseudo-peace.
A personal reason. There are many personal reasons for leaving a church. The most common is relocation. If you have moved to a different city, you need put yourself under the authority of a local church where you live. That was Phoebe’s situation (Romans 16:1-2). Or your church can be so far from your where you live in the city that skipping church becomes a convenient excuse. These and other similar personal reasons are acceptable, sometimes necessary, reasons for leaving a church.
Yellow Lights: How to Leave a Church
How can you leave a local church in a Christ-honoring way?
Pray. Important decisions should only be made after diligent prayer. Leaving a church is one such decision. Pray about your motives, duty and relationships. Pray to guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23). Pray for wisdom (James 1:5). Pray for submissiveness to God’s will (Colossians 1:9). Pray quietly. That is, pray about it. Don’t talk about it. Loose talk about your unprocessed thoughts and feelings can sow discord.
Examine your motives. Why do you want to leave? I am not talking about the politically correct reasons you tell others. I’m talking about the true motivations of your heart. Do you even know them? Ask God to search you (Psalms 139:23-24). Then be honest with yourself. And be honest with God. Be careful not to move for the wrong reasons.
Review the commitments you have made to serve. Do you serve in the church? Are you a leader? Will your move disrupt the ministry? Answer these questions prayerfully before you leave. If you have made commitments, do everything within your power to honor them. Put the honor of Christ ahead of yours. Push past unworthy quitting points (1 Corinthians 15:58). You do not want to be found AWOL from an assignment God has given you.
Make sure you have no unresolved interpersonal conflicts. Don’t leave a church because you are mad about something. Don’t leave because someone has offended you. Be ready to forgive and eager for reconciliation. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Broken fellowship suspends true worship.
Consider how your transfer will affect others. Christianity is not about you. It’s about Christ and others. If your heart is right, you will feel the weight of how your potential move will injure or influence others. If you can leave without affecting anyone, you were not a good member. If your presence matters, consider how your absence will move others. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests,” instructs Paul, “but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
Determine where you will transfer your membership before you leave. It’s not the Father’s will for his children to be spiritually homeless. Paul says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). The Lord typically leads to a place, not just away from a place. You should be able to leave a spiritual forwarding address when you leave a church. And you should be able to go to your new church with a recommendation from your old church.
Have an exit-interview with your pastor. It is right for you to talk to your pastor before you leave a church. Is he the reason you want to leave? That is all the more reason why you should schedule a conversation. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
What do you think? What is the right time to leave a church? What is the right way to leave a church?