Monday, July 30, 2012

When Should You Leave Your Church?

We've been looking at trends within our church lately.  One of them seems to be this 'revolving door' phenomenon where we maintain, or slightly lose, overall membership, but regularly have high turnover.  We're also being told that we're about to enter into a time where there will be major changes to the way we do things.  Though that hopefully means the 'revolving door' will be shut, it may also mean a more rapid exodus of those who don't appreciate major changes to the way things are done.

Change can be good.  It's an opportunity.  
It can also be difficult and uncomfortable.  
How will the church view and respond to it?

So, the question of this post is it's title 'When should you leave your church?'.

Some would say that short of direct heresy being preached from the pulpit, you should never leave your church.  You're part of a body.  Don't amputate yourself.  In fact, quit being a useless limb and get to work on any of the problems that you perceive.  Others may think leaving or changing churches is no different than deciding Kroger has better prices than Walmart on groceries.  There may be many views in between.  Preaching styles, children's programs, youth programs, music programs, a sense of connectedness, etc. may all factor in to what's considered a legitimate reason for finding a new church.  

But should they?

What would you consider a legitimate reason for leaving?
What do you think God's view is on church membership?


  1. I think a more important (albeit closely related) question may be "why are you at your church?"

    If the answer is anything other than "because I believe this is where God has called me to be", then you're already operating in a grey area with many potential problems.

    To make matters worse, I would bet that the majority of churchgoers would not be able to answer the question in that manner. I'm of the belief that the single biggest criteria used to select a church by most churchgoers today is location. Once a list of nearest churches has been assembled, I think the majority of church seekers will then visit one or more churches to find the one that's most appealing to them. I believe that most people involve God only minimally in this process.

    The weakness with this method is, of course, that if/when the church becomes less appealing to you (for any reason), you have then lost your primary reason for attending that church to begin with. Most will then leave at that point and relocate to another nearby church.

    BUT, if you can answer "because I believe this is where God has called me to be", then the only valid answer to the original question would be "because I believe God has called me elsewhere."

  2. Will Howlett7/30/2012

    Steve's point is apropos. Working with the student ministry at my church for several years, i am amazed at the number of parents who choose a church because their children prefer/don't prefer it. I understand the sentiment behind it, however in most cases this means that once the students DON"T like it, the family will choose to go somewhere else. Although it's not an original thought, I liken it to an I-Tunes play list. I've seen many families who actually attend multiple churches because they like different ministries that these places of worship provide. Their kids go to one church on wed night, a different church on sunday morning, and are a part of other groups as well.

    The reason several people choose churches is because of programs, thus when those programs are altered/eliminated, then the families leave. I have seen this countless times at church (no choir, AWANA discontinued, youth ministry moves to a different night, etc) People don't understand that when you leave church, you aren't leaving programs, service times, and buildings; you are leaving people. During my 17 years of worshiping at the same church, their have obviously been many times of frustration with staff, programs, stewardship, leadership, etc. I don't leave because i have deep rooted relationships with the PEOPLE. And so like Rob said, for some it may be as simple as the difference in prices at the store. My hope would be that people would be so deeply connected with others that they want to stay. To that point i always laugh to myself when someone leaves the church, but then i find out they are still in a home group with all the people from church. Why not stay if you love the people?

    Also, I think Steve is right. If I believe this is the place that God wants me to be, I am going to do whatever I can to stay there.

    In my opinion, the things that would force me to consider leaving would be doctrinal issues, unclear vision for the community, stewardship, or strife in leadership.

  3. I guess I'll be another great big DITTO. If you are not where God wants you to be and you're not fulfilling His purpose for your life, you're in the wrong place.

    I'm never surprised by people who leave because some program stopped or the music isn't just right. Those people are not looking for a place to worship - they are looking for a place that will stroke their own ego and make them feel better by giving them only what they want.

    On a slightly-related topic: I always go back to what Charlie has preached in the past. If the church is fulfilling the 5 purposes of the church (Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship, Stewardship, and Evangel-ship[sorry, forgot the last one]) they can't go wrong. However, if one ship becomes too important and the other ships become less, problems arise.

  4. For once this summer I have some time to comment :) By the way, it's great to see some life in the topic!

    As a paid staff member at a church, I see people leave for tons of reasons - many of which are very shallow. As a son of parents, I saw my own family change churches every few years until when I was old enough to drive (15 or 16), my parents gave me the choice of whether I'd stay at our church or move on with them. I chose to stay.

    We live in a culture that views mobility, comfort, and having it "your way" as some of the highest "rights" we have. On one hand, I've seen people who move from a town and still commute back to that good ol' church rather than finding one where they live, and I've seen others who will leave a church at the slightest offense...which usually equates to "my want's (not even needs) aren't being met".

    Churches aren't perfect...they never will be. Because they are made up of sinners who are BEING SAVED/MADE INTO THE IMAGE OF JESUS, churches will always have problems and conflicts and imperfections. Add to that the fact that it's impossible to please everyone and you have a magical recipe for conflicts of all varieties.

    But conflict isn't a bad thing - it's either an opportunity to come together and work things out (which always involves submission and sacrifice) or it's an occasion to force my own will onto others, and if that doesn't work, the person usually picks up his toys and moves to another sandbox (and often leaves relational destruction in the wake).

    As a final thought, and I know it's not a perfect analogy (there are limits to what one should stay and put up with) but let's think of the life of David real quick. David was anointed to be God's next king probably around the age of 14. He became Saul's armor bearer, God used him to kill Goliath, David became a leader in the army, more popular than Saul, etc. And then Saul went crazy with jealousy and tried to kill David, not just once but twice. David had to flee for his life! Twice, David could have killed Saul as easily as the flick of his wrist - once when Saul went into the cave where David and his men were hiding (to "relieve" himself) and once when David sneaked into Saul's camp while everyone was sleeping and stuck his spear into the ground next to Saul's sleeping noggin. Both times, David said "Who am I to touch the Lord's anointed"

    David knew that God had anointed him to be the next king - it was probably at least a good 15 years from the point where he was anointed to the point where he finally became the king. And David had all the reasons in the world to be justified in killing Saul and taking over, but he didn't because he trusted that it was God's place to take Saul out of authority and not David's. David knew that being a man of God was about trusting God and His timing, and not taking things into his own hands and power. Being a man of God is about committing to doing things God's way and not man's way. Serving in a church is about doing things God's way and not our own.

    Being in church is all about loving God and serving Him. Like Steve said, if the reason you're in a church isn't all about loving God and then loving the people he's placed in the church, then you're there for all the wrong reasons. And maybe we're the one bringing down the church. Maybe we're the ones who need to leave when we're no longer building up the church.

  5. Great comments. Just a couple of my own.

    God 'calls' us to be in a body of believers.
    Does He call us only to one specific church?
    I'm not sure that He does.

    I also don't think that using location as ONE of your criteria is wrong. Wherever you visit, probably locally, needs to be sound in doctrine and practice. After praying about it, you will probably make a decision based on having no negative concerns rather than a call from God.

    Once you're a member, you then have made a commitment to, and are a part of, that body. God definitely 'wants' you to be there.

    Unfortunately, there is a consumer mentality with most church members. There is a self-centered relationship with the church. 'What's in it for me', rather than 'how can I serve God through this body'. I think if everybody gave like it was a privilege and a honor to get to serve the Creator of the Universe and Redeemer/Lover of my soul, then we'd all think church was pretty amazing.

    I agree, Micah, that working through conflict appropriately is a great opportunity to grow closer. Sadly, submission and sacrifice grate on the nerves of our flesh.

    Reminds me a little of our conversation regarding Romans 14.

  6. I think I have to agree with Steve that the only reason to ever leave a church is because God has called you to be elsewhere.

    Before I joined my church I was in college studying game design and intending to move out of state when I was done to pursue work in that field. However, after two years of college I had joined a church body and felt that was where God wanted me to stay for the time being. So I finished getting my associates degree in Multimedia instead and decided not to pursue a career that would require me to move anymore.

    Because of that I am now in a position where I will not look for work that would require me to move, which makes it very difficult to find work that suits me since this area isn't exactly the best place to find work in my field. I believe that my church body is more important than my career though so I do the best with where I am and trust that it is where I am supposed to be.

    1. Thanks Kevin. But would you leave if Charlie began preaching that there are many paths to God, and Jesus isn't the only one? Or any other number of essential doctrines?

      Also, you bring up a great point. What if you're a student? Many seminary students have been members in the past, then moved on once they graduated. I don't think that's a problem. God had them here for a time, then used them elsewhere. Which is to also say, God may have a career opportunity for you in the future which would be local, or which may lead you to a different church.

  7. Anonymous8/01/2012


  8. I was thinking about this question and thought what is the purpose of church? Is it to have fellowship with other believers ...or is it to learn more about God and grow closer to him...or is it to provide a place for people to be saved? Or perhaps all of them. i am thinking especially about the people being saved. you can probably count on one hand the people being saved at church...i am talking about during the main service...perhaps less than that. it is definitely not the acts version where people were being added daily to the i guess my question is why attend and support and put a lot of energy into our local church body when it doesnt seem very relevant to non believers and people are not being added daily? Are we simply attending church because it eases our conscious... and lets us say" oh i am ok... i go to church and volunteer and do this and that so i am good..." all the while we are fueling our illusions and are simply robots. what is the purpose of the local church?

    1. Great, great, great Mike! We have several stated purposes of the church, as Scott mentioned earlier, and it encompasses all those things you mentioned. As far as people being saved: on one hand, it seems that we live in a time and place where most people know something about the gospel. A church on every corner, as they say. That may cut down on the kind of growth the early church saw, since it was an unheard of thing at the time. On the other hand, we hear statistics that the majority of people in our zip code are lost. So what's the problem? This doesn't absolve us of our responsibility to reach out to them, but I am reminded at the same time that the road to destruction is wide, and many are on it - to stay.

  9. I found this by accident so rob if you can tell me how to access your blog that would be awesome. i have no idea. you can text me how sometime. thanks.

  10. Regarding something you said earlier, Rob, I do believe that God is concerned with the details, if you will. By that I mean that He does care about specifics. He does care which specific person you marry, which job you take, and which church you attend.

    Do you believe that God doesn't have a specific plan for our individual lives? Only a general will that applies to all believers?

    1. I think He has a specific plan for our lives.
      However, let's explore your marriage example for a moment.
      Do you think, that out of all the women in the world (or at least the Louisville area) God had only Wendy for you to marry?
      I'm sure He was involved in events that led up to you meeting and eventually marrying Wendy AND He expects you to honor your lifelong commitment to her. Similar to the commitment we owe our church. But if there was only 1 woman for every man, then all it would take is 1 guy to mess it up for everyone. Then we'd all get the wrong woman. This is what I'd say to guys who wrestle with the idea of whether or not the woman they married was 'the right one'.
      Once you've gotten married, she's the right one.
      He cares about which specific person you marry, or which specific church you go to, but I don't think that's limited to only one option.

  11. I just compared marriage to church membership earlier in Steve's comment. How does that hit you? Christ and the church are portrayed as a marriage relationship. The church is portrayed as a 'body' with many parts. I mentioned the word 'amputate' earlier when describing leaving the church. Does being a member of a church compare with marriage? I asked in the beginning, how do you think God views church membership?

  12. I'm going to need you to flesh something out in a bit more detail.

    **Before I go any further, I understand that I'm steering this thread off onto a tangent of God's general will vs God's specific will, but I don't know how to avoid this, as I feel that that answers to the question you originally posed is invariably tied to God's will.**

    You answered my question by stating that you think God has a specific plan for our lives, but then went on to explain that His specific plan doesn't include who you should marry. Or perhaps not where you should attend church. What types of things would God's specific plan include?

    Personally, I do believe that God has a specific will for each of our lives, and when we are choosing to live within that will, he will bless us. That's the reward we get for complying with His will. Note however, we still have free will of our own. We still make choices. And when our choices take us outside of God's will for our lives, we miss out on blessings.

    I believe that God's will for some people is to remain single. And God will bless those who respond in obedience to this call. His will for others is to be married. For those He desires to see married, He has a "right person" for every one of those. Singular. A divine pairing. If those two people marry, God will bless them richly for choosing to spend their lives with the person He willed for them.

    What if they don't?

    What if the single guy decides he doesn't want to follow God's calling to bachelorhood? Or the couple marries without consulting God or considering His will at all?

    Well primarily, they miss out on blessings. But the story doesn't end there, because God's general will is still in effect for them. That bachelor-turned-husband is still expected to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and to lay down his life for her...even if God's specific will for his life was for him to remain single. That woman who married an unmotivated slacker because she was dumbstruck by puppy love is still commanded to submit to that husband as unto the Lord. Would she have been happier had she consulted God on her choice of husband? Absolutely, she'd have been blessed. But she chose to ignore God and now she has missed out on those blessings. All of this underscores how important it is to seek God's voice when making important decisions such as these.

    1. There probably seems to be a contradiction in saying I think God has a specific will for us but not only 1 option. That is an interesting tangent, and one that can include foreknowledge issues, and freewill issues, and one that should probably be started on a new post. I'm mainly trying to determine what the relationship between church members should be like. Whether or not God wanted you at HLBC from the beginning of time, you are there now. How should you view that relationship? Do you think you could be a member at the wrong church - heretical issues aside?

    2. I think it all comes down to God's perfect will, and then all of the other types described in the Bible. This article covers some of it -

      I believe that God has a plan for every person - His Perfect Will for our lives. When we start making decisions, we mess it up. Therefore, God has to make lemonade from the rotten lemons we produce.

    3. I like how the article phrased this: Having said that there is a "perfect will" let us not conclude that there is an imperfect will of God, so that we might fear we will miss His "perfect will" and be forever doomed to live out a life of misery and failure and frustration. His perfect will takes into account our ignorance, our weakness, or sins, and even the sins of others against us (Genesis 50:20).

      This may be an reconciling of what Steve and I are trying to say. In this understanding, God has taken into account any 'incorrect' decisions and accommodated them into His 'specific' plan for you.

      It also says, as I believe we have in a previous post, that God's 'directive will' (or what we've been calling specific will) never violates His 'general' will.

      The author also makes the point that this is not very common to have God directly and personally guide us this way.

  13. Well that's an easy one. I wouldn't be driving across town several times a week, passing countless churches along the way, if I didn't believe that HLBC was where God called me to be. There are plenty of easier and more convenient options that I could choose. Bigger buildings with more programs. But those factors are really irrelevant to me because those weren't the reason why I began attending HLBC in the first place...

  14. I was asking if you thought it was possible to be a member of the wrong church. I believe if you've chosen a church and become a member, then that's where you need to stay. You believe that may not be the specific church God wanted you at. So what should you do? Uproot and keep looking?

    1. So what do you do when the church you chose changes into something that, given the opportunity today, you would not choose? I realize that it could be the member that has changed and not the congregation, but putting that argument aside, "When Should You Leave Your Church"?

      I believe that Miranda and I were led to HLBC. After some time, we became members. We joined into everything there because we could see where God was blessing everything. Blackaby states in his "Experiencing God" study that you should see where God is moving and join Him there. This was definitely the case at HLBC.

      The question that Rob is posing (at least as I understand it) is the one that Blackaby does not cover. What if you do not see God moving? Should you run the other way? Do you step in and help start some movement? Can you do that without being disobedient to the leadership God has placed over you? [I have several more questions as I have struggled with this, but I will spare you the litany.]

      After 14 years at HLBC, I still feel God has placed us there. In 14 years, we have seen multiple Music Ministers, Youth Ministers, and other church staff. If our revolving door had been shut, I'm certain we would now need a new larger sanctuary to hold the 1,000+ members. We have several friends that have come through our revolving doors who ask "Why are you still there?" My answer is always the same, "Because this is where God wants us?"

      I'm not sure what it would take to cause me to pick up and leave short of God firmly telling us to go.

    2. Wow, that's strong Scott. (BTW, in case you haven't noticed, this site's all about litany :) I think my main point, in asking the question I did, was to say that there are few if any reasons to leave. There ARE some valid reasons, but the ones most use are probably not biblical. Is that wrong? Is it wrong to seek a place that meets your needs and has the programs you think are necessary. I think so if you're already a member of one body. Should you have been there to start with? Too late, in my opinion. You are there. Is it taking the analogy of the human body too far if we say an amputation has occurred when a member leaves? Is it wrong to compare church membership to marriage? Not sure, but I definitely see some similarities from the bible.

      Now, about God NOT moving in the church, and what to do about that: I believe there's going to be a whole host of problems associated with God not being at work within a church body. Just think about what that means. Valid issues would arise that would necessarily move a Christian to action. Whether that means you could revitalize a church with some other like-minded believers, or simply find another place that truly honors and worships God.

      Unless we are all crazy, brain-washed heathens, we know that is not the case at HLBC.

    3. I guess what I'm interested in the the 'whole host of problems'. How do you know when things are just not right? I realize that God will attempt to prod a believer in the right direction, but I also know quite a few stubborn Christians. Sometimes it take quite a bit more than gentle prodding.

      If you look at the traditional A-B-C measurements of a healthy church (attendance, buildings, cash), an person outside of our church would probably say something is definitely wrong. In Charlie's own words, we have plateaued and could begin the decline in membership (attendance). This year's Capital Campaign is beginning to address the buildings problems. It's also no secret that giving has been down for years.

      Having said all of that, I do not believe HLBC is beyond hope. We have a lot of good people who are committed. Yes, we could always use more (people and cash), but we have a good foundation.

      We have been told that there are changes coming. I think that is necessary. We must trust the leadership to honor God to make those changes. As Micah said (and Charlie has said on multiple occasions), "It's not about me/us". I am certain that I will not agree 100% with all of the changes, but that's OK. If I am not served, that's OK. If it's not about God, we have a problem.

    4. Well, I think the problems I'm talking about are obvious misrepresentations of scripture, non-doctrinal stands (like the acceptance of homosexuality in the church), denial of essential truths, etc.
      I think good A, B, C's can occur even when a church isn't spiritually sound. However, the fact that they're bad can certainly be a sign of spiritually immaturity.
      Charlie and Brian aren't perfect for sure. Are there leadership problems? Probably. But it seems obvious that their heart's are in the right place. Charlie hold's fast to the word. Brian loves the Lord and people. Is that enough? Is it enough to hold to the essentials but not know how to work it out in the membership in a convicting and convincing way? Plus, add in the responsibility of the members who many times want things that serve themselves. I think the essentials are enough. The foundation has got to be built on those. How they get worked out is what all those seminary people are taking classes to learn I guess. Get in here Kory Capps and weigh in!

  15. Kory has respectfully declined.

  16. Unfortunately, Rob. I think I have a slightly different answer than I subscribed to earlier. This is a perfect example of when idealism is thumped by reality.

    1. Scott, I wasn't at church last Sunday and didn't realize what this comment was referring to when I originally read it. I now realize that you're understandably unhappy with what has occurred with Miranda. It certainly adds a different dimension when you're an employee of the church, as opposed to a regular member.

  17. Our own Al Mohler commented on this very question recently for R.C.Sproul's site called Ligonier Ministries. Here's the main instruction:

    I would suggest three different levels of theological urgency, each corresponding to a set of issues and theological priorities found in current doctrinal debates.

    First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith alone, and the authority of Scripture. These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.

    Without an affirmation of the Trinity, there is no true Christianity. Without an affirmation of the full deity and humanity of Christ, there is no gospel. Without an affirmation of doctrines essential to the gospel of Christ, there is no saving message in Christianity at all.

    These first-order doctrines would include the virgin birth of Christ, His bodily resurrection, and other doctrines clearly taught in the Bible and necessary to understanding who Christ is and what His atonement accomplished. Thus, justification by faith alone is also rightly categorized in this first-order rank, for without this truth the church falls.

    The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident.

    Second-order issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism. Baptists and Presbyterians, for example, fervently disagree over the most basic understanding of Christian baptism. The practice of infant baptism is inconceivable to the Baptist mind, while Presbyterians trace infant baptism to their most basic understanding of the covenant. Standing together on the first-order doctrines, Baptists and Presbyterians eagerly recognize each other as believing Christians, but recognize that disagreement on issues of this importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination.

    First-order issues determine Christian identity and integrity. Second-order issues determine ecclesiology.

    Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations. I would put most of the debates over eschatology, for example, in this category. Christians who affirm the bodily, historical, and victorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ may differ over timetable and sequence without rupturing the fellowship of the church. Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question.

    Christians should never separate from a church over third-order issues, much less over issues that do not even rise to this importance. Believers in Christ are obligated to see all issues of biblical truth as included in our stewardship of the gospel, but the New Testament makes clear that, while unity on essentials is vital, diversity on other questions need not threaten the unity of the church.

    Here's where the full article can be found: