How to Know When It's Time To Leave Your Church

As a pastor, I hate to admit there is ever a time to leave any church, but there are some signs that can suggest it is indeed time.  You'll notice a pretty short list below.  That's because when you leave a church, you are walking away from a commitment you have likely made when you entered into membership there.  Additionally, whenever a person leaves a church, they in some way challenge the legitimacy or vitality of the congregation they have exited.  Steps that can have destructive impacts like this or that end up harming relationships you have likely invested a lot of time and energy into--that's a risky thing.  Ultimately, the most fruitful believers I have known are those who have planted themselves in one place over the long haul.

I've gone to churches all my life, though I didn't always live for Christ.  Granted, I was dragged to them before I was a teenager, but noticed in all kinds--United Methodist, Grace Brethren, Presbyterian, Baptist, non-denominational, Episcopalian, Assemblies of God, Church of God--there are reasons people leave that are both legitimate and illegitimate.  What you'll find below is a list of what I think are reasons to leave a church.

  1. False doctrine.  When a church's leaders begin to teach what is false or contrary to the plain sense of scripture.  If your church abandons what are cardinal teachings of scripture, this would be a reason to abandon it.  Please be sure to note that this does not refer to a change in practice or style.  A church that no longer calls people to make a decision to put faith in Christ through an altar call or that adds drums to the worship ensemble or stops singing from the hymnal--these are not changes in doctrine, but changes in praxis (the practice of faith) or style.  Where some believers get tripped up here is that they can easily confuse a change or innovation in practice with a change in doctrine.  Because your pastor is preaching from an iPad does not mean he or she is no longer preaching from the Bible.  He's just reading the scriptures from a different medium.
  2. Moral corruption of the leaders.  If your church leadership (clergy and/or board) is aware of something that is obvious open sin that is known, tolerated or affirmed in the lives of the leaders of your congregation, this is a sign that you need to leave, but only after you clearly express your position to those in authority.  Again, this is not referencing whether the minister wears a tie or uses a chair and table to preach from.  What I'm referring to here are things that are understood to be sin in the plain reading of scripture (lying, stealing, adultery, etc).  This does not refer to differences in opinion you have about the pastor's approach to business practices of the church or whether he listens to secular music.  
  3. Lack of trust in the leaders.  Sometimes things happen that diminish your ability to submit to or believe or follow the leaders of the church.  In this case, rather than fighting the pastor or board members all the way, it might be better to determine that that would not be a godly course, cut your losses and leave the congregation.  However, I would caution anyone who is leaving over a lack of trust to decide if this is not more a reflection of the person following than a lack of integrity on behalf of the pastor or elder.  In a sense, I need to ask myself, whenever I'm saying someone else is undeserving of my trust, "Why am I reluctant to trust or submit?"  Pride, an overly sensitive spirit, inflexibility, and many other things can make me adverse to trusting a leader.  If that's the case, I really need to stay put and figure out how I might grow.
  4. The unmistakable leading of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit may call or draw you to another ministry or church.  This would be a step to take months in deciding, as the Holy Spirit likely has used you in your present place of worship over a period of years.  You really should take great caution before you leave.
That's pretty much it!  Before you leave any church, however, you need to take the sometimes difficult step of speaking openly to the leaders.  I would also say it is imperative to leave in a way that conveys love and grace while communicating the truth of what is in your heart.

Last month, I blogged here a piece called "How to Leave a Church Well" and would point you there about how to do that if you really believe it is time for you to move on from where you worship.

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