Christian Living

Thinking About Leaving Your Church? Not So Fast5 min read

April 7, 2014 4 min read

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Thinking About Leaving Your Church? Not So Fast5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes
churchstaySam & Jennifer Johnson just returned from their 2-year anniversary trip. While traveling, they attended a congregation that had a great preacher. His sermons were passionate, dynamic, and interesting. When they returned to their home congregation, they noticed just how dull their own preacher really is. Now in his late sixties, his sermons are predictable, long, difficult to follow, and he has no plans on retiring.

Jack, the deacon over the bus ministry, is upset that his elders have not purchased a newer church van. The current van, a 1997 Dodge Ram with 240,000 miles on it, is now unreliable. It’s had a rough life of senior trips, benevolence, youth events, and regular Sunday morning routes. Now, the bottom of this ugly van is rusted out, the transmission has been rebuilt twice, and the gas mileage is terrible. Yet the elders still won’t sell it and buy a new one. And Jack is the one delegated to drive the van most of the time.

Marilyn, a 56-year-old single woman, loves to decorate for events. This past month, however, the Vacation Bible School planning team did not choose the theme she wanted this year. She already had several decorations and prop ideas for the theme she suggested, and now thinks to herself, “They knew what I wanted, but decided to go with a more boring theme. How could they do this to me? They just don’t care! I don’t think I can work with these people.”

What do these people all have in common? They are all thinking about leaving their church. 

No, they are not upset about moral compromise, false doctrine, or spiritual infidelity within the church. Marilyn, Jack, and the Johnsons are simply suffering from a ‘consumer’ mentality. They have contributed emotionally and financially to their respective congregations, and now expect a return on their investment. “What is the church doing for me?” is the unspoken attitude.

Their stories illustrate the common reasons people decide to leave: personality conflicts, hurt feelings, pride, and selfish preferences. People rarely leave over legitimate biblical issues. When things get difficult, their grievances start multiplying. “I’m not being spiritually fed here.” “I’m not getting anything out of worship.”They aren’t using me.” “There aren’t enough activities for my kids.” “I’m tired of all the hypocrites.” “The elders won’t listen to me.” There might even be some truth to these statements.

Do they sound familiar?

Yes, the church has plenty of people whose lives do not resemble the life of Christ. There are elders who abuse their authority or are really bad at leading. Big decisions are sometimes made haphazardly and without the consent of others. And there are sometimes plenty of personality conflicts, power fights, and relationship squabbles. The temptation to find refuge in a “stronger” congregation can be very appealing.

But the church is not a business, and you are not a consumer. You are a Christian who is part of a community – a church family that is imperfect. Your commitment – not your circumstances – to the body of Christ is what matters the most. Regardless of whether your circumstances are delightful or dreadful, it is your dedication to Christ that should determine whether you should stay or go.

But you don’t understand. My church has a lot of problems!” Yes, and so do you. So do I. We were slaves to sin, and now – by the grace of God – we have been rescued (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Luke 15:11-32). For the rest of our Christian walk, we will be in a state of transformation into the image of Christ (Rom. 12:2; Gal. 2:20). The church is too. If Christ is committed to us, despite our shortcomings, should we not be committed to His Bride, despite her human imperfections?

More than likely, church problems aren’t keeping you from becoming more like Christ. It is your commitment to building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12), despite her problems, that is making you more like Christ.

Would Christ have you run away from your church the moment a bad decision is made? Or would He ask you to be His light in the period of darkness?

They aren’t using me.” Maybe you haven’t been given the job you want. But maybe that is because you could serve a greater role doing something else.

I’m not being fed here.” Maybe you are confusing real spiritual growth with faux spiritualism. Maybe you are relying too much on the church, rather than your own study of the Scripture, to grow closer to God.

The elders don’t do anything.” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. What they need, however, is your encouragement. “The elders won’t listen to me.” Maybe you just need to learn to be submissive to their decisions (Heb. 13:17).

There aren’t enough activities for my kids.” Then you need to step up and help with the children’s ministry at your church. If you think of church as a daycare for your kids, you have other problems to deal with.

I’m tired of all the hypocrites.” If your brother or sister is wrestling with sin, then they need you to help them overcome their inconsistencies (cf. Heb. 10:24-25). They need the encouragement and support of faithful Christians like you. The last thing they need is for strong Christians to flee.

God has given us His church, and through it His grace transforms us (Titus 2:11-12). Christians are to build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11), but that can only happen if we are committed to one another.

Think twice about leaving. Perhaps your congregation needs you now more than ever before. And perhaps fleeing the moment the road gets bumpy will keep you from maturing in an area in which you need to grow spiritually the most.

[NEXT POST: When It Is Time To Leave]

Ben Giselbach is the pulpit minister at the Edgewood church of Christ in Columbus, GA. He and his wife Hannah have two children, Ezra & Colleyanna. Ben is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and has returned to pursue his MDiv. He has written three books in his You Are A Theologian Series: Thinking Right about the Bible, Thinking Right about God, and Thinking Right about Salvation.
20 Comments
  1. J.A.

    I think it is very important to remember that while the majority of people leaving congregations are for petty reasons, there are some that leave for reasons, who they themselves wish didn't exist. After attending a wonderful congregation for 7 years and feeling like family, we made the painful decision to leave for the sake of one of our daughters who was experiencing bullying from other teenagers in the congregation. It was important that she not become discouraged at such a critical age in her salvation. It was apparent that the other parents were not accepting that their children could have exhibited the behaviors we knew were taking place. We had the FB posts and texts to prove the words they said to her, but we chose to leave instead of creating a divide in the congregation. We know the girls will one day grow up and will hopefully see the errors, but for now, God has made us overseers of our own children. Two months after leaving, our daughter was baptized.

  2. R.E.

    Great post Ben. Although your writing doesn’t delineate what you mean by “leaving the church”, I assume you mean someone leaving the Lord’s Church and not a simple change to another congregation of the Lord’s Church. If I am incorrect, I would love to discuss with you further to see what scripture you would use to support your belief. Especially under the scenario that you described as “elders who abuse their authority or are really bad at leading.” Since this “complaint”, even taken as true, would seem to indicate an eldership that lacks the scripturally mandated qualifications. Furthermore, an eldership (or individual elders) that have openly exhibited an unscriptural love for members of the flock and refused to address requests from the congregation to reconcile and address the purported error that has been brought to the church as a whole pursuant to Matt. 18 may leave individual members with no choice but to seek other congregations of the Lord’s Church to which they can scripturally worship. And to answer your question regarding whether Christ would run away from a church with these type problems, while I don’t believe he would at the first sign of a problem, I believe the scripture gives us a good idea of what he would do if their actions continue to show an unloving heart and refusal to admit that they have any wrong, based on the way he handled the Pharisees such as in Matthew 23. Hopefully your article will help those who are suffering from “petty differences” to talk and fellowship with one another to work those items out. Since clearly all of us, as members of His Church do not want any of our brothers or sisters leaving from our assembly because of something we have done.

    • Ben

      Thanks for the comment RE. This article assumes leaving a congregation of the Lord's Church for another congregation, not leaving the Lord's Church completely. (If someone is thinking about leaving the Lord's Church altogether, I need to write a completely different article.) I have also written the article from the perspective of the person considering "leaving," and what they would perceive - possibly because they may be immature Christians themselves - as elders who are "abusing their authority or are really bad at leading." If elders are, in reality, abusing their authority, this is very serious. This article is dealing primarily with petty problems, matters of preference, and instances of pride. At times elders can be incompetent in some areas of leadership, though they may otherwise be qualified. In those cases, we must bear with them patiently and lovingly. Yet, as you have pointed out, there are certainly circumstances in which members should consider leaving their congregation. Perhaps I will write another article entitled, "When It Is Time To Leave."

      • R.E.

        That makes much more sense. Brother, I personally would love to read your thoughts on "When it is Time to Leave". It is a sad commentary on some congregations that leaving even has to be considered. Anytime we as members of a congregation view our brothers and sisters leaving as a "good thing" or take a nonchalent attitude regarding the same, we need to examine ourselves. The love we should have for each other should cause us to try and do everything within our power to keep that brother or sister in our midst. As a congregation of the Lord's church, we should desire to build relationships with our kindred such that we know there is a "problem" before they leave. So often, we treat our congregations as a "social club" where everyone must feel the same way about matters of opinion and if a person doesn't then they should "just leave". Instead, we should strive to be the "called out" that Christ expects of us and keep busy saving souls! Thanks for your kind words and your attitude.

  3. Lennie Reagan

    Excellent article and wise encouragement. There are so many of us who have fallen victim to the deluge of consumerism in the Lord's church and is hampering our individual maturity which in turm stunts the growth of the local congregation. Thanks, Ben. I appreciate your work.

  4. Peggy Gunn

    I always thought I went to the Lord's church I didn't know I had one.

    • Ben

      Haha! In this article, church = congregation. Good to hear from you Peggy! Hope you and Donna are doing well.

  5. amanda

    Sometimes you just go were the holy spirit leads you. I have a couple different churches that I enjoy going to, one is more local that I've come to know throughout the last year. The other one I connect with also and also am filled very much with the holy spirit when every I go. I consider both churches to be a blesses. One church I go to because they are missing something and I feel like God is using me there were it is local. The other church I am very filled with the spirit and feel at ease everytime I go. Both churches are a blessing and I don't think I should have to choose. I go were God needs me and were the holy spirit is present.

    • Ben

      How do you know it is the Holy Spirit leading you, and not your own feelings or emotions? What does the Holy Spirit's voice sound like? I'm glad you have a heart for God, and I hope you never lose your desire to please Him. Can we agree that the only guide for understanding where and how He desires to use us comes only from His written word - the Bible? If so, could you please share with me from the Bible how you can be certain that it is the Spirit Who is telling you to go to these different churches? You can E-mail me at ben@plainsimplefaith.com. What kind of churches are these? What are the differences between the two? If they are different (believe, teach, and practice different things), do you think the Holy Spirit would contradict Himself? Also, what do you mean when you say a particular church is "filled with the spirit?" Looking forward to corresponding with you. -Ben

  6. Daniel

    Fantastic article. The perspective of "what can the church do for me" is so prevalent, yet so misguided. It overlooks the obvious obligation of Christians to be servants rather than be served. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!

    • Nana Sandy

      Gentle disagreement here. "What can the church do for me?" That's not always selfish. I want my church to show me acceptance within the community of God, a similarity of belief, good teaching and preaching to fortify my daily walk, folks to pray with and who will pray over me. Yes, I want a lot from my church, but I know He equips me to give back to the community. Being in a church that has become a country club and has lost it's spiritual way will eventually (34 yrs in my case) drive me away.

  7. Keith

    There are legitimate times to leave, like when you are called to a place of ministry somewhere else. About 12 years ago I was attending a church were I was quite comfortable with a congreation that had ministered to me during a really tough time in my life. However, I knew my skills and talents were needed more at a new church across town. I made a point of going to a business meeting to assure everyone at the church I was departing that I wasn't unhappy with anyone. I have since had to move due to my work and I'm now at a place to have to seek a new congregation. Ben, your article has given me some food for thought as I try to figure out if I go for a church with high-energy praise and worship that I like, or land at a smaller traditional church that needs me in a place where I can be of greater service to others. Thanks for some great perspecitive.

  8. E B

    I think working with the Lord's church in other countries would go a long way in helping heal the "consumer mentality" that you mentioned. Thank you for this post.

  9. Luke Dockery

    To paraphrase JFK, “Ask not what your church can do for you; ask what you can do for your church.”

  10. TM

    I have seen so many articles lately on why you shouldn't leave your church. Because I've been on both sides (church member and church staff), I am very torn about the issue. It has always been drilled into me that you NEVER leave your church except for a "legitimate biblical reason" which most interpret as being heresy preached from the pulpit. I do agree that a church member shouldn't jump ship at the first sign of a disagreement or if their feelings are hurt - petty, selfish reasons. However, I have seen so many people who stay in their churches, year after year, and they are completely miserable. They have done the right things. They have been faithful, loving, and giving. But, through the years they have seen bad decisions in leadership, or lack of leadership, and they have lost respect for that leadership. Doing things the biblical way, they have gone to the leadership to express their concern and have gotten nowhere. But, they continue to stay because of one main reason...the attitude that is so prevalent in our churches today that "if you aren't for us, you are against us." It is not about the Kingdom of God, but the kingdom of that church. They know that if they leave, they will basically lose the close relationships that have taken years to build. That is what is so sad to me. Sometimes, it is just time to move on. It isn't a decision to be taken lightly, but needs much prayer!

  11. Dd

    I agree that leaving over petty issues and hurt feeling is the wrong motive. If that's a persons reasoning they should check their heart. I would also love to read your thoughts on 'When people are called to leave'. I am not sure this was what you meant, but I don't feel that God only uses Biblical issues to move His children. If God is laying on someone's heart that they change churches, then they should pray, pray, and pray some more. Check and recheck motives...but as His children we may be called to do things no one else understands. Even when no big issues exist in a church. Our job is to listen to His voice louder than anyone else's and know that the only thing God would not call us to do is act contrary to His word and divine nature. (ie..he would not tell me to cheat on my taxes, or have an affair) Thank you for your article.

  12. David

    Thanks for this well written thought provoking post. The Lord's church is a perfect entity, run by and composed of imperfect but forgiven people.

  13. Neo

    If the church teaches any sort of works-righteousness (baptism, holy spirit annointing, KJVO, etc) above and beyond faith alone, then definitely get out and do a fresh reading of Galatians and find a better church

    • Ben

      Certainly any church that teaches one can "earn" salvation through works of merit is a wicked church, and Christians must flee from it. Yet, it is impossible to go to heaven without what you call "works." Jesus and Peter, for example, commanded baptism for the "remission of sins" (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16). Maybe they are guilty of teaching "works-righteousness." The great heroes of the faith (Heb. 11) serve as our example because they didn't have mere "faith alone" (mere mental assent), they had submissive and obedient faith. We are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8) through faith, but not just any faith; it must be a faith committed to "good works." "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jas. 2:24). James of course is referring to works of obedience, not works of merit. The entire "works vs. faith" discussion is fairly foolish, since belief and obedience is inseparably connected: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36). You can't have one without the other. Yes, I would encourage everyone to read Galatians, in addition to the rest of the New Testament. Let's all strive to simply be the church you read about in the New Testament - the "one body" of Christ (Eph. 4:4).

  14. Kelly Levatino

    Good thoughts here. I especially like, "It is your commitment to building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12), despite her problems, that is making you more like Christ." I wrote a series on this very idea a few months ago if you'd like to check it out. Start with http://kellylevatino.com/2013/12/20/when-its-not-okay-to-leave-a-church/

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