One of the most difficult questions a Christian may have to ask themselves is, “When is it okay to leave my church?” My wife and I have been asking ourselves this question over the last year. This past summer God revealed an answer to us. We want to share what we learned along the way. We want to help guide those that are facing this same difficult question.
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Biblical Reasons for Leaving a Church
Although the Bible doesn’t have a definitive outline of the perfect time to leave a church, it does paint a clear picture. A picture of what a community of faith looks like;
Ephesians 4:11-15 – 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (NIV)
So, what is a legitimate biblical reason for seeking a new church home?
John MacArthur is a good resource on this topic and he advises that you should consider leaving a church if;
- Heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Galatians 1:7-9)
- The leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Romans 16:17).
- The church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Corinthians 5:1–7).
- Unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Corinthians 5:9–11).
- The church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thessalonians. 3:6, 14).
- The church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Timothy. 3:5).
Steps to Take When Leaving a Church
Step 1: Prayer
If you remember nothing else on this topic just remember to bathe your decision in prayer. My wife and I started praying and asking God for His direction with this question in October of 2018. We both made a point to ask God for His will, not ours. That if there was something getting in the way of us hearing or seeing His will to reveal that to us so we can get it corrected. Again, I cannot stress enough how much prayer needs to go into the decision of leaving a church.
Step 2: Talk to Elders and/or Pastors
This may be the most difficult step of them all. However, you (and your spouse if you have one) need to sit down with an elder and/or pastor to explain the issue(s) you are facing with the church. You need to do this while you are still members and active within your current church. You shouldn’t be actively going to another church and sit down with the elders as a formality. It’s more than a formality to tell them you are leaving. The elders/pastor deserve a chance to speak and shepard you and your family in this situation.
As the spiritual leader, the husband needs to initiate and take charge of explaining things to the elders. Also, enter this meeting with a humble heart. There is a possibility that you may not see the whole picture. There may be sin in your life that you have not been able to see in yourself. This sin may be keeping you from experiencing the fullness of the church. Entering this meeting with a humble heart will allow God to work in and through you so any and all personal issues obtain correction.
If there are no personal issues, or you have corrected those issues/sins and you still feel led to leave the church then repeat steps 1-2. If after prayer and talking with the elders/pastor you are still feeling called to a new church, then proceed to step 3.
Step 3: Have a New Church Researched and Picked Out
I toyed with whether this should be step 2 or 3. I feel it’s more important to talk to elders/pastors first as they will be able to guide you into a good solid church if it’s agreed that moving on is the best idea. However, it’s not a bad idea to have a church picked out ahead of time. The worst thing you could do is leave a church with no plan to go anywhere else. The enemy will step in, quicker then you can say Amen, to give you every excuse under the sun to not get involved in a new church family.
Step 4: Tell Those Closest to You One-on-One
After steps 1-3 are complete it’s time to set up meetings with those from the church you are closest to. This will probably include your Lifegroup, a Bible study group, women’s group or men’s group. Be as open and honest as you can when sharing the news. This was the hardest part for my wife and me.
Step 5: Leave as Quietly as Possible
This step is pretty self-explanatory. The last thing you want to do is go out with a bang from your old church. You never know if God may call you back to this church in the future!