How NOT to Leave a Church

Christians leave churches.

It happens. 

Sometimes it's for good and godly reasons; other times, Christians leave with questionable motives. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be very difficult for sincere Christians to tell the difference. This is why Christians must be certain that when they leave a church for any reason, they do so in the right way. Yet the Bible does not include a section on “how to leave a church,” because the Bible does not speak of Christians leaving their local church for any reason other than being sent out on mission by said church. The Bible does, however, give us insight into the nature of God, the nature of the Christian, and the nature of the local church that helps us know how not to leave a church.

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#1 With Unresolved Relational Tension

Relational tension is a primary factor for many who are thinking of leaving their church. Sometimes, tension with a brother or sister is the foundational reason for a fall out. Other times, it's merely one in a multitude. The less harmony you have with your pastors or fellow church members, the less you feel you have to lose by leaving. Yet the truth is, the more relational tension you have in your church, the more you have to lose by leaving it.

@@The more relational tension you have in your church, the more you have to lose by leaving it@@

Jesus explains, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). In other words, Christian unity is so important to Jesus that he has no interest in receiving your worship until you have reconciled with your fellow Christian. If you leave your church with unresolved relational tension, you are actively disobeying Jesus, who commands you to “first go and be reconciled to them.” You will also be offering worship in your new church that does not please Jesus, because you are worshiping him in the way you desire, and not in the way he desires. Relational tension may make you feel as if leaving your church will not cost you much, but in reality it will cost you everything that matters.

#2 With Unrepentant Sin

Being an active part of a local church will provide many opportunities for sinful attitudes, affections, and behaviors. We might respond to the failures of a brother or sister with judgment. We may feel we have been personally hurt or offended by members of the church and become bitter or unforgiving. We may be unhappy with decisions made by the leaders of the church and be critical, unsubmissive, or full of anger. Each of these responses is a sinful response, and our sinful responses are caused by our sinful hearts - not by our church. This means the problem will not go away when we leave our current church. It will follow us into the next one.  

@@Our sinful responses are caused by our sinful hearts - not by our church@@

The Scriptures tell us to deal with our unrepentant sin in the context of the local church with which we commune. We are commanded to confess our sins to one another, to forgive one another, and to speak the truth in love. We are also told that our local church is the laboratory God uses to make us more like Jesus. If you leave your church without repenting in your church, you rob yourself of the spiritual growth God has for you, rob your church of the opportunity to see your growth, and rob God of the glory that is his when Christians turn from their sin and turn to him in worshipful obedience. 

#3 Without Talking to Your Family

Making the decision to covenant with a church, or to break a covenant with a church, is one of the most important decisions we will ever make in our lives. Why would we make one of life's most important decisions without the help of our family? Yet this is what many Christians do. They announce to the church that they have already decided to leave, rather than invite the church to help them make a decision.  

This is incredibly foolish. 

We may be convinced we are leaving a church for the right reasons and in the right way, but we are too easily deceived by Satan and by ourselves to trust our own judgment in these matters. Christians have blind spots. Big ones. We can see unresolved relational tension and unrepentant sin in other people with stunning accuracy, but we are often incapable of seeing them in ourselves - even when everyone else can. This is why we need God's church to help us see in us what we can't see in ourselves. They can only do this if we invite them into our decision-making process and trust the Spirit of Christ to work through the Body of Christ. If you leave your church without talking to your church family, you rob yourself of the opportunity to hear God's voice through his people, you rob your church of the opportunity to help you grow into Christ's image, and you rob God of the glory that is his when Christians submit to one another, as he has submitted on the Church's behalf.  

#4 Without a Gospel Church Waiting

What church are you going to go to? 

If you cannot answer that question with the name of a specific church that faithfully proclaims the Gospel of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done, then you do not leave your current church. Period.  

God doesn't call people out of the family of God and into independence. He does the opposite. God also doesn't call people out of the true Gospel and into false gospels. He does the opposite. Yet Christians often leave Gospel-preaching churches to go to Gospel-starved churches, or imperfect Christian church communities for no Christian church community. In both cases they are suffocating their own spiritual life and staining the reputation of the God they claim to worship. 

Do not let this be true of you.

@@Christians often leave imperfect church community for no church community@@

Unless your current church is abusing the Gospel or abusing its members, you can be confident that you are called to remain there. If and when God desires to call you away from your current church, he will provide for you a new community where you will be fed the Gospel from the pulpit and given opportunity to apply the Gospel with the people. If he has yet to do that for you, he is almost certainly not calling you to leave. If at any time you think you are the rare exception to this general rule, be sure to go back to #3. 

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In 15 years of local church ministry I have seen a number of people leave their home church for a variety of reasons. I have also seen the tremendous damage this has done to them, to their church, and to the glory of God when they do it the wrong way. If we find ourselves preparing to leave our local church, may we make sure we avoid the four errors above. If we do, I believe we can save ourselves and our church a lot of pain, while also bringing God his due glory.

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

Photo courtesy of Tim Fields: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fieldsofview/