When to Join a Church and When to Leave

Picking a church and leaving a church are major life decisions. What are some considerations you should have when you select a church home and when is it appropriate to leave and select a new one?

What are appropriate criteria for joining a church?

1.    Is it in agreement with your die for and divide for issues? Don’t be afraid to ask. Good churches will know where they stand on these issues. Their leaders will be glad to discuss them with you. If that is not so, pass on the church and seek another option.

2.    Does the preacher proclaim the Word clearly from the pulpit? Do his sermons speak to life? If a church does not take preaching seriously, find one that does.

3.    Is it a place where your gifts can be developed and utilized in ministry? Do you feel a connection with the people leading that ministry?

4.    Do you connect with the worship style, the personality and culture of the church? If the music makes you flinch, you won’t want to invite your unsaved friends. You won’t do well in a church where not tucking your shirt in gets frowns from the deacons.

5.    What is its reputation in the community? If it were to close its doors, would community people be relieve or grieved?

6.    Are there people there whom you know from other venues of your life? If so, then you are more likely to make deep friendships.

7.    Is Jesus the person everyone wants to please? It seems a little elusive, but after all, it is all about Him!

What are legitimate reasons for someone to leave a church?

The bottom line is that when the membership covenant is broken irreparably, then it is time to move on.

1.    If a church begins to compromise the biblical essentials, conceding “die for” matters, then members should follow the pattern in Acts and bring a complaint to the leaders. If they refuse to return to biblical teaching, then the member should leave.

2.    When differences in belief or practice become so serious that cooperation in ministry is gravely hindered, then, perhaps it is time to leave.

3.    When legitimate needs are not being met, it’s time to leave a church. This statement often comes out of the false belief that the church exists to minister to me. In contrast, if your teenager finds a youth group with which they connect in a more meaningful way, then a church change may be an option.

4.    When the leadership becomes abusive, serving themselves at the expense of the members, or tolerating sin that should be disciplined, if it becomes cultic, members should leave according to Matthew 13.

5.    A positive reason to leave is to serve in another church so that the gospel can flourish. Leaving an established church to help a church plant to get started is one example.

What are illegitimate reasons for leaving a church?

1.    One invalid reason for leaving a local church is that it is not perfect or does not meet all legitimate needs. There is no perfect church. Leaving because things are not perfect simply reveals our low level of faithfulness.

2.    A second reason not to leave a church is that the church doesn’t have a ministry that you need. It may be that God wants you to minister to the church instead of them ministering to you. God gave you certain gifts, talents and life experiences that He wants you to use for His glory. You may be God’s person to develop that ministry.

3.    A third reason not to leave a church is to get away from problems. Personal conflicts are inevitable. It may be far better to learn how to draw on the grace of God to overcome those difficulties, and to learn the fruit of the Spirit. You may be circumventing God’s growth process in your life.

4.    A fourth illegitimate reason not to leave a church is that we are being challenged about our doctrine or pattern of life and find it uncomfortable. We should have a humble, teachable spirit and enter into discussion about these matters.

Pastors, don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for people to leave your church. Approach members’ departure with grace, not guilt. Consider sending people out with a blessing no matter why they choose to leave, along with an invitation to visit any time. Many who leave for inappropriate reasons return when they discover the grass on the other side is not greener.   

 

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008, pp. 158-162. Used by permission.

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