When should Christians leave a church? Sadly many Christians are willing to leave sound, biblical churches just over preferences. What are the issues that are worth leaving for?
Those who were interviewed:
Mack: How do I know when it’s time to leave a church? People will come and say: “I’m really struggling because this is the situation with our church.” They’ll give me the specifics. And sometimes I’ll think: Well, now that’s not a good enough reason to leave a church – what you just said there. Maybe the couple’s highly critical. “Well, our pastor doesn’t do evangelism like ‘Way of the Master’.” Well, that’s not a basis to leave a church, you know. “Well, I don’t like just singing hymns. I want them to get some praise music in there. So I’m going to go to the church that has great worship.” Well, that’s an immature view.
Jesse: I don’t know that you should leave your present church. Let me say this clearly. You should not compare the pastor that God has given to you to your favorite Internet pastor. So, we don’t play the comparison game. So should they leave their local church? I don’t know that they should leave their local church. You need to be careful and prayerful about that. Often, people are leaving churches over preferences, over byproducts of Christ and the Gospel and they’re making those primary rather than secondary. So I don’t know that they should leave their local church.
Mack: The heart of it is if someone is in a church and they see that a true and accurate Gospel is being preached, they see true pastors that are caring for the people, and they see an atmosphere of godliness where the people do love the Lord and they can grow, then it’s hard for me to ever affirm somebody leaving such a church. Now they may say: “Well, I don’t agree – I’m an amillenialist. My pastor’s a historic premillenialist. I think I’m leaving.” I don’t think that’s a good enough reason. If the true Gospel’s being preached, and the Word of God’s being honored, secondary things shouldn’t drive us away from a church. So that brings me to say it this way: I think only compromise on the essentials should cause us to say we need to leave this church; not accuracy on the Gospel or some major clear doctrinal issue. You see that they’re teaching false doctrine.
Kevin: Often when people are dissatisfied where they are or when they’re looking for a church for a long time, but can’t find one, they can latch on to some Internet ministries which can agree with them that what they view as false is false, but these can tend to be overcritical. And they can get into that overcritical spirit. So then they start to look for the new church and they’re overcritical about something else that doesn’t matter. An overcritical spirit – there’s something wrong there. I’ll give you an example in our own lives. When we were looking for a good church, we found a Presbyterian church in Blackburn. It was a 40 minute drive from where we lived so we’d do it twice on a Sunday for morning and evening service. Forty minutes there, forty back. And we didn’t go in there thinking: this is wrong, this is wrong. We were just so glad to hear the preaching of the true Gospel there; be true believers, the singing of hymns. If you really are looking for a true church with true believers, you tend to be uncritical and overlooking things. Because we often find when people come to our church from other churches – even if they’re really bad, they don’t tend to be trouble causers in there. The trouble causers tend to just take the trouble somewhere else. So when someone comes to me making trouble about everywhere else, you tend to think they’re probably going to be talking like that about us in six months time. So not that overcritical spirit.
Jesse: If they are in a church that does not preach the Gospel – it doesn’t mean they preach it the way my favorite pastor preaches it – but are they biblical in the proclamation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? I think Mark Dever’s done a great service to us in this in his book “Nine Marks”. He talks about the expositional preaching of the Word which probably should be a whole other question. What does it mean to have expositional preaching? But he talks about the right view of God. And I think in each of those areas he gives, I think we need to be mindful that no church is going to be perfected in those. So if you say, well, he doesn’t hold to a high view of God like this pastor or this church, therefore I can’t be a part of it. Well, you have to remember, all the churches are growing. So the question is is there a commitment to the Word? To the sufficiency of Scripture? To look to that? And are they growing towards those things? Very often I find people struggling with their current church because they want it to go faster. And I mentioned this last year in the conference. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “Fellowship Together” – he speaks about this notion of people basically wanting to find this perfect church. They want their church to be all that it could be. And I think we all want that. There’s nothing wrong with that. But they begin to struggle with what their local church is. So they love the idea of what their church could be, rather than the reality of what the local church is. The inevitability there is two issues: Number one is this, you’ve removed yourself from being part of the problem, and you’re saying it’s these people or this pastor keeping me from what I could experience. And if I had the right pastor or the right people, then we could experience this idea of the church that I’d like to experience. Well, the problem with that is you’ve removed yourself from the equation as part of the problem, and the inevitability there is spiritual pride which leads to criticalness. The moment you begin to think like that, you become critical of everything because you’re not part of the equation and you want the church to be at a certain place. Well, oftentimes it’s the maturing of the church to get there. And people want it here. They want it now. They want it today and they’re unwilling to wait. And so yes, a right view of Scripture, a right view of the Gospel, a right view of God, that practices church discipline – these are essential things in the church, but at the same time you have to allow some room for growth in all of those things as well.
Mack: So, that couple or that individual may say: I see that I cannot keep myself under this teaching anymore. Whether the denial of Jesus’ Lordship as being essential to salvation, or repentance as non-essential, or the Gospel itself – what is the Gospel. So when a person sees that essentials are compromised, and they actually know it will be spiritually detrimental for them to stay there, they’re probably going to have to leave. But it’s very important how they leave – not with a critical heart. Leave properly. Because it’s not their job to disrupt the church or create disunity or criticism. They have to let Christ take care of that. They’re job is to maintain their own spiritual health. So, when your spiritual health is at stake because essentials of the faith are being compromised, it’s probably time to leave.