Is it ever OK for a Christian to leave their church?

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In response to some discussion surrounding a recent series of blog posts (click HERE to read), I would like to take on the question of whether or not it is ever ok for a Christian to leave their local church.

Several disclaimers before we get down to business:

  1. This blog post is addressed to those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.
  2. When I say, “leave their local church,” I’m assuming that they are plugging into another Bible-teaching, Jesus-centered local church.  I’m a firm believer that God’s people NEED the love, support, accountability, and fellowship of the church.  Jesus Christ gave his life for the church and we are commanded to stay connected to the Body of Christ.  I fully reject the popular lie of much of the Christian culture today that says, “I love Jesus, but I want nothing to do with his church.” Therefore, I believe for a Christian to disconnect from the local church and stay disconnected is sin!
  3. Finally, not all of what is to follow is of “Thus sayeth the Lord” authority.  Some of it is just plain old “Thus sayeth Jon” and you are welcome to disagree with my opinion!

So, having gotten that out of the way, let’s get on to our question:

Is it ever OK for a Christian to leave their church?

Yes.  I believe any of the following would constitute an excusable reason.

1.    You move to another state, city, or reasonable distance away from your church.

This is an obvious one, but I figured I’d include it just for the sake of being thorough!

2.    Your church embraces and promotes unbiblical ideas and practices.

If your church is teaching or embracing something that is in clear contradiction with the Bible, it’s time to find a new church!  A sad example of this is the many mainline denominational churches (at least at the national level) that are choosing to cave to our cultures cries for “tolerance” and “political correctness” when it comes to the issue of homosexuality and same-sex “marriage” and have taken positions that stand in complete opposition to the Word of God.

3.    Your church is not passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the gospel of Jesus Christ is not at the center of your church’s preaching, and therefore you can’t really remember when the last time was someone accepted Jesus Christ into their life as their Lord and Savior, I would suggest that your church is not really participating in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)!  Jesus is passionate about seeing lost people saved.  If your church fails to embrace that passion you should find one that does!

4.    Your church no longer takes a bold stand for God’s truth.

If your pastor rarely or never delivers a sermon that causes people to squirm or even possibly be offended, he’s playing it far too safe.  If the preaching of God’s Word never causes people to get uncomfortable, either the audience is perfect and without sin (highly unlikely), or the preacher doesn’t have the guts to open the Bible and speak with authority and conviction.  The church does not exist to make everyone feel comfortable…especially if they’re living in disobedience to God’s Word.  God desires to deliver His truth through the bold preaching of His Word in order that it will penetrate the hearts of the listeners and cause them to repent and turn away from their sin.

5.    Your church has no vision for growth.

Many churches are stuck in the past.  If your church leadership talks more about the victories of the past than the dreams of advancing God’s kingdom in the future, chances are really good that your church lacks a big, audacious, God-honoring vision.  And in my opinion, this life is too short to be wasted away in a church that has no vision of being used in a great way for God’s eternal purposes.  Go be a part of a church that is believing God for the impossible and stepping out in bold faith to do great things for Him.

6.    Your church isn’t being led by the pastor(s); instead all the power is held by an individual or governing board whose primary goal is to protect status quo.

I just described about 90% of the churches in North America (and almost 100% of churches in rural America).  [Full Disclosure: The previous statistics were made up by me…but I bet I’m not too far off on this one!]  I believe the local church was designed to be LED by men who were CALLED by God!  But this is not how most churches operate.  Instead, in many churches, the real decisions and power are held by an individual or a board of individuals who are ELECTED by the church…not CALLED by God.  News Flash: The church is not Congress!  Nowhere in the New Testament do we see God’s people making decisions based on a 51% vote of the people.  In so many churches, if God were to breath a vision into the heart of their senior pastor, he would be stifled in his ability to actually lead the church to accomplish that vision because he would be out-voted by the real decision makers and power holders…who in many cases haven’t led a soul to Jesus in decades and are far more concerned with keeping things the way they’ve always been instead of trying something new.  If this is how your church “functions”, do yourself a favor and find a church that is truly being led by strong, God-called, pastoral leadership.

7.    Your talents and spiritual gifts are stifled and going unused.

If your church is not challenging you to discover the spiritual gifts God has given you, to develop your skills and talents, and then to “get off the pew” and put those to work in building up the Body of Christ, you should find a church that will! 

8.    You can’t get on board with the vision of your church.

If your church is one of the rare churches that actually does have a clear vision from God and is actively taking steps toward accomplishing that vision…but you just can’t get excited about the vision…do both you and your church a favor…leave!  I’m not saying you are necessarily right in doing this, but you should not be a part of a church in whose vision you oppose.  It just won’t work.  As a pastor, I have had people walk away from the church that I lead simply because they didn’t like the vision that we are pursuing.  And as much as I love them, God gave me the vision we are following, and I love Him more and I will protect the vision at all cost.  It’s sad to see people I love walk away from the church, but I would rather have it that way than for them to stay and half-heartedly follow or even worse, try to hi-jack the vision in some divisive way.  One word of admonishment I would give here is that before you walk away from a church that actually is pursuing a God-honoring vision you should first really examine your heart to determine why you are not on board with that vision.  Are there any areas of rebellion or disrespect for authority or problems with accountability in your heart that need to be addressed?

Well, that’s the list I’ve come up with.  What did I miss?  What would you add to the list?  Feel free to share your thoughts!

About Jon Sanders

Follower of Jesus; Husband to an amazing woman; Father of 3 great kids; Pastor of a multi-site church with a vision to reach rural America for Christ!
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