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When To Leave Your Church

This week, we’re going to talk about one of the often most painful but also very necessary and practical topic of when to leave your church. It is painful because, listen, anybody who has ever left a church that they love, that they were invested in, you know, it is painful. There have been times when Lauren and I have left a church. And one of the things that we’ve said is that it is the closest thing to a divorce we’ve ever experienced. There is a ripping and a tearing. That is painful. But this also is a necessary and a practical topic. Because most of you listening are not going to attend the same church for all of your life. We have a member at First Baptist Church who was born into a family that attended First Baptist Church; he has attended First Baptist Church all of his life. All of his kids attend First Baptist Church, and most of his family attends First Baptist Church. And I asked him one time at lunch I said, what is it that creates a situation where one guy has his parents go to the same church, he attends the same church, his kids attend the same church, his wife attends the same church for almost their whole life. What is that? And he said, the grace of God. And that is true. But that is a unique grace that most of us will not experience, and so we need to think through when is it right to leave your church?

Principled Reasons

This is a hard thing to talk about. But let me try to give you three big categories of reasons that it might be time to leave. The first category is principled reasons. These are issues at the heart and soul of what it means to do church. One principled reason. One example of a principled reason why you need to leave your church is if there starts to be a problem with biblical authority. If there starts to be a problem at the base of the understanding of the leadership about the Bible. In 2 Timothy 4:1-2, the Bible says, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing in his kingdom, preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” This is one of the hundreds of passages in the Bible that teach the authority of Scripture. To be a church has to stand on the authority of Scripture, and if you start to see your church drift away from Biblical authority, then you’re getting close to time to go. Now, I’m not talking about disputed matters. There are all sorts of things in Christianity that good believers can agree to disagree about. I’m not talking about the debated matters, but I’m talking about crucial truths. I’m talking about a fundamental commitment to the Bible. If you start to see a drift away from the fundamental authority of Scripture, then it’s time to start looking for a new church.

Another example of a principled reason would be the leadership of the church. The leadership of your church is going to be a watermark for where the church can go. If you’ve got godless leadership, then your church is in trouble. If you’ve got godly leadership, then one way or another, your church is going to be okay. Now this also is not about tangential disagreements where the leadership wanted to do one thing one way, and you wanted to do it another way, and you’re upset about that. I’m talking about fundamental compromise in the integrity and the character of the leadership. The standard we have for this one place is in Titus 1:6-9, which says, “If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination, and overseer, as God’s steward must be above reproach, he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” Those are the biblical categories for a pastor for leadership in the local church. You want to have your standard for the leaders in your church be what God’s standard is. You don’t want to create your own standard that’ll get you in trouble. God’s standard is this. And if you start to see departures from these things not hear about, not suspect, but if you start to really see that, hey, we’ve got leadership that is fundamentally compromised. And those are principled reasons where you really need to start looking for another church. As unpleasant as it might be, when there is fundamental compromise at the level of Scripture at the level of leadership, then it’s time to start looking around.

Personal Reasons

Another category where you may need to start looking for another church has to do with personal reasons. Now, these are very different kinds of things. It’s a totally different category than the principled reasons. In the principled reasons to leave a church, somebody is sinning; the leadership is sinning. Usually, it is the leadership that’s sinning in these principled reasons, but somebody is doing wrong. In the personal reasons, it just means not every church is for everybody. And sometimes, the church that is the church for you right now isn’t going to be the church for you in 10 years. It’s the reason there are a lot of churches because there are a lot of people, and no one church can adequately serve everybody. Some personal reasons why it might be time to change churches and start looking for another church is if you start to see changes in the ministry. Now again, I’m not talking about the fundamental principled reasons that I’ve talked about before. But if you start to see changes in the ministry that are making it just a different church than the one you joined. There are all sorts of examples. There could be music styles, service times that change, or different structures of ministry. There could be all sorts of things. And you could say, hey, these are good and faithful people. They’re doing the right thing. But I joined the church for one set of things. And this just isn’t the church I signed up for. Listen, every church has to change, every church has to change, or it will die. That is the simple fact of the matter. But not every church, again, has to be your church. And so sometimes there are changes in the ministry that make you discover this isn’t for us anymore.

Sometimes you would recognize that, hey, you joined a church and in a season of your life, and now your needs have changed, and the church can’t meet those needs anymore. Maybe you joined a church with a lot of senior adults. And there were no families in the church. And now, you and your wife have just given birth to twins, and you need a children’s ministry that you didn’t need before. And it’s just time to start looking for a ministry that could be a greater service to your family. Maybe in your life, you’re needing some counseling, and the church where you go has a weak or non-existent counseling ministry. You need to go to a church that has a faithful, robust biblical counseling ministry. It doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong or that anybody has mistreated anybody. It’s just personal reasons are going to lead you to another church. Sometimes your convictions might change. Maybe you joined a Baptist church, and then over the course of time, you came to believe that you need to join a Presbyterian church. Well, that’s unfortunate when that happens. You hate to lose somebody, but it is good and right that if your convictions have changed, you go to a place that is more in keeping with your convictions, and you’re not trying to be divisive at the place where you are.

Practical Reasons

So there are principal reasons and personal reasons why you might need to look for another church. A final reason I’ll give you for leaving your church is practical reasons. One evidence one example of a practical reason is that you moved, you moved to a different part of town, you moved to a different part of the state, and where it was convenient to attend a church you’ve been at for a long time. It’s not convenient to attend there anymore. You also may have gotten older, and your ability to drive and commute to where you used to go isn’t the same, and it’s just time to reconsider going to someplace a little bit closer. This also can work the other way, these practical reasons. One of the most wonderful things I’ve noticed about First Baptist in the last year is we have people deciding we’re going to move to Jacksonville to go to First Baptist Church. They’re making a decision about where they’re going to live, not based on their job but based on their church. There’s a lot of fluidity that is allowable post-COVID. And people are working remotely and online. And their employers are saying, we don’t care where you live, as long as you get your work done. We have had people we’re picking up and moving to Jacksonville, Florida. So we can go to First Baptist to be a part of that church. So this practical reason can work in reverse. But it certainly is the case that when people move, or they get older, their circumstances change, and they can’t go to where they once went. So principled reasons, personal reasons, and practical reasons.

Listen to me. Leaving a church ought to be unusual. We don’t pick and choose churches the way we pick cereal out of the grocery store aisle. If you are a person who’s constantly moving in and out of churches, then you have a problem. And you need to fix it. It ought to be unusual to do this. The Bible talks about the churches as our family, as our brothers and sisters in Christ. And you don’t just pick up and move away from your family and rip it apart every time something difficult or unusual happens. You stick with your family, and we need Christians these days who are going to stick with their family, but sometimes it’s necessary. A lot of times, it’s necessary. And so when you think about it, you need to think about principled reasons, personal reasons, and practical reasons, and it may just be that one of those constitutes a reason you need to leave your church.