Church Theology

5 Bad Reasons to Leave a Church

“we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord”[1]-Calvin

My last article described some legitimate reasons that one may have to leave a local church. I thought it was a much needed article for those who may be stuck in an unhealthy local church and are not sure if it would be Biblical to make an exit.

There is another side to this story though.

Although it may be legitimate to break ones covenant relationship with a local church for some very specific reasons that are essential to what church is, most of the time I suspect that people leave for the wrong reasons. I’d like to list 5 bad reasons to leave a church.

  1. The people. Many people exit local assemblies because of failed relationships inside the church. Sometimes this means that relationships have been established and have been damaged by conflict. Sometimes this means that there has been no real attempt at forming relationships because there is some perceived difference that would be difficult to overcome. Both reasons, and many others that have to do with relationships, are illegitimate reasons to leave a local church. We are called to strive for unity. We are a part of a greater family of God.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1–7, ESV)

Your calling is to stick it out! Even if you don’t like the people, strive for peace and unity. Leaving, in the case of failed relationships, is not an option.

  1. The music. Worship music is a pet peeve of mine, a golden calf, if you will. If there’s something that really gets my gourd, it’s bad worship music. I don’t like music that centers on me, myself, and I and I hate music filled with mysticism, and it’s almost impossible to choose a contemporary song that doesn’t drip with that kind of junk! Never the less, the worship music shouldn’t be a deal breaker for me, and I realize that (begrudgingly). It shouldn’t be a deal breaker for you either.

How many times do people either choose to leave or to join a church simply because of the worship music? It’s really silly if you think about it. People allow personal preference to turn them away from covenant relationships with very good local churches.

If you have a pet peeve like mine about worship music, pray about it. Pray for the worship team. Pray for the worship leader. Pray for yourself, but stay. The music, no matter what your preference, is no reason to leave.

  1. Tertiary doctrine. Many times local churches can make mountains out of molehills when it comes to non-essential doctrine. Eschatology (end times) and origins are some of the biggest. Sometimes small churches especially will find their identity in an issue like the rapture or the age of the universe. Sometimes those who hang their theological hat on one of these doctrines of the third kind will seek you out in a dogmatic witch-hunt. If that happens, you may not have any choice but a quiet exit. Otherwise, you need to pray for longsuffering when it comes to these issues. In themselves, they are no reason to leave. Stick it out if you can. Community is more important than your theological respectability.
  2. Number of ministries. Sometimes we are quick to judge the health of a church because of the number of ministries in which it may be involved. Missions, youth programs, elderly visitation, and rescue ministries are some of the most prevalent. There is no doubt that a local church should be in service of its community, but it is just as true that a ministry of one local church may not look anything like that of another. Some churches do one thing very well. Others do multiple things with ease. Different churches exist to glorify God in various ways, and just because you may not like or understand a particular church’s call is not a good reason to leave. It may be a good reason for you to leave your pride at home, roll up your sleeves, and learn how to love people the way your church already does.
  3. Change. This is probably the biggest agent of change when it comes to people leaving. People don’t like change, especially Christians. We’ve all heard the saying, “last words of a dying church…we’ve never done it this way before”. Well, it’s true. Change, most any kind, ushers people to the door quicker than a knife fight in a phone booth. This is especially true in my part of the world. Around here, tradition is something we take pride in and change would be to admit that our tradition might be wrong. At least that’s how we take it sometimes. Even in the American South though, change on its own is no reason to leave. In fact, it’s a reason to stay, at least long enough to say, “I told you so”.

“The best thing, indeed, is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at all, or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting salvation”[2]-Calvin

I hope you can add to this list. I tried to do this with a fairly lighthearted attitude, but in all seriousness, Christians can be guilty of leaving church for the wrong reasons. We covenant together with people who we may not know or even like so that we can learn to love with the love of Christ. Keep that in mind. Church is not always about getting your way or finding reassurance for your own pet doctrines. We need the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and the discipline found in a communion of our brothers and sisters. Their idiosyncrasies identify and distinguish them from other communions that God loves. You may not fit in like you think, but by God’s grace and your perseverance, your edges may be rounded off enough to find real communion in a culture that is repulsed by conformity. It’s that testimony, the testimony of unity in diversity, which may be the most powerful apologetic of the Church.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV)

[1] Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Donnie
I was born in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, born again at a very young age, married a beautiful and likeminded woman, moved to Tennessee, and raised two children in the Southern traditions of loving God and neighbor, exercising manners, and being stewards of the land and its bounty. After becoming involved in youth ministry in our local church, the need of teaching people "what they believe and why they believe it" became painfully apparent, especially in my immediate context (rural Southern churches). We began an apologetics/theology ministry there but have since moved on. After serving in church leadership and being called to faithfulness and duty to protect our congregation from a rogue pastor under church discipline of his previous church, my experiences in this biblical process shape much of what I believe about how churches in the South have become weak and why nominal Christianity is prevalent. I love the Church and Southern culture so you can expect to read about apologetics and theology as well as church and culture here, written southern style, by the grace of God. Deo Vindice
http://www.southernbyhisgrace.com

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