(By: Nick Kennicott)
One of the realities of life in a local church is that people leave and go elsewhere. Sometimes, the reasons for leaving are obvious like the relocation of a family because of a job or simply wanting to live somewhere new. There’s no way for me to be the pastor of someone living in Texas when I’m in Georgia. They need to find a new church. Other times, the issues may be because to not leave would be a sinful compromise. There are numerous denominations today adopting various positions that are in direct contradiction to Scripture with regard to God’s law and morality, and to stick around is not healthy. If a Christian finds themselves in an unbiblical church (i.e. openly promoting or accepting sinful practices, authoritarianism, innovation in worship, etc.), it’s time to leave.
Sometimes there are issues which are less clear in terms of deciding whether or not to continue with the local body when there are differences. How significant are those differences, and would a change in one area necessarily mean all other areas would still be as biblical as they were in the church one is leaving? Sometimes there are bad reasons for leaving a church like an unwillingness to reconcile differences with another member or a pastor, or wanting to escape accountability. Of course, there are always people who are willing to leave because they like another church’s music or sanctuary design or children’s program better. To many, churches are like making a decision between shopping for religious goods and services at Wal-Mart or Target; if one shop doesn’t have what I need, I’ll find it at the other.
A lot is written about whether or not Christians should leave a local church for another one, but very little is often said about how to work through that decision. In his helpful little book What is a Healthy Church? pastor Mark Dever offers a few short, practical steps to help think through this important issue. If more Christians followed these steps, there would be far more unity in the body of Christ, and far more conflicts would be worked out to bring greater glory to God.
QUICK TIPS: IF YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT LEAVING A CHURCH …
Before You Decide to Leave
2.Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.
3.Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?
4.Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships.
5.Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matt. 7:3–5).
6.Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).
7.Don’t divide the body.
8.Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).
9.Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically.
10.If there has been hurt, then forgive—even as you have been forgiven.
Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church?, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 56–57.