When Is it Time to Leave a Church?

Roger,

I am in a quandary that has me in a bit of a desert. My family and I attend church, and lately, we feel that we may not belong. This really has been a struggle, and the sense of spiritual connectedness I used to feel is absent. I go through the motions and feel that things are going on around me without my being involved.
Just recently, a situation occurred in which there have been some actions by two members that are less than Christlike, and it seems like there is no way to address it because it is the pastor's family that has committed the acts. I’m deeply troubled by this.
On the other hand, I love so many of the church members, but I almost feel that God is moving me and my family somewhere else. Does it work like this? I am not a church hopper, and I have often been confused by people that go from one church to another. And now here I am.
What should I do? If God is moving my family and I to another church, how would we know?
Thanks in advance!
Melinda

Dear Melinda,

I am not at all surprised that you and your family are considering moving on to another church. From what you described, if I were a member of your church, I would think strongly about getting out of there as soon as possible.

"Pulling up the tent stakes" is what I call your current situation. This may very well be a time in your spiritual life when God is making you dissatisfied with where you are in order to prepare you to go somewhere else. Tent stakes usually loosen slowly. Changing churches seldom occurs quickly; but when it is time to leave, it is time to leave.

Leaving a church is difficult for a number of reasons, not the least of which is leaving behind all the friends and relationships you have developed. Plus, you probably have many good remembrances and spiritual experiences there that make it difficult.

You say that you have an aversion to "church hoppers." Let's make one thing clear. God intends for us to settle down with a group of Christian friends who become our source of strength, help, support, compassion, comfort, service, and who journey through the Bible with us as we develop strong spiritual muscles. We call this our Fellowship or "Koinonia" group. Church hoppers, by definition, seldom settle down and invest their lives with a Christian group of brothers and sisters. They just hop.

You are not church hopping when you are seeking to find a new church home. It is obvious to me that when you find the "right" church, you will settle down and involve yourself in fellowship there. Until you find one you are not hopping. You are searching. The difference between the two is significant.

Some Things to Consider When You Feel That It's Time to Find a New Church Home

1. You No Longer Respect the Pastor and/or His Leadership

Paul described what a good pastor looks like and how he behaves. If your pastor is failing in these areas, it is definitely time to consider leaving:

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. (1 Timothy 3:2)

2. The pastor's family is out of control.

Paul taught that if a man can't lead and oversee his own family then he has no business trying to pastor a church:

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (1 Timothy 3:4)

3. There are fights and dissension in the church.

The first-century Corinthian church struggled with division. Paul straight-up called them on it:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. … For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

4. The pastor must teach well and communicate sound biblical truth.

Be careful about pastors who confuse biblical truth with his or her personal convictions. Paul taught his proteges, Timothy and Titus, the importance of teaching solid doctrine:

Now the overseer is to be able to teach. (1 Timothy 3:2)

You must teach what is accordance with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)

5. The singing and worship time should lead into "The Throne Room" of Heaven.

Paul taught the church in Colossae the importance of preparing our hearts through worship before we take in God’s Word:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)

6. You’ve decided that finding the right church is worth more than losing the church relationships that you presently enjoy.

Meeting together as the Body of Christ is an essential part of our spiritual life—and our spiritual growth. If you feel that you aren’t able to grow where you are, it’s time to change … not give up on church altogether!

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)

7. You've decided not to search for the perfect church. That church does not exist. A church can have problems and still be a healthy church.

The church at Philippi was generally healthy—you can read the book of Philippians to get a picture of what their church life was like. Even though it was healthy, they still struggled with issues. Every church will! Paul wrote:

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3)

It's Time to Make a Decision and Act

Now take a step back and try to see your church from an overall perspective. Would you consider your church to be functional or dysfunctional? Pray and ask God for His leading. Then act!

Melinda, I’m sorry for what you are enduring right now in your present church home. I will pray for your dysfunctional church to become a functional one and for it to find healing and wholeness through the triumphant power of Jesus Christ. I will also pray for you and your family to have great success in your search for the church that God may have in store for you.

Please let me know how it all turns out.

Love, Roger

Photo Credit: ©NeOnbrand/Unsplash 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].

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