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When is it okay to leave?

October 21, 2010

“When is it okay to leave one church to go to another?” Although there are not any passages in the Bible that specifically say “You should change churches when…” there are plenty of truth principles in Scripture to guide us in this matter. So that’s where we’ll start to find some answers!

Biblical Foundation

God calls every Christian into a local church where he or she can serve. First Corinthians 12:18 teaches that God puts each church together as He sees fit. He calls every Christian to a specific place of service in a specific church. God works to fully equip each local church to meet the needs of its members and to fulfill His purposes for that church in His world.

Although we personally benefit from the spiritual nourishment and fellowship we receive from the church, God’s specific placement of us is first and foremost for the benefit of that body and its members, not for us! According to Romans 12:5, “each member belongs to all the others.”

Our spiritual gifts are given to us by God so we can serve the body and help it grow in unity and spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13).

So, these biblical truths will help us tackle our question:

  • God calls every Christian to be a part of a local church.
  • God builds each local church, as He sees fit, to prepare them for His purposes.
  • God places each of us in a specific church for a specific place of service.
  • God gifts every Christian for the purpose of serving the members of their church in which He has placed them.

Application of Biblical Principles

The biblical truths about God’s design for the church can guide us as we make decisions about church membership.

Seek God diligently:

The choice of what church to serve in is God’s, not ours. We must diligently seek God’s will and obey His direction. A move should never be based on our feelings or desires. That decision is always rightfully God’s alone.

We must depend on God and trust His direction.

Carefully weed out any selfish motives:

God’s placement of us in a church is primarily to benefit others. We must be very cautious about leaving one church for another if our reasons have anything to do with “our needs.” I know from personal experience that this is a tough one. My husband and I once struggled over staying in a church we believed God had called us to because our kids were having a difficult time finding their place.

On the other hand, I’ve seen countless Christians change churches as casually as they change grocery stores. They leave and go down the street because they like the music better or they have a stronger youth program. These reasons are all about us – what we want, what we like, what we can get out of it. That’s consumer Christianity. We’re called to serve, not to be served.

Ask God to show you if your desire to leave your church is based on selfish reasons or His direction.

Look for your place of service:

Remember, God places us in a body based on how He wants us to serve in it. If it’s obvious that God is still using the gifts He gave you in the body you’re in, then He probably wants you to stay put. However, if God makes you aware of a specific need in another church body that He has uniquely gifted you to meet, then He may be calling you to serve there. Again, seek God’s guidance to determine if He is calling you to serve in a specific way in another body.

Spiritual apostasy:

According to both Martin Luther and John Calvin, a true church will preach the Word of God accurately and rightly administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper as acts of obedience rather than acts of salvation. If false doctrines are being taught and you’ve exerted every effort to see it corrected, then it may be time to leave.

Choosing a church in a new city or changing churches in the same town is serious, spiritual business. We must never make the decision lightly or without God’s direction. Take the time to seek Him diligently.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2010 10:10 am

    Great post, really. If I may share my story?
    I left a church, a great church, that I loved dearly and had attended for 6 years because my husband (who had not attended church with me for some time) disliked like that church So. Much. that I knew (Holy Spirit conviction) he would never concede to go there with me. And so, when the time came that I saw God was working on my husband’s heart, I left my home church to go try another with him. That church didn’t work out, but I decided not to continue going to my beloved church, and instead tried out a third church on my own, and then a fourth where I stayed. It took time for my husband to see how committed I am to loving and respecting him and attending church with him while God worked on his heart more. Almost two years after leaving my home church, my husband led us to a church service — in a completely different town! We have been going as a family since the beginning of July.
    I took a lot of ridicule from those who didn’t understand what God had convicted me of. I was fortunate to have several strong friends and leaders (from my old church and my interim church) who did understand and supported me. It wasn’t easy, but God is amazing, and being where we are now is an incredible reward for waiting on the Lord’s timing these past two years! I knew in my heart that driving a wedge between my husband and myself would accomplish nothing, and that my husband desperately needed to be called back to the church, and that I was not going to stand in the way of that – not even for “the perfect church.” Leaving was the hardest thing, but God’s blessings are amazing.
    I tell my story to say this: God may call you to a different church for one reason or another. Or he may lead you to stay at your current church and put in more effort. Either one may seem scary and daunting, but people always say “the best place to be is in God’s will” and that’s truer than most people’s casual utterance gives it credit for. Where God leads you, you aren’t going there alone. Obedience to God has the immediate blessing of God’s presence and His equipping you to complete the task He has given you. It’s my desire to encourage those who are walking a difficult path right now in finding their church home. May God bless your obedience!

  2. Dona Pugh permalink
    October 21, 2010 10:40 am

    Thanks for this post! This subject has been a sore one for me! I have changed churches a few times actually for a few different reasons, and each move was an agonizing one for me! I do agree that we are placed with in a local body in order to use our spiritual gifts and be a help and blessing to others. However, I have felt led to leave churches for specific reasons. As the spiritual leader of my children (single mom), I felt it was necessary to move to a church that would better serve their spiritual needs. I would have been happy to stay and exercise my gifts, but was compelled to move as I began to see that their spiritual life wither, and their once tender hearts growing cold under the misdirection of the youth leaders. And then, on another occasion, was actually restricted from exercising my spiritual gifts due to the the leadership”s reluctance to release control over all activities, ministries, etc I can’t believe that it is good to stay in hopes of effecting a change when the church is unhealthy, and wanting to stay that way! How can you invite unchurched folks with confidence when you know things arn’t right?? I am SO THANKFUL that the Lord has led me to a local body of believers/ ministry where I can fully exercise my gifts, invite others to come, as well as have the opportunity to grow and be strengthened in my relationship with Jesus. What a joy to be a part of an authentic fellowship.

    • October 21, 2010 10:46 am

      Dona, it sounds like you have never made the decision lightly. Thanks for sharing how agonizing a decision to change churches is and how we must always seek God’s direction. So glad to hear you have found a place where you can serve!

  3. Julie Sanders permalink
    October 21, 2010 1:37 pm

    This is a delicate, and usually emotional, issue. Thank you for speaking with clarity to it from God’s Word. Especially in the midst of our confusion or hurt, His Word is revealing and gives direction.

  4. Janet Valentine permalink
    October 21, 2010 2:32 pm

    Great job, Kathy! I think that your post addresses this delicate issue in an excellent
    way. Far too many families/individuals leave churches for the wrong reasons only to take their unresolved issues to the next church which just perpetuates the situation.

    I do think that there are some issues that can bring you to the point of making a church change. So to address the question – when is it okay to leave – I offer these observations/opinions.

    1. When God is making things crystal clear that it is time. Much prayer must precede this!
    2. When there is error repeatedly being taught from the pulpit and there is no resolution.
    3. When you have a vulnerable teen/tween that simply cannot be fed and/or nurtured/mentored in the faith because of a weak youth situation.
    Because their spiritual development and growth is very important and the window of opportunity for them to get the right direction is also narrow – it might be necessary for the parent to make a change for the well-being of the child even if the church is meeting the needs of the parents.

    I know that my opinion is just that –
    Thanks for the opportunity to share.

    Blessings

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