By Andy Waits, First Baptist Church Springville
There is a difference between a “reason” and an “excuse.” Parents, teachers, police officers, and pastors spend their lives listening to “excuses.” Sadly, we have reached a point where the lines between the two have been blurred.
Pastors experience heartbreak when people leave the church. Certainly, there is a time when a person should leave a church. But, how do you know when that time has come? What is a biblical “reason” (not excuse) to leave a church? Here are four instances when it is time to leave a church.
- False Doctrine – When a church deviates from correct teaching of the gospel, the church leaders have a clear responsibility to remove the false teacher (1 Cor. 5:2; 2 John 10-11). If a church refuses to act on false teaching, it ceases to be a New Testament church. Leave such a church. Find another faith-family that is committed to the purity of the Scriptures (i.e., major matters of doctrine like the virgin birth, resurrection, and the gospel).
- Moving of Geographical Location – If you relocate, God expects you to connect and serve a church in your area. It is important to worship with believers from your own community.
- Spiritual Gifts are Not Being Used – This one is tricky. While playing a musical instrument, driving the church bus, helping in the puppet ministry, or organizing the church library can be good things, they are not spiritual gifts as defined by Scripture. The Bible teaches that the pastor(s) determine how one is to use their gifts to edify the church (2 Timothy 1:6-7), not the other way around. (We have all met people who thought their spiritual gift was singing solos when clearly God didn’t gift them in that area!).
- Desiring Deeper Discipleship– Let’s be honest, some churches today go no deeper than cookies and Kool-aid. If you and your family are seeking deeper discipleship and your church cannot offer it, it may be time to go elsewhere (Hebrews 6:1).
Here are a few practical guidelines that should guide you if you find yourself facing this difficult dilemma.
*Leaving a church should never be done in haste and without fervent prayer. (Romans 12:12)
*God will never lead a person to leave a church and not attend another church (Hebrews 10:25).
*If the Holy Spirit is leading you to go elsewhere, how do you verify it? The reason must line up with the Word of God (Hebrews 1:1-2).
*If you leave a church mad, you have left that church for the wrong reason and need to reconcile with the pastor(s) (Matthew 18).
*Voddie Baucham says: When most people want to leave their church, they really need to repent instead.
*When leaving a church you have a responsibility to meet with the pastor(s) and pray together, reconcile any differences, give biblical reasons for leaving, and be sent out in peace (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Conflict arises in local congregations because we are fallen creatures. Even Paul and Barnabus separated once (Acts 15 – they later reconciled). We must conduct ourselves like adults, not like children who don’t get their way so they take their ball and go home. If you are dealing with when or why to leave a church, ask yourself: Is this a biblical reason or an excuse?