Questions About Church: “What is an appropriate reason to leave a church?”

Greg Strand – February 12, 2015 6 Comments

One of the joys and privileges, and sometimes challenges, I have in this ministry role is responding to questions people have of the Christian faith, the Bible, theology, history, culture, and a myriad of other matters. I find great delight in thinking through these matters prayerfully and carefully, and then providing responses. And I do not only pray for wisdom and insight as I respond to these questions, I also pray that my responses will be faithful to God and His Word and result in being fruitful to those asking the questions.

Here are a series of three questions I received about church involvement and when it might be fitting to leave a local church followed by my responses.

Question 1: “What would be an appropriate situation to leave a church?”

Rather than beginning with the negative, and reasons for leaving, it is absolutely critical to know what the Bible teaches about the church, its nature, its purpose, its structure, its function, among other things. We must have God’s divine design in mind if we are then to understand at all if a church abides by that biblical teaching or not. In most instances, people leave a local church without any sense whatsoever of what God teaches about the church in the Bible. Only after we have that truth as a foundation can we then discern where any local church is in relation to that. We have spelled out the biblical teaching on the church in Evangelical Convictions (Article 7, The Church, pp. 155-165).

Question 2: “What if the pastor of a church doesn’t match 1 Timothy 3, would that be reason to leave?”

Not necessarily, at least not the first step to take. It is important to remember that the church is not about a pastor or a person. It is primarily about One, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18-20). There are two things to consider here. There is no one, with the exception of Jesus Christ, who has lived a perfect life. No one, including pastors, will model 1 Timothy 3 perfectly. That does not level the playing field so that there can be no expectations placed on anyone because we all fall short, or to exempt the pastor from growth in maturity and holiness (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 3:18). What it means is that the person ought to be humbly aware of his shortcomings, and not justify or deny sin. If one does the latter, the person is then going contrary to the Word of God. But even then, does that warrant people leave the church. What it means is that discipline ought to be pursued. The pastor ought to be confronted with his sin. There is a biblical process by which this is followed (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Tim. 5:19-21). There is much more to say here, but I trust this will suffice.

Question 3: “Would it be wrong to leave the church in a situation where there was jealousy and quarreling?”

Interestingly, even though Paul confronts all of these moral issues in the Corinthian church, he refers to them as “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). Although there are some sins that if left unaddressed by the leaders of the church, the Bible and its authority are being undermined so it would be time to consider seriously if it remains a true biblical church. But if one is looking for a church in which there are no sins, sins like jealousy and quarreling, they would not find it because it does not exist. Sadly in many churches these sorts of behaviors are considered “acceptable” or “respectable” sins, which they are not. There are no acceptable or respectable sins according to God and His Word. Once again, life together means we confront such sins (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:14), we hold each other accountable to biblical truth (Heb. 3:12-14), the righteous standards as set forth by the Lord in His Word and exemplified by the Lord Jesus (Matt. 5:48). These are the sorts of things that also happen in a family. How are they addressed there? A spouse or child does not leave. They address it, work at it, and grow through it. Once again, there is much more to say, but this ought to provide some further thoughts upon which you can reflect.

Since it is important to study these matters on your own and with others (and both are important), I include a number of brief articles/posts that will provide further material for you to ponder. I find them helpful. Once you have pondered all this, let’s visit again.

  • Here is a post on encouraging one to stay in the church, and not be so quick to leave.
  • Here is a follow up post to that one indicating some reasons when one ought not to submit to the leadership of the local church.
  • Here is a helpful post that looks at some good reasons, some possible reasons and some insufficient reasons for leaving a church.
  • Here is a post on how to leave a church, if that becomes necessary.
  • Here is a post on what to do before leaving a church.
  • Here is a post on what to say to someone who is leaving a church for poor reasons.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

6 responses to Questions About Church: “What is an appropriate reason to leave a church?”

  1. Very helpful Greg. Thanks.

  2. Greetings Greg,
    While at the Allegheny District Theology Conference these past 2 days, I subscribed to your blog, and smiling unto our Lord for the subject of the first Strand of Thought I received.
    Don’t think we actually personally met, but I was am the Scotsman that was sitting next to Jack Brooks.
    In 1988, I was saved while visiting a “Plymouth” Brethren Gospel Hall in my home city of Elgin, Scotland. That system became my church home until this month, including my move from Scotland to Kentucky in 1999.
    The assembly my wife and I were in fellowship in moved from Lexington, KY (where we are) to Richmond, KY about 8 years ago, giving us a driving distance of about 30 miles from our house, including going through the busy area of Lexington and Interstate.
    We had been looking for a more local church to fellowship with, and truly be part of, without distance getting in the way, especially mid-week. We found that in September 2014 with Ironworks Pike Community Church, in Georgetown, KY. They meet 9 miles from our house along easy country roads.
    We visited IPCC on Wednesday nights, some special occasions, and I have been to 2 Sunday mornings. My wife has been to 1 Sunday morning. 2 weeks ago we made the decision to move, after much prayer and discussion. We had informed the assembly elders of our process, and also the elders of IPCC. None of the leaderships were kept in the dark.
    One of the blogs you referenced mentioned that it is a painful process, and it was indeed. Still is. That said, we truly believe the decision was from God, and we have peace with making it.
    Thank you for this blog, and also for the theology teaching in PA which really challenged me.

    • I am grateful you were able to attend Stay Sharp. I am encouraged you were challenged (I assume in a good way), and I trust you were theologically sharpened.

      I also appreciate hearing your “story.” God’s providential provision is always on time and timely. He is faithful. He is good.

  3. Thank you, Greg, for sharing your thoughts, and also the related posts. They were insightful and affirming, in thinking about situations I’ve worked through, in the past-and presently, being faced with new challenges.

    I am confident in God’s plans, even though I don’t know how things will work out. He is a faithful God and a good, good Father 🙂

    • You are welcome, Liz. I am grateful you found this post and the links helpful.

      We trust the providential plan of our good, wise and sovereign Lord. God is good and he does good: “You are good, and what you do is good” (Ps. 119:68).

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