Should I Stay or Should I Go: Five good and not so good reasons to leave your church
Consumerism has seemingly crept its way into every aspect of life these days. From slogans like Burger King’s “have it your way” to Apple’s “I” everything line of products, we’ve been taught that life is all about ME. We’ve been conditioned to believe that if something doesn’t perfectly suit us our immediate reaction should be to get irritated, complain, and seek out something new that makes us happy again.
Sadly, that same mindset has found its way into the church as well. For many, “going to church” is an event. It’s a building we go to for some hip music, free coffee and a decent talk on something that will hopefully help ME. And because of that there’s a mindset that has infiltrated the church. If all of a sudden there’s something I don’t like about my church, I’ll just go ahead and find a new one.
The truth is, being part of a local church takes hard work and commitment, even when things aren’t always exactly what we hope for. It requires grace as we navigate the relational challenges that come with being in fellowship with broken people. And it requires us to think and live like the founder and head of the church, Jesus. How did Jesus think and live? Philippians 2:5-10 puts it better than I ever could;
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In short, Jesus was a humble, sacrificial, servant who even though he was King, loved the world by serving them and ultimately dying for the people he loved. He refused to bail on us when we were sinners. And when he established his church 2000 years ago he called his followers into that type of living and thinking.
The truth is most people don’t go into a church thinking, “how can God grow me here to become more like his son and use me here to help further His kingdom?”
But that is exactly the mindset we should have. And exactly the reason why so many people become serial “church hoppers.” Because at the end of the day if it’s all about you it’s only a matter of time before someone rubs you the wrong way, the preacher says something you don’t like, the music becomes too loud (or too quiet) or the coffee just doesn’t compare to your favorite local spot anymore.
And so that begs a question I want to address today; when it comes to being part of a local church, how do we know when we should stay and when we should go? Here’s five good reasons to think about moving on and five not so good.
5 GOOD REASONS
The gospel of grace isn’t central. The gospel or good news of Jesus says this; we are sinners who deserve death and are in desperate need of saving. Unfortunately we are incapable of saving ourselves. But fortunately, God in his incredible love for us sent Jesus, his one and only son, as the substitute for sinners. He dies the death we should have died and makes us righteous before God. There is NOTHING we can do to earn this. No amount of “good works” on our part can save us. Practically speaking, this means the culture of your church should be incredibly “grace filled.” Because we are all desperately in need of God’s grace it should be one of the hallmarks of the church. It doesn’t mean we overlook sin (see #2) but the church should be a place where mercy and forgiveness are all over the leadership and members. If your church strays from this in any way don’t just walk, run!
God’s Word is no longer the ultimate authority, culture is. Every day more and more churches are bending the knee to cultural agendas that defy the Word of God. Some churches subtly bend the knee and simply don’t talk about the hard truths. Others blatantly defy God’s Word in order to manipulate people and push their own agendas. A big red flag is whether or not a church practices loving “church discipline.” When sin is prevalent in the body is it ignored or lovingly called out? John 1:14 tells us that, “Jesus was full of grace AND truth.” While our churches must be full of grace, they must also be full of truth. That’s the only way true life transformation happens in a person's life.
Your pastor has lost their way. Jesus established the church to be led by qualified men of God(elders) who are responsible for both teaching their flock AND living an exemplary life of faith. This doesn’t mean you nitpick at every little thing your pastor does. It doesn’t mean there is an expectation that they live a perfectly sinless life. But according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus there are qualifications for a pastor. He is to be above reproach, a faithful husband and father, humble and able to teach sound doctrine among other things.
There’s no desire to reach lost people. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” That pretty much sums up the mission of the church. Many churches are great at reaching people but have no plan for discipling them. Others, don’t care at all whether they ever reach non-believers and focus only on internal members. If your church doesn’t at least have a plan for how to do both you should question, why not?
The culture allows you to be comfortable. A church that never challenges people to sacrifice or do hard things for the sake of the gospel has missed one of the key tenets of following Jesus. Jesus himself challenged his disciples in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” A community of Jesus followers who is never challenged to truly sacrifice for the sake of advancing the kingdom will very quickly become complacent and apathetic. That’s just human nature.
5 NOT SO GOOD
There’s some super annoying people. I’ve got news for you. It doesn’t matter what church you go to there are going to be people. And where there are people, some of them are going to annoy, that’s what people do. The truth is, you probably rub some people the wrong way every now and then too. Being part of a church family means you’re going to have disagreements. There are going to be some people that don’t make your favorites list. But we are called to love one another regardless. To put aside our opinions and learn to be patient with others.
That ministry you really loved was killed or changed. Every church has their own “systems” and “programs.” Some of those programs have been around since your great aunt Martha was a little girl and have become “sacred cows.” The problem is, while the mission never changes, the methods often need to. If your church leadership decides it’s time to move on from a ministry (even one that you served in faithfully) they’ve most likely done so with a lot of thought and prayer. Our responsibility as church members is to support the vision of the church and find where we can help wherever we can. Instead of leaving, here’s an idea. When a new ministry is started or you see an area that could be better, GO ALL-IN AND HELP MAKE IT THE BEST IT CAN BE. That’s what it looks like to truly be part of a family.
You don’t feel like you’re “getting anything out of the worship service” anymore. Whether it’s the preaching or the music it’s easy to fall into this trap. In love, that’s on you, and it’s the kind of consumer mindset that flies completely in the face of who Jesus was. You get out of worship what YOU put into. Afterall, worship is about connecting with God. It should not matter what is going on AROUND you. The second worship becomes about our preferences there is no church that will ever be good enough.
The culture is just too challenging. Sadly I’ve heard this on more than one occasion from someone, “I just want to be part of a church where I can slip in and slip out without having to connect with anyone or feel like I need to get involved beyond Sunday. Once again, in love, that is the complete opposite of who Jesus calls his church to be. In Acts 2 we see a church that is deeply connected to each other; serving, eating and meeting in small groups regularly. Church isn’t an event that you attend, it’s a community of people seeking Christ together. If you’re feeling convicted in your church that’s more likely a sign you should stay, not go.
A new cool church caught your eye. We love shiny new things. There is always going to be a hot new church launching somewhere. And there’s always going to be that hip modern mega church with the amazing preaching and the worship leader in skinny jeans. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of those things in and of themselves, it’s not a good reason to leave your church. Once again, it’s about as consumeristic as it comes. It says, “I care more about how cool my church is and what it can do for me than how I can serve in my current church and make an impact here.”
I’ll leave you with this final important reminder. If you are thinking about leaving your church, remember that being part of a church is like being part of a family. You would never just leave your family because things get a little difficult. Leaving a church should never be a hasty decision. It should lead us to our knees in prayer. It should lead to conversations with leadership and anyone you may have conflict with to try and resolve issues. Grace on grace on grace is required. And, if and when you do leave, do it with honor and respect. Don’t just take your ball and go home. Have the courage to share your honest feedback with the church leadership in a gracious way. Leaving a church should always be an opportunity for both you and your church to potentially grow!
Want to know more about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus or are you in search of a church to call home? We would love to talk with you! No matter where you are at in your journey, you are welcomed here. Check out our visit us page to see what to expect during our Sunday Celebrations. If you simply have more questions, whether about this message or Jesus, OR if you feel you are ready to take the leap and receive salvation through faith, then reach out to us via the contact form or at email@example.com.