When To Leave A Church
1) When there is false teaching.
Doctrine is the engine of decision making. What we really truly believe drives our behavior. Therefore, there is nothing more important in a church than continuous, faithful teaching of Scripture; especially in matters of essential doctrine. If our beliefs are not constantly challenged and corrected by Scripture, then we might be in a church building, but it isn’t a body of Christ followers. A church is led by leaders who are able to “exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). A church is a church if it is a pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If these things aren’t true, then you should leave this supposed church.
2) When God’s word is handled poorly.
There are churches that appear to be doctrinally sound because they have a statement of faith that is orthodox. In their actual practice, the Word of God takes a back seat to the latest trend, the newest ministry program, and the coolest dramas. While much of what is done isn’t heretical, it is also basically spiritual baby food. No meat, just milk. And slightly sour milk at that. The resources on the back table are chalk full of psychological babble, and warmed over spiritual platitudes that fit nicely with the culture. There is no drive to know scripture, handle it rightly, and apply it faithfully. For this church, if it looks and sounds good, then that is good enough.
3) When there is a refusal to deal with sin.
This point is usually not too far from the first two. When people are lax with God’s Word, they will be lax about God’s holiness and the call to strive for it. When sin is tolerated through blind eyes or cultural justification, that church is radioactive. Sin will radiate through that congregation. Or, using a biblical word-picture; it will be like leaven that leavens the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6-7). No commitment to biblical church discipline is a commitment to make peace with sin. This is spiritual suicide.
4) When spiritual life is suppressed.
Some churches quench the Spirit. Paul warned the Thessalonians about this in 1 Thessalonians 5:19. In that passage Paul was concerned about prophetic utterance, which would not be a concern today. But the warning is still relevant. Churches can still suppress what God is doing. There can be a dangerous hypocrisy that permeates a church (2 Tim. 3:5). What can this look like? It might be that there is a wet blanket thrown on all evangelistic endeavors. Maybe there is no missionary focus. Perhaps they don’t allow opportunities for serving. Possibly they don’t train and raise up new leadership. It could be that this church is a prayerless church. When time and prayer have been given to address this, it may turn out that something is deeply wrong and the church is opposed to changing anything.
5) When there is little to no shepherding.
You can’t overstate the importance of the church leadership. In fact, the blame for problems outlined above often rests on the leaders’ shoulders. Elders and leaders can become so wrapped up in the church as a whole that they forget it is made up of individuals. Shepherding is what the leaders are called to do. There is macro shepherding which looks at the church as a whole. But there is also micro shepherding that looks at individuals. Each member of the church needs to be known, led, fed, and protected. When that is not happening, then the only way you are going to get pastoral attention is to have a problem too big to ignore. You don’t want to wait for that to happen.
6) When there is a significant doctrinal disagreement.
There are different categories of doctrine. There are essential doctrines that determine a person’s eternity. But there are also secondary doctrines and peripheral doctrines. Secondary doctrines are matters which are important, but can be kept on the sideline in terms of doing gospel ministry. Some of these doctrines are fairly comprehensive and touch on a variety of issues. This means that a church does a variety of things differently because of these secondary doctrines. Certain stances on covenant theology or charismatic issues would qualify. These doctrines may affect enough church procedure that a person finds that they simply cannot wholeheartedly serve in that church.
7) When your church is too far and a good one is closer.
This one seems a bit pragmatic, but I believe there are important spiritual ramifications at play. The church is to be the place where people love one another, fellowship with one another, and become the members of the body with giftings others need. The farther a church is from home, the harder it is for that church to be all it is supposed to be in a Christian’s life. Though the preaching is awesome and the music is stirring, if a church is too far away you will rarely have the fellowship needed for spiritual health and growth. There is just too much physical distance between people for meaningful life-on-life contact. Add travel time and cost and it becomes very easy to just stay home. If there is a decent church closer, wisdom may call for a move.