Going to church is something most Christians assume they should do. It’s fashionable for some people to quote Hebrews 10:25 to someone else who doesn’t attend regularly: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together . . .” Going on a guilt trip, anyone?

I hope you’re part of a wonderful church family and are at church every chance you get. But it’s not that way for everyone. Some people have been seriously wounded and wonder if this church thing is worth it after all. Is it ever OK to separate from the church you’ve been a part of and go elsewhere? What would be a big enough reason to leave your church?

Being part of a community of faith is important. It helps people live longer. God designed us to connect with other believers in ways that would help both us and them develop into the mature followers of Jesus that He needs us to be. Your physical, mental, relational, and spiritual life will be healthier as a result of being closely connected with a body of believers. That’s a given.

There are plenty of reasons people might give for leaving a church that aren’t “good enough.” A significant reason God has us planted in churches is to help our spiritual growth, and you’ll never experience that if you keep transplanting yourself each time you feel uncomfortable. If the pastor says something you don’t especially like, or another member treats you poorly, the right thing to do is not to leave but to either forgive or to work things out in some way.

Why Would You Leave?

But there are some occasions when the church where you’ve been planted is toxic or unhealthy enough that leaving is the only wise thing to do. Here are some of those possible reasons:

  1. There is no Biblical teaching or preaching. Church is not the place for emotional fluff or human ideas. What is taught and preached must be based on the Bible. It’s OK to disagree on some minor points of theology. But the church’s foundation must be Biblical truth in the form of “Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
  2. Church leadership continues to live in open sin. No human being is perfect, including your pastor. But those who are shepherds over the body of Christ are held to a higher standard. (Acts 20:28) Their lives should demonstrate a basic integrity, and a willingness to change if they are out of line with God’s word.
  3. People are exploited or overly controlled. Spiritual abuse is real, and one of the clearest signs is leadership exerting manipulation and control over many aspects of members’ lives. If other people are regularly being harmed in a given church, beware that your own soul may also be in danger. (Acts 20:29-30)
  4. Spiritual transformation is not encouraged and demonstrated. Church is not a social club. Real sinners should be helped to experience real change, not simply continue to wallow in their sin. No church member will ever be perfect, but grace only means something when it is allowed to bring people closer to the character of Jesus. (1 Peter 2:9)
  5. Rigid legalism excludes grace. Jesus came to save sinners, and that’s the mission the church is designed to continue. If the church focuses only on condemnation of outward behavior, it excludes the possibility for God’s grace to transform the heart. Long-term holiness is only a result of change on the inside. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

If any of these toxic characteristics are a significant part of your church, prayerfully consider leaving.

Don’t go transplanting yourself too quickly, but there are times when leaving your church becomes necessary. If that happens, trust that God will guide you in finding another church where He can help you continue to grow.

Your Turn: What circumstances would you consider serious enough that you would need to leave your church? Leave a comment below. 

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