Over the last few weeks I’ve heard from many of you who have experienced church hurt. Such wounds usually come unexpectedly. They’re mixed with God-talk, and recovery is not easy. Sometimes that may require leaving your church. That’s a painful decision to contemplate. When should you leave, or not leave, your church?
God is the One who plants you in a church. Sometimes humans get the idea that they can tell you this church or that church is where you’re “supposed” to be. But before anything else, Jesus is the One who is building His church. He is the Leader. If HE plants you, you’re truly planted. And He has the prerogative to transplant you.
Jesus also understands your hurt. He is a Gentle Shepherd in caring for His sheep who have been wounded. He feels with you.
It can be helpful, however, to consider some appropriate reasons to leave, or not leave, your church.
Reasons NOT to Leave Your Church
Every church is made up of humans. If you’re looking for a perfect church, good luck! And if you find and join one it will no longer be perfect, because you are an imperfect human also. Here are some reasons some people leave their church, reasons that are immature, unwise, unhealthy, and inconsistent with Scripture.
You feel slighted. Your pastor and leaders are human too. They have limitations, and they too are in the process of being transformed. It feels great when you are welcomed, recognized, or affirmed, but that’s not why you should be going to church. The messiness of being overlooked or misunderstood is a selfish and unhealthy reason to leave as long as there is no other toxicity.
The production value is poor. Contemporary churches, especially larger churches, often have a wonderful capacity for high-quality production. The entertainment quotient of services may be high. But you can get that in any number of secular venues; it’s not the reason you should be going to church. Production value can be attractive, and God can be a wonderful showman. But leaving because the music or staging is not up to par is immature and unhealthy.
You don’t like their politics. Jesus did not make politics His message. People of opposite political viewpoints were part of His band of disciples and sat side-by-side in early church gatherings. If in a particular church politics has usurped following Jesus that’s one thing. But Jesus intended that people from every “tribe” would come together, submit to His Lordship, and come together His church.
Possible Reasons TO Leave Your Church
This is not unlike a marriage. God intended marriage to be a covenant “till death do us part.” But there are times a marriage becomes toxic and sometimes God releases someone from such a marriage. It’s the same with a church. There are, sadly, times when a church becomes toxic and the sheep are actively being harmed.
Here are a few signs that may indicate toxicity and could be reasons to leave your church.
Teaching Heresy. There are many branches of the church. Denominational differences are part of what I believe grieves the Lord. But if a church teaches contrary to the main message of the gospel, is it really part of the church of Jesus? “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2-3).
Spiritual abuse. When people use their spiritual authority to exploit and harm people under their influence, it’s time to separate. If you see this happening and are in a position to help change the leadership, you just may be part of saving this part of Jesus’ church. If you are being harmed yourself, know first that Jesus sees. He is for you! Leaving may feel traumatic, but like leaving a traumatic or abusive marriage, it’s the healthy and right thing to do.
Dangerous leadership. Spiritual abuse of authority takes many forms. These elements can create an entire culture of toxicity that harms people in the name of God. A few to note:
- Exacting sexual favors because of one’s spiritual position or authority
- Excessively controlling people’s personal lives and decisions
- Exploiting staff or volunteers without regard to their wellbeing
- Ostentatious displays of wealth or power
- Continuing to engage in obvious gross sinful behavior
These are indications that you need to either use your influence to bring change, or if you can’t, to leave.
After You Leave
Don’t leave your church based on emotions. God may call you to stay in a challenging church situation and be part of making it better. But if after prayerful consideration God is removing you from your current church, what’s next? Here are a few things to consider.
Be cautious before bad-mouthing your former church. There are clearly times when making a leader’s damaging behavior public is required. Know that doing so will exact a personal cost on you. Do so only after much prayer, and with a few other godly people alongside you. Make sure you’re doing so for the right reasons, and not for your own personal revenge.
Consider your personal relationship with God. Some church toxicity is so harmful that it will take a process for you to find a “new God.” If so, know that God is patient. You can find your way back to Him. Or perhaps more accurately, He will find you.
You still need people! For your own wellbeing, and as a follower of Jesus, one of the necessary things you do is connect with other followers of Jesus. That may be a few friends who you sit and talk with on a regular basis until God directs you to another church. It may be finding and doing “church” in a very different way than you experienced previously. But don’t isolate.
These realities make me cry, “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!”
Your Turn: Have you considered leaving your church? Have you left your church? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.
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- Sometimes it’s necessary to leave your church. There are some wise and healthy reasons to do so, as well as some reasons that are not wise or healthy. Tweet that.
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Being hurt in the name of God creates deep wounds that need care, tending, and time. It is possible to find connection, growth, and healing regardless of how difficult things have been.
Among the things I do is individual coaching. If you’d like to explore what that might look like for you, I’d love to hear from you. You can find out more about individual coaching here.