No church is perfect. Your church is imperfect because it is full of imperfect people – you and I included. Every church member, therefore, must endure difficulties and persevere through problems. But, when is it time to leave? For what reason is it appropriate to end your commitment to one church and make a commitment to another? Pastor, what is your counsel when someone comes to you wrestling with whether they should leave their current church to join yours? These are questions we all face at some point in our life together as God’s people.
Firstly, we must agree that commitment to a local body of believers is a serious thing. Churches are spiritual families covenanted together to serve one another, care for one another, and fulfill the great commission together. Choosing to transition to a new church, therefore, affects an entire community, not just an individual. I don’t encourage or entice Christians to transfer their commitment to our church, unless there is Biblical reasoning. As pastors, it should not be our aim to attract more Christians to move to our church as if our church is the only church “doing things right.” I praise God that we are not the only Gospel believing, Bible preaching, corporate witness of the Lord Jesus in our city. Sheep swapping is not great commission progress. But there are scenarios where transitioning to a new church may be good, right, and honoring to the Lord. Here is a simple and non-exhaustive list of a few good and bad reasons for transitioning to a new church.
Three Bad Reasons for Moving Churches:
#1 Entertainment Value
Few people say outright that they are leaving their church based off of entertainment value. They usually say something more like, “the Sunday worship is dead” or “I am just not getting fed.” These phrases can represent legitimate concerns which we will address in a moment, but they can also stand for a me-centeredness that we want to avoid. When someone says they are not being fed they might mean, “I want a church with a more dynamic and entertaining communicator, but my pastor is just an average public speaker.” By “dead worship”, they might simply mean an older style of worship. It is a stylistic preference judged by personal enjoyment more than it is a spiritual assessment of God’s enjoyment of the worship. If God is only pleased with stage lights and electric guitars then he has been awaiting truly alive worshippers for thousands of years up until the modern era. We in America must especially be aware of our cultural conditioning. We can find ourselves looking at the church through a consumeristic lens rather than a Biblical one. Choosing church membership has to be different than choosing a gym membership. We shouldn’t choose to leave or join another church based off of best services provided for the least monthly cost.
#2 Spiritual Immaturity in the Church Members
Every church has at least one thing in common – people are involved. Since every church has people involved, it follows that every church will have sinners involved. No matter what church you go to there will be a variety of spiritual maturity among the members. There will always be potential for relational conflict and disagreement. The church is, in fact, a communal participation in one another’s sanctification process. If you run at the first sign of human sinfulness, you will always be on the run. I am not saying by any means to stay at a church where unrepentant sin is approved of, ignored, or celebrated. But, if you are noticing spiritual apathy, lovelessness, and faithlessness surrounding you on a Sunday morning, don’t let your first thought be to jump ship. Let your first thought be – I’ve got to make disciples. Pour yourself out for the spiritual growth of those around you. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:9-10)
#3 Better Programming
One of the newer developments in our cultural and historical context is the expectation on churches to perform certain programmatic services. This is especially true with regard to children and youth. Parents should, of course, consider their families in choosing what church to join, but the bigger, more colorful, indoor-playground kind of children’s ministry is not always and automatically better for a family’s discipleship. It is primarily the family’s responsibility to disciple their children and teenagers and to teach them the importance of the local church beyond the once a week program. Transferring to another church so that discipleship of children and teenagers can be more fully outsourced to the paid professionals of the larger church should not be the primary consideration for leaving one place and joining another.
Three Good Reasons for Moving Churches:
#1 Unbiblical Preaching
It is through the living word of God that we are born again. (1 Pt. 1:23) Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:17) Christians are taught, reproved, corrected, trained, completed, and equipped only through the teaching of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16) and pastors have been commanded by God to teach the word. (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Tim. 3:2; 4:11-16; 5:17; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:2, 15-16; 4:1-5; Tit. 1:9; 2:1) If the word of God is not taught in a church, then it may be time to leave that church. The tricky part is discerning what counts for the word being taught. We are not talking about communication style or gifting. We are talking about the goal and content of teaching.
Perhaps a couple of questions would help clarify. Does the teaching ministry of the church deny, corrupt, or neglect any core Christian doctrines (the gospel, inspiration of Scripture, person and work of Jesus, repentance of sin, etc.)? Is the obvious goal of regular teaching in the church to expose the truth of Scripture? Is the Bible the obvious source of truth or could it be argued that the opinion, perspective, and creativity of the leadership is the real authority? Do you leave the public teaching time having just studied the word of God in the Bible, or do you leave with general principles of morality and world news grounded only in the opinion of the preacher?
Paul warns Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4) This is the inevitable wandering of sinful humanity without an unwavering commitment to the Bible taught each week. The righ commitment to God’s word can often lead to church health in other areas, but if the word is not taught, all is lost.
#2 Disqualified Leadership
Pastors must meet particular qualifications in order to serve in that role. (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) These qualifications do not mean that pastors must be perfect men, but they do suggest that they should be characterized by Christ-likeness. A church that affirms and supports Biblically unqualified leaders is a church that will always struggle to fulfill God’s will. The Bible commands us in Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” If it is impossible for you to obey this Biblical command because of the sin of your leaders, and those leaders are unapproachable with the apparent issues, then it may be time to look for another church. If your church leadership, however, humbly commits themselves to the teaching of the Bible and they meet the Biblical qualifications, there is still much hope for the future of the church.
#3 The Spirit’s Leading for Great Commission Fulfillment
In my own quiet time this morning, I read Acts 16:7 where the Spirit of Jesus would not allow Paul to go to a particular place, and then redirected his path to fulfill the great commission in a different region entirely. We cannot rule out the real and active role of the Holy Spirit’s leadership for the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our lives. There may be occasions where God leads, prompts, stirs, and guides his people to leave their current church family to go do the work of disciple-making in another region with another church family. We have one life to live and we are to spend it glorifying God by making disciples of all nations to the best of our ability. That journey may take us to different cities, states, countries, and sometimes different churches. The difficulty is discerning God’s will in these circumstances versus our own. If the Spirit’s leading is the reason for transitioning to a new church, seek the counsel of other believers as a way of testing. When the Spirit of God set apart Paul and Barnabas to leave Antioch on a church planting journey, the whole church affirmed that this was, in fact, God’s leading.
In conclusion, here are several tips to help you make big decisions about moving your church membership.
Tips for Moving Churches
- Don’t be hasty. These decisions require patient and prayerful walking with the Lord. Take seriously the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting for a period of time as you consider your course of action.
- Don’t make the decision alone. Ask for the wisdom of Spirit-filled and Bible-believing Christians who can help you see blind spots in your decision making. Have open conversations with your church leadership about reasons for your desired transition. Come into these conversations humbly and graciously. Church leaders are people too. They fall short, get defensive, and struggle with pride, but they are, by God’s grace, capable of repentance and change.
- Do your research. If you are transitioning to a new church, get a thorough understanding of their beliefs and practices before committing yourself to that body of believers.
- Stay Local If Possible. If at all possible, prioritize finding a healthy congregation near to where you live, work, and play. This is not a legalistic kind of rule and it is not always possible in all seasons of life, nevertheless, it’s an important principle to emphasize. Commuting to the weekly church service far outside your community will make it hard to intertwine your disciple-making life in the context of Christian community. Accountability, discipleship relationships, and ministry opportunities will be more difficult the farther you are away from the meeting place of your church family. If God leads you to a church far away, it is often worth even the hassle of moving to be in the community you are seeking to reach for the Gospel.
We walk in obedience to Christ, we make disciples, we are discipled – all in close communion with our church family. As seriously as we assess where to live, work or send our kids to school, we must carefully discern what church family God would have us join ourselves to.
By His Grace & For His Glory,
Pastor Brandon Langley
St. Rose Community Church