Greatest Hits: When Is It Okay to Leave a Church?

This summer we are looking at some of the most popular Ask the Pastor episodes over the years. To start, Pastor J.D. discusses what’s important to keep in mind when it comes to leaving a church and choosing one.

A glimpse inside this episode:

  1. The no-commitment consumer culture is not appropriate for the church.

Consumer culture works for some things. But not for church. Church is a family: The best parts of church come from that; it’s not a show. It is better to be really connected at a mediocre church than partially committed at the best one.

  1. I only have one life to live, and I want to invest it where I get the most return. 
  • Hearing the Word.
  • Community that makes you flourish
  • Maximizing gifts: Don’t be a “Lone Ranger Christian,” the one faithful voice in a dead church. You’ll be much more effective working side-by-side with like-minded believers than you will trying to effect change on your own.
  • This matters even more to me now as a father. I want my kids to grow up in a place where they will see and experience firsthand the best community of believers I can offer to them. Gospel-centered ministry is an absolute priority; the spiritual health of my family is too important to have them in a place without it.

What are mistakes you’ve seen people make as they approach this decision? 

  • Always thinking about your needs is a sign of immaturity. Paul tells the Ephesian believers to “grow up” (Eph 4:1-16), which he defines as learning to use your spiritual gift in the church, not being fed and having your needs met each week. It is infants and toddlers, not adults, whose primary concern in being fed and having their bottoms wiped by others. Ironically, some of the “seasoned” Christians who complain the most about “not getting anything out of their church” act more like toddlers than mature believers! The church is not about you. This is important for any church, because your church, no matter what it starts like, cannot remain perpetually “the hottest show in town.” Someone younger, cooler, and flashier is right now preparing the next best thing. So, we’ll have ups and downs, cold seasons and hot ones.
  • Thinking you can turn it around. If you are not part of the lead pastoral team, you very likely will not be able to turn the ship around. Pray and wait.
  • Waiting too long. You get the greatest return on relationships when you invest yourself in one place for many years.

I’m not sure how to give you a “litmus test” for when to stay and when to leave. I have known people who felt called by God to stay in a dying place and believe God for its resurrection and actually saw that happen. I’ve known others who tried that and, because they were not in a place where they could really effect the change they desire, “wasted” some great years in a dying organization. I’ve known others who left a dying church and went on to serve God somewhere else, and were greatly blessed in the process. And I’ve known still others who abandoned ship when they should have stayed.

If you think there’s a possibility of change, I’d say stay and make it happen. When you see that there is not, invest your life elsewhere.

Be committed: There’s a difference in how the chicken and the pig contribute to your eggs and sausage breakfast. The chicken makes a contribution; the pig is committed. Be a pig.

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