5 Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church
Going a little bit viral right now is a piece on Relevant Magazine called 5 Really Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church. They are:
- I’m not being fed
- It’s getting too big
- I don’t agree with everything that is being preached
- My needs aren’t being met
- Unresolved conflict
My first general comment: the tone of this article is similar to the kinds of things you get from abusive pastors afraid of losing their control. I’m not saying this pastor is abusive, but this post could definitely trigger that. The article is probably attempting to challenge those who are just being whiny about their church not being perfect, but I bet a lot read it who had escaped very harmful situations and are being scolded for saving themselves.
Second general comment: it’s talking about a particular local church: “If you’re thinking about looking for a new church home.” But what if another church really does help you in your desire to follow Jesus? Why should that be criticized? Does the church you were born in have automatic rights to your loyalty even if that harms (or at least limits more than other churches) your spiritual journey? If you’re the leader of a church and somebody thinks they need something you can’t give but another church can, let them go! The Kingdom is better for it! Your commission is to make disciples and maybe the best way for you to make that person a disciple is to direct them to somebody that can help them more than you can. We’re not talking about somebody leaving the Church universal by giving up on Jesus or even by giving up on meeting with other disciples; we’re actually talking about the exact opposite.
On not being fed or having your needs met (grouped since I think they’re basically the same), the article basically calls people selfish. I get that the primary purpose of going to church is to serve others. I believe that completely. That doesn’t change that you do need people to care about you and help you grow, too. Even pastors are usually recommended to connect with others to make sure they don’t burn out by always giving and never receiving. That burnout is exactly what this article is encouraging by making it selfish for you daring to not exclusively tow the line of “think not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church.” If you’re burning out because there is no life in the church for you – despite varied and consistent efforts – you probably are better off somewhere else.
It’s getting too big is also a pretty good reason to leave a church. Our church operates on a Home Church model. If the Home Church is consistently bigger than 25 or 30, it splits. Why? You cannot effectively minister to 30 people at once and many inevitably feel left out. This doesn’t mean not to meet occasionally in larger gatherings, as we do at The Meeting House, but your primary church experience should be small enough that you can connect with most of the people there.
Not agreeing with everything that is preached is the one where he may have the best case. I definitely don’t agree with everything Bruxy/Tim/Christa/Matt/etc say. And that is quite ok. Why is it ok? Because we agree on keeping central what is central: the person of Jesus, love of God and love of neighbour. Many churches make other things central, some of which I can agree with and others I cannot. But I could not attend a church that is acting contrary to this goal of pushing us to love Jesus and love others. It’s completely ok with disagree on many points of doctrine and practice, but your priorities do have to be pretty close.
I’m not afraid of unresolved conflict or disagreements when the conflict is within an atmosphere of family extending love and grace. The author admits not all conflict is resolvable, but then unfortunately equates showing grace to being a doormat even in abusive situations. We sometimes give the same very harmful advice to women (and men) in abusive relationships: just stick around and eventually he’ll/she’ll learn better. That just isn’t true; often the abuser learns that his/her actions must be ok since you stick around. The most loving thing you can do for a pastor when they are abusing their power and telling you to just repent for whatever you did wrong (note: it isn’t always partly your fault, as the author states), just as in an abusive relationship, is to leave. Plain and simple.
Our job is to seek Jesus with everything we have and to show Jesus to others. Sometimes that can happen better in a church other than the one you’re currently attending. A good pastor knows this and is happy to see you grow with a different community if he or she cannot help. A bad pastor shames you for putting Jesus ahead of your current authority structure. End rant.