Should I stay or should I go? (For the Church)

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I’m not a fan of church hopping—or shopping. Thankfully, I’ve not had to do it very often (once, in fact). From that one experience, I can safely say one thing definitively: leaving a church shouldn’t be taken lightly. Yet, all too often it seems people leave over some pretty lousy reasons: things like the style of music, unresolved interpersonal conflict, or simply being bored and wanting to see if the grass is greener.

So, how do you know when you should leave a church—and are there good reasons to leave at all?

That’s what I’m writing about in part six of “Letters to a New Believer” at For the Church:

The biggest mistake I made in leaving the first church I was a part of was I didn’t leave soon enough. I know that sounds awful, but let me explain.…

One Sunday in the fall of 2008, the associate pastor was preaching—and I mean preaching. There was a fire in his words that I’d never heard before or since. He spoke from Acts on being sent into the world to spread the gospel, and how God used persecution to disperse the early believers so the gospel would go forth. I was right there with him through the whole message, and as we prepared for the closing song, I had this strange feeling that I needed to ask to be sent out.

The whole time as we sang, it nagged at me. “Ask to be sent out. Ask. Now.”

I didn’t.

And I really wish I had because within a few weeks, I was probably the angriest churchgoer you ever did see. The preaching had never been particularly stellar, but it seemed to take a turn for the worse as the church began employing the language and ideas of a bunch of hip guys who hate Jesus (or the Jesus of the Bible, at least). I would go and listen to the message and on the way home would be venting about everything that was wrong with what I heard. I constantly felt anxious about even going on Sunday and was eager to skip. My wife and I both agreed this had to stop because we didn’t want our kids thinking I hated church (which I don’t) or that I think pastors are untrustworthy (which, again, I don’t).

If you’re considering leaving your church for any reason, I hope you’ll find this article helpful. If you read it and realize you perhaps left for a bad reason, can I ask you to consider something: Is there a way Christ might use it to bring glory to himself today? While going back would probably not be the best thing, if you know you left for the wrong reasons, maybe the right thing to do is ask forgiveness of the leaders of your old church? Maybe there’s someone you know who’s thinking about leaving their church and they need some good counsel; what could they learn from your experience?

One of the things I’m most thankful for is that experience—even the bad ones—is something God works through to bring himself glory. I hope in sharing my story and my thoughts on this subject, I’ve been able to do that.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.