I am currently attending a church that has undergone a split in the congregation. The split occurred before I started attending so I do not know the actual reason(s) for such a division. The question I ask is this: If those that left did so because they felt there were sinful situations present in the church (i.e... divorced people remarrying in the church, elders not meeting the biblical requirements), are they sinning by leaving or am I sinning by staying in such a situation? I have been saved approximately seven months and vaguely remember reading in the Bible that if you allow yourself to be in the company of sinful people or sinful circumstances, you are also partaking in such sin. I really would like to know if this is true or not so I can take appropriate measures.
God tells us that we are influenced by those around us. That truth applies to every close relationship, and a church setting is a close situation. The spiritual quality of the leadership determines the effectiveness of the church. Immoral leaders will result in spiritually deformed or no growth within the church.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (NASB) 1 Corinthians 15:33
When to Leave a Church
Leaving a church is a difficult decision. There are good reasons to leave and there are bad reasons to leave a church. Unfortunately, many church leaders rarely think there is a good reason to leave their churches since they are responsible for the conditions of the church – good or bad. Here are some issues to consider when thinking about leaving a church.
Truth is not being taught
It is not enough to attend a church a few times and because everything sounded okay to then conclude that the church honors God. The music program, the elegance of the church or the charisma of the pastor are not important. What is important is what is taught and will you be able to grow spiritually. It is important to evaluate a church not just by what is taught, but also by what is not being taught. We need to ask, “Does the pastor teach about hell, the Holy Spirit, prophecy, sin, Satan and salvation, for example?” Does he believe that Jesus was both God and man. What are his views on homosexuality, the role of women in the church, the authority of scripture? Does he believe the Bible is completely and totally without error? Or does he believe it contains mistakes in the areas of faith, prophecy, history, and science? Some pastors will teach only those portions of the Bible that are currently “safe” or popular with today’s culture. A faithful pastor does not hesitate to teach all of the Bible and to explain it in depth. The teaching of the Word of God should be the priority and the major portion of the service. In Malachi, God rebuked the priests because they did not teach all of God’s Word but were selective.
So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction. Malachi 2:9 (NASB)
Leadership is overly controlling and unloving
Another reason to leave a church is a leadership team that is not lovingly caring for the congregation. When the focus of the church becomes the organizational structure, “getting things done,” and building the size of the church more than in the teaching of scripture and loving people, it is an indication that the leaders care more about the organization and their position than Jesus. The Apostle Peter encouraged elders to be more concerned about the flock of God when he said,
. . . nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:3 (NASB)
Closely connected to unloving leadership is an overly controlling leadership team. While it is necessary for a leadership team to be in control of the ministries and operation, excessive control is wrong. How does one determine what is excessive? This is very difficult since leadership must prevent error from being taught, control its ministries and must deal with sin. But 3 John 9-11 provides an incredible example. This passage reveals a church where either the pastor or some layman unilaterally prevented people from coming to the church and unilaterally removed people from the church.
Leadership is biblically unqualified
Another major reason to leave a church is the existence of biblically unqualified men in the leadership team. The biblical qualifications for leaders, including the pastor, are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9. It is common for some churches to choose their leaders by just calling through the church directory to see who is willing to serve next year. Then whoever volunteers becomes their leaders. They fail to understand that the health of a church is determined by the high spiritual character of the leadership. A church will never rise above its leadership. If a church has spiritually immature and biblically illiterate men, then the church is in trouble. First, 1 Corinthians 15:33 will become a reality. Second, these leaders will not understand how to make biblical decisions because they do not know scripture. A limited understanding of the Bible results in limited wisdom to make biblical decisions. A spiritually immature man is a man who is not growing in his relationship with Jesus. In fact, he may be a tare and not be a Christian (Matthew 13:36-43). He may be a good moral tare. He may not be spending time in the Word of God, praying and confessing his sins regularly. If the leaders are truly growing spiritually, then it should show in the lives of the congregation. Romans 8:13-14 teaches us that a Christian is increasingly having victory over sin in his life.
. . . but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14 (NASB)
A congregation should be characterized by leaders who are seeking an intimate relationship with Jesus.
Pastor and/or leaders are living in sin
A fourth reason to leave the church is when a church does not discipline those leaders who have sinned. For example, a pastor who has had a sexual affair with anyone other than his wife does not belong in ministry. 1 Timothy 3:2 disqualifies him. Consequently, he should not be in ministry until he can demonstrate to the leadership team that he is again qualified. This will take many years before he should be considered ready to assume some form of ministry. How else can he demonstrate a pattern of life? One month or one year is not enough. Some other sins to be concerned about are gluttony, desire for money, luxurious living, arrogance, or significant financial debt.
Leadership does not deal with sin
The final reason to leave a church is when its leadership will not deal with sin in the congregation – not just the leadership. Matthew 18:15-18 outlines the process commonly called church discipline. In this passage, Jesus teaches that both the congregation and the leadership must be willing to deal with sin. In 1 Corinthians 5 the apostle Paul rebuked an entire congregation for not dealing with sexual sin between a man and his step-mother. It is important to note that he rebuked both the leadership and the entire congregation. If a congregation and its leadership are unwilling to deal with sin, then run.
What To Look For In A Church
On the positive side, here are some guidelines for choosing or staying in a church.
The church needs to be on fire for the Lord Jesus. Some churches are looking back over their shoulders at the years when their church was dynamic and growing. Now their church may not be growing and may even be decreasing in size. They may have a wonderful church building, successful leaders from the world, and a radio or a television ministry. But these are not the marks of God’s ideal church.
Ultimately, God is looking for biblically qualified leaders who are eagerly seeking an intimate relationship with Jesus, and as a result are shepherding the men and women in the church. One of the most significant functions of the leadership team is that they are good Bible teachers and they are teaching. The leadership team is training men and women to be the future leaders in the church. They are seeking to train others who will eventually take over their ministries. That is true discipleship. Otherwise, the training is merely book study and empty activity without any fulfillment.
If you decide that the men and women who left the church did so for good reasons and if the conditions are the same today, then I would encourage you to start looking for a good church using the guidelines above. Every church is different, even within denominations since the pastor and the leadership team are different. The quality of the leadership and what is taught or not taught are key indicators whether the Holy Spirit is actively working in the church. When error is taught and the leadership is unqualified, the Holy Spirit will not be very effective in the lives of the people. But when men and women desire to live godly lives, submit to the Holy Spirit, faithfully teach and obey the Word of God, and seek an intimate relationship with Jesus, great things will happen.
How do I know which church to attend?
Who are the elders? Are they pastors?
I need help teaching the congregation about leadership.
What are the pastor’s duties to a church?
God’s Great Passion
A Call: Teach The Bible
God’s Design For The Church
Marks of Spiritual Maturity
Recovering the Pattern of Biblical Leadership
Sinning Pastors/Leaders: What to Do?
Thoughts On Selecting A Pastor
Women In The Church