Spiritual gypsies. Christian nomads. Church hoppers. We all know people who go from one church to another. Some can’t settle at all, and attend a different one each week. Others join one for a season, before taking flight. Maybe you're one. I decided to spend some time giving this some thought. When is it right to leave a church and when is it not?
I’m conscious that I know a lot of Christians from the churches I visit. Readers should be assured that I do not have anyone in mind when I write this. Seriously, if you honestly think I’m writing about you, you flatter yourself and are much very mistaken. If you still think I’m writing about you, maybe the Holy Spirit is engaged in some convicting? I do, however, have a great deal of sympathy for believers who genuinely can’t settle- I have been there. It’s a dry, barren period. Nevertheless, there are good and bad reasons for not settling.
Good reasons to leave a church:
The church is preaching false doctrine. False doctrine is not another way for saying 'opinions different to mine'. There are many Christian beliefs about which evangelical Christians cannot agree, such as the events surrounding Christ's return. On the other hand, there are some Christian doctrines which are non-negotiable such as Christ's resurrection and justification by faith. If your church leadership doesn't subscribe to these and is unwilling to change, get out.
If the church leadership is morally compromised and refuses to repent, or to step down or desist, then a believer should consider departing and shaking the dust off his feet. A pastor who helps himself to the collection should be challenged and dealt with. If instead he glories in his theft and justifies it, have nothing more to do with him.
If you're part of a big church which is well resourced and prospering, it may be that the Lord is calling you to leave. There are corners of His vineyard which struggle for lack of labourers. The harvest there is still ripe, but there are too few folk there to gather it. If this is the case, and having spent time in earnest prayer seeking the Lord's will, consider relocating or planting a new congregation. Only a pastor's pride in having a full church on a Sunday morning would object to people leaving for this reason. A real man of God would give his most fulsome blessing.
Finally, if the spiritual food you are being served is of so poor a quality that your faith stops growing, go to where you're better fed. Sermonettes and homilies are little better than candy floss and toffees- they're nice at the time but offer few vitamins and nourishment. We need to go where our spiritual food is so good that we keep going back for more, and grow spiritually without our even noticing.
Less Good Reasons
So if there are good reasons to leave churches, what about all those brothers and sisters who have joined as many churches as they've had hot dinners for none of the above?
The Israelites were doomed to wander in the wilderness because their sin was such that they could not enter the land of promise. I believe that some church hoppers are similarly under God's judgement because of their wicked hearts. "Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert" (Numbers 14:33). These are real believers, they will access heaven, yet God keeps them in the desert in this life without spiritual home.
These wanderers have been offended by a decision that didn't go their way or a rebuke they received. He ‘wasn’t listened to’ enough or she thought ‘she could have done a better job’ with such and such. They despise the church's leadership knowing that they could have done things much better. They think the church unworthy of them, and move on to another fellowship expecting the recognition they deserve. The cycle then recommences. These folk cannot understand that, having fallen out with lots of fellowships, the problem might in fact lie with them.
God plants it in their heart to move. Of course they think this all along, but God does it for different reasons to what they think. It isn't for their benefit, but for the sake of the church. Their evil hearts only cause grief and heartache; to spare His precious bride, He removes the tumours that so afflict her. When the trouble makers leave, the rest of the church breathes a sigh of relief.
Like Satan, these people masquerade as angels of light. They speak the lingo, they look the part. Deep down in the recesses of their heart, however, there is no evidence of God's grace. They do of course have a form of godliness, but it’s entirely lacking divine origin or power. They are false brethren, unregenerate, clouds without rain and blemishes at the love feast. They do not desire godly fellowship with Christian brethren because they neither recognise it nor have any need for it. They attend church for social and psychological reasons but do not recognise it for what it is- Christ's beloved. By refusing to love and recognise the Groom they despise His bride.
Hebrews 10:25: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.