What I saw from the many comments on my previous post – The Church Isn’t Meeting My Needs – Part 1, was that there are a lot of people who have been deeply wounded by unhealthy churches.
I can relate. I’ve been a Christian for over forty years and I’ve had a few painful church experiences myself.
Sadly, this is nothing new. Churches, like every other institution on the planet, are comprised of people and people are sinners. To borrow from a colloquialism, “Sin happens,” and when it does people get hurt. Churches are no exception.
In fact, drawing from the seven churches of Revelation we see that even the first generation of churches had their issues:
Ephesus = lost their first love
Pergamum = derailed doctrinally
Thyatira = struggled with sexual immorality
Sardis = spiritually dead
Laodicea = lukewarm
Only 2 were praised = Smyrna / Philadelphia
That stands as a sober warning to us today.
Churches that start dynamic can drift to death, and Jesus said that if these churches didn’t get their act together, he was leaving (Revelation 2:5).
Drawing on that precedent, there are cases when a believer should find a new church.
6 Examples of When It’s Time To Find a New Church
1) When the leadership is corrupt, incompetent, or absent, it’s time to find a new church (Jeremiah 10:21; 23:1-4)
Everything rises and falls on leadership.
Unhealthy churches are usually led by unhealthy pastors.When the leadership is corrupt, incompetent, or absent, it's time to find a new church Click To Tweet
The stories of bad shepherds abound. We all know one.
No pastor is perfect. We are a bundle of strengths and weaknesses. Temperament, education, and giftedness can vary, but love, integrity, humility, and authenticity are essential for a shepherd of God’s flock.
When these characteristics are regularly absent, I recommend you find a new church rather than attempting a coup.
2) When the services leave you feeling more joy was drained than gained, it’s time to find a new church (Mark 7:6-8).
Of course, this is highly subjective, but I’m counting on godly believers to use discernment.
We are never called to seek out emotional experiences. We are holistic beings of body, soul, and spirit. Our soul craves a connection with God. Authentic worship should do that.When the services leave you feeling more joy was drained than gained, it's time to find a new church Click To Tweet
Jesus said, “where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). When Jesus is in the house, joy is in the air and it’s palpable.
The gathering of God’s people should resemble a wedding more than it does a funeral. Our services should be a celebration, not a lamentation. Christians have the greatest reason to celebrate. Our Lord has risen, our sins are forgiven and we have a home waiting for us in heaven. That’s good news!
When the worship services feel more like bad news than good news, it’s time to find a new church.
3) When the spirit of the fellowship is cold, cliquish, and closed, it’s time to find a new church (Matthew 23:1-12).
Churches ought to be the most accepting organization on the planet.
Christians are people who are openly admitting that they are a collection of thieves, murderers, sexually immoral, and liars (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). We have no right to look down on anyone. And yet, many of us forget how messed up we were before grace got a hold of us. Pretty soon the clan of the clean becomes the club of the closed, and only the cool kids can get in.When the spirit of the fellowship is cold, cliquish, and closed, it's time to find a new church Click To Tweet
Some people think that the goal of the local church is to make it pure by excluding the riff-raff. Sift out the sinners lest they corrupt the called. Yet the church should be a place of grace where we are all a work in progress.
I believe our weekly services should resemble the Star Wars cantina, where “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Ok, that may be a bit far-fetched, but you get the picture.
When the church becomes a place where “those people” aren’t welcomed, it’s time to find a new church.
4) When the teaching of the church differs from the teachings of the Bible, it’s time to find a new church (Matthew 28:20).
The founding pastor of The Church set the bylaws and constitution for His organization and we don’t have the right to amend them. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear” (Mark 13:31).
The church is founded on the teachings of the Bible. Our creeds, confessions, and statements are all extensions of the Book. At the end of the day, God gets the final Word on all matters of faith and practice.When the teaching of the church differs from the teachings of the Bible, it's time to find a new church Click To Tweet
The problem is that God’s perspective on issues isn’t very popular. His views on marriage, sexuality, money, relationships, authority, and sacrifice, to name a few, don’t exactly match our culture.
Churches have a decision to make when it comes to the truth: convey it or convert it.
When your church does the latter it’s time to find a new church.
5) When the ministry of the church is reserved only for the elite and professionals, it’s time to find a new church (1 Peter 4:10).
Romans 12-14 teaches that every member is a minister and every ministry matters. On God’s team, there is no second string. Some churches are designed where the members are sitting in the stands while the staff are running the plays. Yet, God designed the church to be filled with participators, not spectators.
According to Ephesians 4:11-12, the primary job of church leadership is to equip the people to do their job. What’s their job? Everything else!When the ministry of the church is reserved only for the elite and professionals, it's time to find a new church Click To Tweet
When the role of the people is simply to pray, pay and stay out the way, it’s time to find a new church.
6) Finally, and for me ultimately, when you feel that bringing a lost friend to your church might be an evangelistic setback, it’s time to find a new church (1 Corinthians 14:23)
I remember working hard for two years to build a friendship with someone at my work. Finally, one day, he became open to a conversation about Jesus. After talking for some time, I remember thinking I should invite him to church, but then immediately realized that my church would likely push him away from Jesus rather than move him closer.
I found a new church.When you feel that bringing a lost friend to your church might be an evangelistic setback, it's time to find a new church Click To Tweet
Leaving a church family is a very painful and difficult transition under any circumstance, but especially tough when you are leaving due to an unhealthy environment. I know because I’ve been there.
But let me encourage you that even if you have to give up on your current church, don’t give up on church altogether. That’s like saying because you had a bad experience at a restaurant you’re never eating out again.
With all of the church’s flaws and weaknesses, it’s still the hope of the world. It is God’s chosen instrument for the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. When it’s working right, healthy churches are a beautiful expression of the hands and feet of Jesus.
Don’t let a painful past turn you into a bitter believer (Hebrews 12:15). Let the lessons serve as an inspiration to be the kind of church you want to attend.
Originally written and published on October 28, 2014