GUEST POST from Jason Helopoulos

“What right do you ever have to leave a church?” I can remember that question being asked by my ecclesiology professor in seminary. It is a good question and one that would benefit us all to wrestle with. As Kevin has recently pointed out on this blog, there is biblical warrant and there are practical reasons for entering into covenant through local church membership. Having entered into that covenant our breaking of it should never be done lightly. Clearly, there are reasons to leave a local church. But what are they? I have been thinking about this for the past ten years and this is my attempt at answering the question:

Good Reasons for Moving On—The Four P’s

1. Providential moving—If my job, family, or life has moved me from Dallas to Austin then I should probably find a local church in Austin, let alone if I moved from Michigan to North Carolina. It is right and good to belong to a local church and covenant with brothers and sisters in my own “backyard.”

2. Planting another church—It may be that I haven’t left my home town, but the church I belong to has decided to send me out with others to plant another church in the area. Notice though, that I am being sent out by my church, not leaving with a group of people because I am disgruntled or think it is a good idea.

3. Purity has been lost— It may take different forms, but primarily this occurs when the Word is no longer proclaimed. It could be that heresy is being taught, the Bible is never read or preached, or a much more prominent manifestation these days is that the Word is no longer seen as sufficient; it is used as a seasoning for the message of the week rather than the diet by which the congregation is fed and nourished upon. However, we must be careful here; patience should always be exercised and I must always test my own heart to see if I am “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

4. Peace of the church is in jeopardy due to my presence— This “reason” is hard to suggest for fear of it being abused, as it is by far the most subjective “reason.” However, there are cases where an individual/family can personally become a hindrance to the ministry of the local church and it is best for that person/family to move-on. If this is the reason I am contemplating leaving the church, then I must first test myself and discern whether it is because of sin on my own part. If that is the case then I must be quick to repent rather than move-on. This “reason” should always be approached with trepidation,

Possible Reasons for Moving On – The Three S’s

1. Spouse—An unbelieving or non-church attending spouse is not willing to attend this church, but will attend another with you.

2. Special Needs—Every family has special needs, so this one needs to be handled with care. A possible example may be that my family has a disabled child and another faithful church in the area has a wonderful ministry to disabled people which can help us.

3. Special Gifts—Another faithful church in the area may have asked for you to use your special gifts in their midst for the building up of the body (i.e. organist). Never decide this one on your own. If it is a possible reason, then it is too easy to think too highly of oneself and go running to the greener pastures. This is always something that should be taken to the leadership of your current church and wrestled through.

Reasons Often Used Which are Insufficient

1. Children’s Ministry—The Children’s ministry at another church is better. This cannot be a reason for changing churches. It is rather an opportunity for you to get involved in the children’s ministry of your church.

2. Buzz—Many people will flow to whatever church in town has the current “buzz.” The argument will be that the Spirit is at work there and we want to be part of it. But buzzes come and go. And so do the people that follow them.

3. Youth Group—The unhappiness of our teenage children in the current Youth Group, because of activities, other youth, etc. is not a reason for leaving the church we have covenanted with. I know this one will be controversial. Believe me, I have empathy as a parent and a former Youth Pastor. But our children are not the spiritual directors of our home. They should not be choosing the church we attend based upon their social status and network.

4. Church has changed—Churches always change. Unless the changes are unbiblical than we don’t have a reason to move on. We don’t move on when our wife or husband changes! We are we so quick to do so with the church we have covenanted with.

5. New Pastor—A new pastor is not a sufficient reason to change churches. It doesn’t matter how stiff, impersonal, unfunny, etc. he is. The list is endless. It doesn’t even matter if he is not the most interesting preacher. He is the man God called to this church for this time. And this is your church. Again, unless he is unbiblical why move on? You haven’t covenanted with a man, but with this body.

6. I’m Not Being Ministered to—I tell every one of our new member classes, “If we all walked into church each week and had a list of people we were going to try and ‘touch,’ encourage, or minister to, do you know how dynamic this church would be? Just on Sunday mornings, let alone if we did it during the week. If we each were concerned about the other person and walked in each Sunday with that in the forefront of our mind instead of, “Why didn’t he talk to me?,” “Why doesn’t anyone care about me?,” “Why isn’t anyone ministering to me?” Start ministering to others and you will find that you are being ministered to.

7. Music—Not a reason—whether it is slow, fast, traditional, contemporary, Psalms, hymns, or gospel choruses. Stop using it as an excuse!

8. There are others…we haven’t even mentioned the service is too early, the coffee is terrible, the pastor doesn’t know how to shuck corn (Yep…those are all true ones I have heard).

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Comments:


129 thoughts on “Jason Helopoulos on Good Reasons for Moving On”

  1. Rolf Storz says:

    One good reason for leaving a church would be if the pastor departed from the fundamentals of the faith (divine inspiration of the Scriptures, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, salvation by faith through grace.) That would immediately cause my departure, after having confronted the pastor on the issue and consulted with the other spiritual leaders of the church.

  2. Mary Smith says:

    Another reason to leave a church is if the church preaches ministry but doesn’t support the ministries. It becomes difficult for the individual to support a ministry themselves. God has placed the church here for just a time as this. We are to be God’s hands and feet to reach outside the church. We are not to stay souly focused on the church body. Others parish when the church stays inside their 4 walls. It’s sad to be part of a church that is souly focused on what they can do for their pastor, instead of what they can do for the lost in their community.

  3. Mary Smith says:

    One thing we tend to forget in all this is that “we” are the church. We’re the only bible someone may ever read. Use me dear God!!

  4. wissli says:

    Jason: You did not even touch on so many things in this article. One of which is abusive leadership. When people go behind your back, accuse you to the pastor,leadership puts you on trial without giving you a chance to defend yourself and then sentences you. In addition to this you are slandered in front of a group of people. Even though you try to meet with leadership to resolve issues, there is never an apology of admittance of wrong doing on the part of the leadership. Leadership takes money raised for a certain cause and even though that money is designated for that cause and promised before the congregation to be donated to that cause,the promise is never followed through with and the money goes elsewhere. What then?? Maybe you are assuming that all pastors who preach the Word and have their morals in order are otherwise above board and full of integrity. Not so.

  5. cheryl Leigh says:

    I didn’t see ‘church split’ as a reason, but it is valid. Also missing are ‘unhealthy control’ over members or leaders. When a church becomes too institutionalized, the reasons for leaving can be the same as for a career change. Many churches are run on the same construct as a business (see “Unchurched Harry and Mary’, by Lee Strobel in how he asserts they view a church), or a nation-wide model construct (Willow Creek) that may not fit every community of believers. To over-spiritualize the issue is not to do it justice. We do not belong to cults, but to the church of ‘our choice’, and as adults, we are capable of making such choices. The point is to be in church, and to offer service to the body of Christ in whatever capacity we can.

  6. Patricia says:

    I would be interested in see Biblical citations in this article to back up the principles for leaving and not leaving a church. I never noticed the Bible was so specific about regulations of attending a certain church.
    I don’t think leaving a church should ever be taken lightly or done hastily, and there are bad reasons for leaving a church, like sin, etc. There are also instructions in the Bible about being in fellowship and some basic do’s and don’ts of how churches should be run. But I never saw anything so specific as this article mentions.
    This article seems to really box things in, and over simplify things, and in reality things are not always that simple. It also seems to put a little bit of a trip on people who have decided to leave a church for a “bad” reason, and some of those reasons on the “bad” reasons list are not really “bad” reasons all the time. There is not very much allowance for a leading of the Holy Spirit, and I don’t mean someone who is wishy washy using that as an excuse, but a true, sincere leading where a person has thoroughly sought God’s will and prayed over.

  7. Noralee Jane Jones says:

    Some of these responses have obvious biblical support even though the contributors don’t cite chapter and verse. For us, it was a 5 year journey of many, many Scriptures and teaching by the Spirit that, along with clear direction, clarified the reasons, the way and the time we were to depart. Being on staff, it was as serious to us as perhaps a divorce might have to be for a Christian married to a repeated adulterer/ess – not taken lightly. How many times to forgive when no confession, admission, or desire for forgiveness was ever offered? When no repentance was ever evidenced? When an entire leadership team was so codependent to alcoholism of a senior pastor that none, including those on the board, had courage to expose it or require a stepping down, counseling, or a recovery program, for fear of losing their own positions? In the name of grace, this is the dysfunction that continues there to this day…as many good and fine followers of Jesus have reluctantly moved on. So yes, lots of biblical support backed up our particular decision, as well as the “living”, daily guidance of the Holy Spirit, but to put it all here would require a book.

    I think, for most sincere Jesus followers, leaving a church they loved has always been not flippant, but done in a thoughtful, biblical, prayerful manner. We will all stand before God for our decisions and hearing and following HIM will be the factor that He will be preciding. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will lead us, and guide us into all truth, and that we will need no man to teach us because He Himself will be our teacher. And so long as what He Himself is teaching us does not conflict with the written Word, we are safe and can be secure without fear. Perfect Love, who is Jesus, casts out fear. Religion comes with fear, and it casts out perfect love. We need not fear when the Spirit and the Word agree, for we have the mind of Christ….it comes with the New Creation that is ours by salvation’s gift.

  8. Danielle says:

    Very helpful thank u for this!

  9. Moving on says:

    So… What about a case where the youth group, having always been under questionable leadership, disintegrates, and yet no one in the leadership allows its renewal? What about a case where a family tries for years to help in areas where there is need, and is rebuked for even offering to help? What about when a church is clogged by a few influential, biased, self-important family members who have a stranglehold on the whole thing? Sometimes all the “bad” reasons do add up, and try as you might, there is no getting around them. We are leaving our church of ten years because it is absolutely the right thing to do for the future of our children. And they ARE important enough. Your list of bad reasons has no idea of what it was like in our former church. No matter what is contained in that list, the fact of the matter is simple really: if you are spending the time you set aside to worship the Lord stuck in a pool of hurt because of the church around you, it is no good. Move on.

  10. Nora Lee Jones says:

    To “Moving On”….we regret, most of all, NOT leaving when this very thing was happening to and in the youth group at our church of 13 years, which would have been at the two year mark where we had wound up leading it for most of that time because it floundered so quickly after we started attendance. Then, since we were only “fill ins” and had not been to seminary (but we are college educated), it was handed off to someone who had, who was unqualified in personality and spiritual growth – who took it back to that place of floundering. Our kids attended another nearby youth group for better Bible teaching for a couple years, but remained influenced by the not-so-good one. We LOVED what we were receiving as adults and had been so hungry for more of God, strong relationships for prayer groups, etc., that we put our needs ahead of our kids. I won’t tell you what that cost us, but it is still costing us for three of our five children….it left them weakened. Hindsight is, well. We did leave eventually, after serving 7 years on the leadership team, each of us leading a major area of ministry in the church and seeing good progress in each, for the reasons mentioned in my earlier comments….but I can say with confidence, for our children’s sake, we should have left much much earlier. They ARE that important.

  11. Suzie says:

    This article is disturbing. The author is assuming the ‘don’t leave’ reasons are shallow and self-serving. “Don’t leave because of the music….” When worship turns from God-focused to entertainment-focused, with every imitation of the world possible, RUN (if you choose). It’s presumptuous, even a bit arrogant, for him to think people are leaving a church they have LOVED and served for years just to get away from a song or two they don’t like. Really? You think that about people? That is really just ONE example of how out-of-touch your article represents you are in people who truly want to keep their worship pure, honoring, and holy before our Lord. So many acquaintances and friends have left a church we attended. NONE of them ‘just didn’t like the music’. These were very difficult decisions in what started as spiritual disturbances in being there, followed by prayer, followed by visiting a church where they connected again where they felt they were holy before the Lord.
    Thank the Lord that they did not go through years of thinking like this article, but rather took it to the Lord and let the Holy Spirit lead. Most I know have grown so much spiritually in their new churches.
    As far as covenant, covenants are not one-sided. Leadership cannot abuse their authority by doing and changing whatever they want without being sensitive to those who already there- and expect undying following. It’s a mutual covenant.

    TO AGNES (POST JULY 27, 2010) I am not as old as you (from the perspective you give), but I SAW and have held your generation in my heart as I watched our church transform and kick people like you out of the way. I just couldn’t watch anymore. What happened to people like you is awful. For anyone to question why families would leave and not be supportive of what is happening in some churches is beyond me.

    Take it before the Lord like we did.

  12. Johannes says:

    “Music—Not a reason”

    Ah, so music is not important to a church’s service? God doesn’t deserve to be served musically as well?

  13. JLG says:

    You’re missing the mark on the youth group. As parents, one of your primary jobs is to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That means ensuring they have solid Biblical teaching,role models at church, and other youth whose parents are committed to the same. If the youth group is non existent or worse, is a youth group run by the kids who care more about the world than the church, your children will either assimilate with them and become like them or leave the church as soon as they get the chance.
    On the other hand a church that invests in its youth by seeing there is a good youth pastor or worker in its employ and that the youth are being taught the Bible will attract other families who want this for their children and therefore build a stronger choice. Our youth are the Christians of tomorrow. The youth group is a top priority.

  14. Gramma Tink says:

    Watching an entire leadership.team team and literally hundreds of sheep and lambs be spiritually abused for 13 years before we did anything is our biggest regret. The good news is the team finally mustered courage to confront the abuse and the alcoholism behind it. For doing so, they were all labeled as disgruntled and unforgiving….but there had been no repentance nor even admission to the overwheming number of witnesses and evidence of both abuses. The entire team stepped down after a year of agonizing meetings and attempts to find truth and peace in love. The yes men stayed, and regional leadership backed down after also receiving all the needed testimony for dismissal. Politics won, and the leadership team folk were not good at politics, only at courage, love and prayer. They are my heroes in the faith, gone on to serve faithfully in other congregations, forgiving anyway but knowing when to walk away. You gotta “know when to fold ‘em”….

  15. Not a bad article.

    “7. Music—Not a reason—whether it is slow, fast, traditional, contemporary, Psalms, hymns, or gospel choruses. Stop using it as an excuse!”

    When music takes up sometimes half of the service, it IS a reason regardless of your contention. When the lyrics contain occult references or are non-biblical or are endlessly repetitive, this is not an “excuse.”

    Do you have any scripture to back up this contention? Or is it just one of “your ideas?”

    But by and large, not a bad article.

  16. Mark A Perkins says:

    I am leaving my church because I no longer believe what I used to believe. Through much study of the bible and church history I have changed fundamentally, that is my doctrine. I get to preach and don’t want to cause division. I love my pastor, a kind integress individual. It is very hard for me to do this.

  17. Russ says:

    Wow! I’m sadly amazed at the critical spirit of so many responders to this article. Seems like most are hurt, offended people who haven’t scriptural handled the offense and are therefore airing them public ally to gain support to condone their decision. If your heart is right before God then you would not be mud slinging. This article is not meant to be a complete “how-to” manual on church leaving, just some simple guidelines that can be helpful to some. No one can blame any church or minister for their personal spiritual condition. We should be able to serve God fully even from prison if need be. Can’t blame the youth leaders for our kids apostasy either. That’s our responsibility as parents, not the churches responsibility. Stop blaming and playing the victim and move on in love. Good article. Thank you.

  18. A. Amos Love says:

    Russ

    You say…
    “I’m sadly amazed at the critical spirit of so many responders to this article.”

    Was wondering…
    Why are you being “critical” of those you say have a “critical spirit?” ;-)

    Could it be you that has the “critical spirit?”
    Do you say one thing and do another?
    Mat 23:3 …do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

    You also say…
    “Seems like most are hurt, offended people who haven’t scriptural handled the offense…”

    Was wondering…
    How do you know “most” are hurt, offended? Have you asked them?

    How do you know these many responders did NOT try to handle the offense Scripturally?
    Did you ask them?

    You also write…
    “If your heart is right before God then you would not be mud slinging.”

    Was wondering…
    Are you mud-slinging those you perceive as mudslingers? ;-)

    Could it be your heart that is NOT right with God?

  19. Gramma Tink says:

    Most who have written here appear to be very thoughtful, responsible followers of Jesus who have taken a great deal of time and prayer to make the decision whether or not to leave a church, and I have not read a single “invalid” reason. Jesus walked away from Pharisees wanting to stone Him or hurl Him over a cliff after confronting them. He confronted them because their ways hurt precious people, so of course people who are abused by inferior leadership get hurt….that’s a no brainer. Jesus reminded the Pharisees and Saducees that they held the seat of Moses – i.e., were appointed by God to lead the people of God – then called them names like snakes, hypocrites and liars – in public, in front of their followers! Since we see the Father in action whenever we see Jesus in action, we can know that this behavior was love, because God is love. Love confronts the religious spirit, the spirit of tradition and hypocrisy, and warns others against imitating their beliefs and behavior, just as Jesus did. If the Church would act with this same authority and love, which we have been given through Christ in us, we would have stronger leadership and healthier congregations in some of those churches. Humility and kindness are key to presenting truth that might be difficult to receive. But how and whether it is received, must fall into the hands of God. We will all stand before Him in accountability someday and God is able to make us stand. I trust God in my fellow believers, because no one has a bigger or smaller Holy Spirit than another; my experience is that most want to support leadership with their love and their lives in service, for as long as God would have them do so. I have suspected or known less than a handful of people who have left a church for a shallow reason, (though we have all probably known some who have left so that they could pursue or remain in some sin like spiritual pride, addiction or adultery).

  20. Tyrone says:

    Your answer for insufficient on “children’s ministry” is typical pastor speak. If sufficient children’s ministry is missing or lacking it does not mean we need to do work in it. If we are already working in our gifts in other parts of the church, and are already part of the “core” ( you know, the ten percent doing 90% of the work already) your preaching to the choir and that is the wrong answer. It’s not my job to create a children’s ministry because our church doesn’t have a sufficient one for mine. Especially if they have been neglect, or trying for years (5 or more) without any traction. No, one does not need to be burdened under false pretense that if the church doesn’t minister to your family it’s your job it make it happen, if that were true I would create my own church and not look for one, but then, by that time I wouldn’t need a children’s ministry they would be grown.

  21. Noah Martin says:

    I have a question. Is -opportunity- a legitimate reason? I’m currently in a church where I play bass, but the church is focused mainly on the elderly (which isn’t wrong), the church I want to go to is looking for a bass player and they are also very proactive in ministry, plus bible college I go to is affiliated with them. I don’t want to leave because of the style of music but because this church has nothing going on (I’m not talking about it being popular, I’m saying it’s not proactive).

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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