When Should I Leave a Church?

When Should I Leave a Church?

A discussion with Sam Allberry, Juan Sánchez, and Afshin Ziafat


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Juan Sánchez: So we wanna think through, often, as a pastor, we’ll get a question, “When is it right to leave a church?” And Sam, you’ve written a little book, “Why Bother with Church?” And you’ve been a pastor. And Afshin, you’re presently a pastor. You’re actually about to send out about a third of your church to plant. How do you answer that question when a church member or maybe someone at another church, where maybe you’re speaking at an event says, “I think I should leave my church. When should I leave a church?”

Sam Allberry: Yeah. I think the way that you phrase the question actually reminds us there are positive and negative reasons to leave a church. If you’re leaving as part of a mission initiative and as a plant, that’s a wonderful reason to leave a church. But either that’s with the right motives or with the blessings of the church. Sometimes, life events mean that we need to, if we’re having to relocate. But I guess, most often we’re asked that question because someone is feeling unhappy with a church. And the question there is what are the legitimate biblical reasons for leaving a church community. And there would be several, I would guess. An obvious one is, if the gospel is not being taught, and not just that you’ve heard it one Sunday, and it just didn’t sound right, but there’s no indication that they’re wanting to teach the scriptures faithfully to promote Christ faithfully, that would be an obvious reason to leave. But there are other areas where it starts to get maybe a bit more nuanced. You can have churches with Gospel doctrine, but which can lack gospel culture. That may be a reason too as well. And again, if you fear that that it’s something that is persistent, that you’ve raised it, that nothing is gonna change, sadly that may be a reason too.

Sánchez: I know you’ve personally traveled to countries that are close to missionary work. And so there’s a big spectrum, isn’t there, from the luxury of the west, where we have a consumeristic approach to churches to places in the Middle East, that they don’t have a choice. It’s not like you can go to church. So how do you help people think through that in the different contexts?

Ziafat: Yeah. And I think with that light, just thinking about maybe also a good question would be when you shouldn’t leave a church. And I would say you shouldn’t leave a church if you just feel like you’re not getting something out of it that you thought you were supposed…like, the consumeristic. It might be that God has called you to wherever that whole is to actually be a part of the solution instead of just bolting. Or I would also say not to leave the church without talking to the elders and expressing whatever the disagreement might be or whatever. Because a lot of times I’ve found people were about to leave the church because they were not happy with a decision, and then when they came and talked to the elders, they realized, “Oh, we didn’t know all this other stuff around the decision.” And so now they stayed. And so I think that’s an important thing. But when to leave the church? I would agree with Sam. If the church stops being a true church, which what is a true church? And that is the right preaching of the word of God, of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments. And so I think, are they preaching the gospel? In Acts, Chapter 20, when Paul says, “I did not shrink back from preaching the whole counsel of God’s word.” And then he says, okay, so why would someone shrink back? He says the false teachers are after drawing away the disciples. So if the teaching is watered down, so as just to get more people to come and not really teaching the whole counsel of God’s word, and…I think that would be key for me. And then when I bring up the sacraments, I would say, the baptism guards, as you know, the front door of the church, making sure that people who are coming and becoming members are truly…have saving knowledge of Christ and are true followers of Christ. And then the Lord’s supper makes sure that we administer church discipline, in the sense of, if someone is not living a repentant lifestyle and putting their evidence in faith in Christ, then you bar them from the table, again, in Matthew 18, as a means of…ultimately, you treat them as an outsider that they would turn back to God. And so I would say with Gospel culture, on that point, that they are making sure the Gospel isn’t just you’re forgiven of your sins, but then that you’re forgiven so that you would pursue righteousness. And so to uphold holiness I think is the key thing.

Sánchez: Yeah. I would also think that a lot matters as to the church leadership, if there is a humility, a teachability, a willingness to learn. Sometimes, someone comes from a different context, they might go to a rural setting, and they can be patient. They can have conversations. They can encourage pastors. They can pray. So let’s, kind of, turn this question around a little bit. And I’m curious to hear from you guys. How would you, as a pastor, encourage someone coming into your church to think about church membership, the necessary for a commitment to a particular local church, where you live?

Allberry: I think it’s a great…I think people arriving and people leaving are both teaching opportunities for church leaders. So if someone is coming from a different social background, different demographic background, different denominational background, I always wanna say, “Listen, you’re gonna notice things that we don’t notice anymore. So please tell us if there’s something you find bizarre, or weird, or uncomfortable, please let us know. There may be a good reason for it, but it may just be that there isn’t, and we’ve not noticed it.” So that can really help you to see your own church with fresh eyes. So I love it when we get people from other denominational backgrounds coming to our church, for that reason.

Sánchez: Yeah. Afshin, do you all have processes of membership in your church, where you’re helping people understand what they committing to. And you find that that makes better church members and help communicate with you all?

Ziafat: Yeah. Absolutely. Well our process is basically, there’s a starting point, where we just really lay out the gospel, which is the foundation of our church. And how the gospel not just is for non-Christians, but for Christians. How it informs the way we live life and do life together. And then after that we have a membership class, where we walk through our statement of faith. And I think when you wanna become a member of a church, you oughta look at the statement of faith and say, “Hey. Can I sign onto that?” And then we have a time for them meet with the elders. And that’s the time for them to ask any questions, or if there’s anything that they’re saying, “Hey. I’m not sure I’m on board with this.” So that I do agree, do that on the front end, so there’s no ambiguity, and they know exactly what they’ve signed on to.

Sánchez: Yeah. I think the membership process is like premarital counseling, in the sense of, you wanna bring everything upfront. You want to help people understand what expectations you have of each other. That the church, what expectations we as pastors have of them. What expectations they should have of us. What we believe. Those things are…I think are helpful to make better church members. To understand the commitments coming in, and we find that it makes for better church members. But then one of the things we actually say upfront is when you leave this church, we want you, as quickly as possible, to join a healthy, gospel church.

Ziafat: Yes.

Sánchez: And we wanna be in conversation and communication all the time because the Christian is not meant to live alone. So thank you for this conversation. It’s been very helpful.

Allberry: Thank you.

Ziafat: Thanks.

There are times when Christians have no choice but to leave their church, such as when they move to a different city. At other times, churches may send members out to help plant a new congregation. But is it ever right to leave a church because you disagree with the leaders or don’t like the music?

Sam Allberry, Juan Sánchez, and Afshin Ziafat sat down to discuss wrong—and right—reasons to leave a church. They consider what steps a church member should take before leaving, such as meeting with elders to humbly discuss their concerns.

You can listen to their conversation or watch a video.

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