Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Today’s question comes from Cheri.  She wrote: “I had a leadership meeting after church [recently] and the pastor talked about the ‘only acceptable reason’ for changing churches. He referenced 1 Corinthians 3:1 – 4:16 (NLT) to back up his statement. Care to comment.  His argument is that as a local church we are a family/community and the entire church is hurt if someone leaves over any issue besides a church not following the bible.”

Good question.  I’ll start by sharing a couple thoughts, and then invite others into the conversation.

I can certainly understand a piece of your pastor’s thinking.  There are some out there these days who treat their association with a local church/faith community very casually.  They think that as long as their relationship with a local church is working for them, they’ll hang around.  The second the relationship fails them in some way, they are out of there.

What such folks fail to realize – picking up on the spirit of the passage you quoted (1 Corinthians 3:1-4:16) – is that their departure has an effect on the community around them.  Relationships are broken … trust can be undermined … and those left behind might be less likely to invest in their relationships in the future – for fear that their hearts (and their spirits!) will be broken when someone else bails on the community.

I believe this is why the Apostle Paul took the approach he did.  Paul was trying to wake up folks and get them to realize your relationship with a local church is NOT only about you.  Becoming a part of a local church means an individual makes a commitment to consider factors other than one’s self interest.  That’s why I believe an individual should NEVER rush to join a local church, or take their membership in a local church lightly.  A person should take their time, investigate the local church, and make sure they know the church’s approach toward faith BEFORE they join.

With that said, are there good reasons why someone might leave a local church?

The answer is, “Absolutely!”

Such as …?

There can be several.  For the sake of time, I’ll focus on just one.

Your pastor, for instance, said “a church not following a Bible”.  I would articulate that sentiment a bit differently.  I believe the primary reason for leaving a local church would be if the church comes to embody a radically different understanding of the faith than you possess.

For instance, I left one local church (and an entire denomination) because it called the sacred value and worth of LGBT persons into question.  Their teaching contradicted my understanding of Jesus’ admonition to “love your neighbor” – as articulated in the 10th chapter of Luke’s Gospel: the passage where Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer the question “who is my neighbor”.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

There are some who would leave a local church for exactly the opposite reason I just gave.  An individual might, for instance, leave a local church for not being aggressive enough in condemning LGBT persons.  The person leaving would say that the church’s openness to LGBT persons violates their understanding of the teaching in the 18th and 20th chapters of Leviticus, for instance.

Ironically in both instances, the people involved feel they are leaving because their local community is not “following the Bible”.

That’s why I believe saying a person can leave a church because the church “is not following the bible” is WAAAAAAAAAY more complicated than your pastor might admit.  I’ve found over the years that when some people say “a church isn’t following the Bible” what they REALLY mean is that the church isn’t following MY understanding/interpretation of the Bible.

With that in mind, I would broaden the conversation by saying a good reason for leaving a local church is that they have adopted “a radically different understanding of the faith than you possess.”  That difference can take different forms (i.e. a church’s commitment to missions, for example, might be radically different than an individual’s).

So what about you?  What do you think?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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1 Response to Should I Stay or Should I Go?

  1. Stevie says:

    Here’s what I think. A faith community should feed a person’s spirit. Should help to enrich our relationship with God. While we should take our commitments seriously, if we don’t feel spiritually connected, we should go.

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