Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Church Leadership Qualifications: Biblical or Pragmatic?

Originally published February 21, 2017

leadership-1959544_1280

When it comes to leadership positions in the church we often get ourselves into unnecessarily sticky situations because we put practical considerations – who is available, who is most talented, who is willing, etc. – above biblical qualifications.
When we fill a position of leadership or responsibility at church we first go to Scripture to find out if the person we’re considering for the position is biblically qualified to hold it. Practical considerations come second. A few examples:

1.

An elder or deacon just died and the church needs someone to replace him. The first place you go is 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and you start by weeding out the men who don’t fit those qualifications. It doesn’t matter how willing they are or how great of a job they would do or what kind of connections they have or how much money they could bring into the church, they have to meet the biblical qualifications first.

2.

Your church is located near a neighborhood full of Chinese immigrants, most of whom don’t speak English. Someone comes up with the commendable, Great Commission-honoring idea to start a Bible study to reach out to the men and women of this community. The only person in your church who speaks Chinese is a woman, so she’s the natural choice to teach the class, right?

Wrong. We start with the biblical qualifications for teachers, and one of them (1 Timothy 2:12) is that women are not to teach men. She could certainly teach (assuming she is able to teach – language alone doesn’t make someone a good teacher) a women’s class, or a male could teach the class in English and she could translate, or a man could take the time to learn Chinese before the church begins offering the class, or if there is a Chinese man in the class who is able to teach, he could teach the men and she could teach the women. But the woman doesn’t teach a co-ed class herself because Scripture forbids this.

3.

A young couple starts attending your church. After a few months, they step up and say they’d like to sing on the worship team. They’ve both got great voices and would radically improve the quality of the music on Sunday mornings. As you chat with them about joining the team, you find out they’re living together (unmarried). They’re both well aware that this is sin, but disagree with what the Bible says about adultery and fornication and have no intention of repenting, marrying, or moving out. Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 are quite clear that people who continue in rebellion after being called to repent are not even to be members of the church, let alone lead in worship.

Remember that the practical way is not always God’s way. Remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). Remember that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12). Remember when Saul did what was good in his own eyes instead of obeying God’s word (1 Samuel 15). Remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu when they conducted worship their own way instead of God’s way (Leviticus 10:1-6).

Obeying God’s word is not always easy, practical, or convenient, but it is always best, biblical, and blessed.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: My “Christian” Family Member Bears Rotten Fruit

Originally published October 24, 2016

mailbag

I have a family member, *Fran, who claims to be a Christian, but follows several major false teachers, drinks, habitually lies, is very proud, boastful, and manipulative. She has been shown that these teachers are false but chooses to follow them anyway.

Should I treat her as though she were a sister in Christ by going to her and rebuking her and going through the “disciplinary” steps in hopes of reconciliation? Or should I go about it as if she weren’t a sister in Christ?  I have been praying for her and for wisdom for myself to handle this in a God honoring way.
(*Name changed)

It’s always difficult to watch a loved one choose sin over Christ and false doctrine over sound doctrine. Praying for Fran and for God’s wisdom and guidance are the first and best step.

You’ve asked about “going through the ‘disciplinary’ steps in hopes of reconciliation.” I believe what you’re referring to here is the process described in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

This is the basic outline Christ has given us for disciplining sin in the local church. One thing to notice about that last step is that if the person sinning does not listen to the church, the church is to excommunicate (remove, or disfellowship) him from membership and regard him as someone who is lost and in need of the gospel. This brings us to the question of whether Fran is a member of your church or another church. A church obviously can’t excommunicate someone who isn’t a member of that church. This helps us to see that each local body is responsible for disciplining its own members.

If Fran is a member of your church, then, yes, the steps in the Matthew 18 passage should be applied. The wisest course of action, especially if you’ve never done something like this before, is to seek the counsel of your pastor or an elder as to the best way to approach Fran and handle the meeting. Set aside some one on one time to talk to Fran, and be sure you listen to her as well. Part of that one on one meeting is for you– to make sure you are correctly assessing the situation, not, for example, reacting to a rumor you heard, a misunderstanding of an incident, etc. Lovingly and humbly point her to the Scriptures she has transgressed. Pray with her if she is willing.

After that initial meeting, give her some time to consider what you’ve said and to respond to the Holy Spirit’s work in her heart. Check back in with her at a later date and find out if she has repented. If not, prayerfully gather two or three others Fran likes and respects and repeat the process. If she still doesn’t repent, take those two or three people, meet with your pastor or the appropriate elder, and seek his guidance on the next step to take.

You didn’t specify in your e-mail, but it sounded as though Fran is not a member of your church. In this case, you really don’t have any ecclesiological redress (i.e. excommunication) to back you up. What you have is a family member who appears to be a false convert because she is bearing the fruit of someone who is unsaved rather than the fruit of someone who is saved.

I would again encourage you to meet with your pastor, an elder, or a godly, older, spiritually mature woman at your church for counsel as to the best way to proceed. It might be possible to carry out the first two steps of the process simply as an act of love and concern, considering what steps you would take in your personal relationship with Fran if she refuses to repent. First Corinthians 5:9-13 is a good passage to study as you consider this situation:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

This passage is also written to the church body regarding church discipline, but we can glean from it, as well as from the Matthew 18 passage, that there is to be some noticeable degree of separation between Christians and individuals who call themselves Christians yet unrepentantly persist in sin.

As you mentioned, the whole point of lovingly confronting someone you care for about her sin is to – for the good of her own soul – point her back to Christ so that she may first be reconciled with Him through repentance and forgiveness, and then be reconciled with her church family and others. Two good Scriptures to remember and take to heart when we have no other choice but to approach a sinning sister are:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2

It can be difficult, painful, and embarrassing to hear someone tell you you’re in sin. Put yourself in that sister’s shoes. Treat her as kindly and mercifully as you would want someone to treat you. We never confront another in her sin with the motive of shaming, punishing, seeking revenge, or proving her wrong and ourselves right. That is not the gospel. It is not how Christ treats us when we sin. If she repents when you approach her, forgive and rejoice with her in the good work Christ has done in her heart.

Additional Resources:

What is Excommunication in the Bible? at Got Questions

What does the Bible say about church discipline? at Got Questions

A Church Discipline Primer at 9 Marks

In Order that You May Know at Grace to You


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Basic Training, Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

It’s a disturbing trend that’s spreading like the plague, especially among women who claim to be believers:

“I’m a Christian but I refuse to attend church.”

These aren’t women who can’t attend church due to health reasons, caring for an ill or disabled loved one, who have no other choice but to work on Sundays, or who live in an area with no reasonably doctrinally sound church to attend. They’re women who could get plugged in to a decent local church, but intentionally shun the body of Christ.

Usually, the decision to opt out of church boils down to one of two scenarios: a) a believer who was hurt by a previous church and yet isn’t ready to risk being hurt again or b) someone (often a false convert) who doesn’t grasp the concept that being joyfully joined to a local body of believers is part of what defines someone as a Christian.

I can tell some of y’all have already fired up your e-mail programs or mentally formulated a corrective comment. Hang on, and please read what I’m about to say so we’re all on the same page here. I am not saying, have never said, and will never say that attending church, joining a church, serving at a church, or being baptized into a church is what saves a person, even in part. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Everybody with me? Scripture is clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that good works, such as church attendance, play zero part in a person’s salvation.

What I am saying is that one of the signs, or fruits, that someone is already saved is that she has a heartfelt love and affection for the things of God, which includes the gathering of the saints for fellowship, worship, encouragement, and edification. For a believer, love for the bride of Christ is a natural extension of loving Christ, Himself. She doesn’t have to be talked into attending church; there’s no place on earth she’d rather be.

We’ve all been in difficult situations with difficult people at church that can hurt, sometimes deeply – believe me, I’ve been there – and can leave us in need of taking a few Sundays off to recover, or possibly the need to change to a healthier church. But if you’ve harbored antipathy toward the church, as a whole, for years, have never taken joy in fellowshipping and worshiping with fellow believers, don’t see any particular need for gathering with the Body, or are generally apathetic in your attitude toward church, you’re in a very dangerous place, spiritually, and you need to question your salvation. Those are symptoms of being lost, not fruit of being saved.

For Christians, being joined to a local church is not optional and non-negotiable. Why?

1. God Says So

Just in case the entirety of the Bible isn’t clear enough that God wants His people meeting together for fellowship, worship, and the Word, He says so very bluntly in Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The HCSB puts it this way: “not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do,” and NASB says: “not forsaking our own assembling together.” God says we are not to neglect, stay away from, or forsake, the meeting of the church body. For anyone who claims to be a Christian, that reason alone ought to be good enough. When God tells us to do something, we do it. Period.

2. The Church is God’s Plan for Christians

God doesn’t need or want your help devising the best methodology for your life and growth as a Christian. He already has a plan. He already established that plan. That plan is the church. There’s no plan B or any cafeteria-style options. If you’re a Christian, God’s plan for you is to be a faithful part of a local body of believers. The Bible never suggests that it’s OK for you to be a “Lone Ranger Christian.” There are no explicit statements to this effect, nor even one example of a New Testament Christian who lived life apart from the church. The New Testament assumes Christians will be part of a church. If not, the majority of Matthew through Revelation would be moot. If you reject the church, you’re rejecting God’s word and His way in favor of your own way.

3. Jesus Values the Church

You claim to love and follow Jesus, right? Well, Jesus founded the church. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus loves the church. Jesus died for the church. Jesus is the Savior of the church. Jesus nourishes, cherishes, and sanctifies the church. How could anyone claim to love and follow Jesus and yet cavalierly toss aside something He values so much that He laid His life down for it? If you really love Jesus, you’ll value the things He values, and, clearly, He values the church.

4. Being Joined to the Church Is an Indicator of Salvation

First John 2:18-19 makes no bones about it. Forsaking the church is an indicator that you’re not saved:

…now many antichrists have come…They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Want to make it plain that you’re not of Christ? Step one is to leave the church.

5. The Church is the Dispensary for the Word and the Ordinances

The preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In order to preserve their purity and sanctity, God established a hierarchical structure of ecclesiastical authority and placed the responsibility for administering Scripture and the ordinances with the church, not isolated individuals. Do we have women’s Bible studies and Sunday School classes? Of course. But only under the oversight of our pastors and elders, as an outflow of, and in keeping with, the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Do we share the gospel with the lost we encounter during the week? You bet! Our churches enable us to do so by training us in the Word, and we bring new believers back to our churches so that they may be discipled.

6. The “One Anothers”

Love one another. Comfort one another. Forgive one another. Serve one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Have you ever stopped to think which people “one another” is referring to? It’s easy to see when you look at these verses in context. It’s our brothers and sisters in Christ. All of the New Testament “one anothers” are written to the church. You need brothers and sisters to minister the “one anothers” to you, and your brothers and sisters need you to minister the “one anothers” to them. We cannot properly carry out the “one anothers” outside the church because they were meant to be practiced first and foremost within the church.

7. Sheep Need Shepherds

The Bible often uses sheep as a metaphor for God’s people. And since we know that God is the author of Scripture, we know God handpicked that metaphor to describe us. Ever notice that God never describes a sheep wandering off on its own as though that were a good thing?

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
Isaiah 53:6a

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
Psalm 119:176a

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:36

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
Matthew 18:12

Sheep who leave the flock to make their own way in the world are in danger from wolves, the pitfalls of sin, and any number of other perils, especially the trials and tragedies of life. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received from distraught Christian women in dire personal circumstances who desperately need pastoral counsel. Sadly, when I tell them I’m not equipped to help them with such a complicated problem from so far away and that they need to make an appointment with their pastor for one on one, face to face counseling, the response is often, “I haven’t been going to church. I don’t have a pastor.”

We need the protection of the sheep pen, the brotherhood of the flock, and the leadership of our shepherds, our pastors, to help guide us. God knew we needed those things. That is one reason He established the church and created the position of pastor. Christ is our Good Shepherd, but until He returns, He has appointed godly men to watch over and protect the flock in His absence:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
John 21:15-17

And he gave…the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Ephesians 4:11-12

So I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:1-4

You can’t shepherd yourself. That internet pastor you listen to – even the most doctrinally sound one – can’t shepherd you. You need to be part of a flock led by a shepherd who knows you and cares for your soul.

Do you take joy in gathering regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ for worship, the Word, the ordinances, building one another up, and serving one another? If not, the solution is not to leave the church altogether. The solution is to examine your heart against Scripture to discover whether or not you’re truly saved, and then to find a healthy church you can pour yourself into. Christ has given believers the local church as a blessing and a benefit, not a burden and a bore. Love and embrace this precious gift He has lavished on you.


Additional Resources

Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly 

7 reasons worshipers need the church at The Cripplegate

Mailbag #49: Home Groups Over Church at 9Marks

My Jesus, I Love You; Your Bride I Despise! at Reformation21

Why You May Be Tempted To Neglect Your Church by Tim Challies

Five Essential Reasons for Christians to Gather in Public Worship at Ligonier

Prioritize Your Church by Tim Challies

Is a “Churchless Christian” an Oxymoron? at Ligonier

The Plight of Churchless Christians at The Cripplegate

40 reasons to be part of a local church at The Cripplegate

Church Attendance Is Not Optional on the G3 Podcast

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Should I Join a Church Pastored by a Loved One?

 

We are just coming out of a non denominational church environment, and we’re so excited to have found a new, doctrinally sound church. However, my son-in-law is the assistant pastor. Is it wise to consider joining a church where your son-in-law is in a pastoral position? I am concerned as this may be crossing boundaries in some respects and I’m wondering if we would be better to seek out another church.

I suspect a lot of people might wonder if it’s a good idea to join a church where their close family member is the pastor, minister of music, or in another pastoral leadership position, so this is a great question to tackle.

Naturally, when we have a decision to make, the first thing we do is to find out what Scripture has to say about the issue. It would be so much easier to answer this question if the Bible clearly said, “Thou shalt/shalt not join a church pastored by a relative,” but, as with so many other specific scenarios, God’s Word doesn’t really address this issue. We have to pray and ask God for wisdom and guidance as we seek to make the most godly decision possible:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Basic Training: 8 Steps to Finding God’s Will for Your Life

There’s no “one size fits all” answer to this question. A lot of it is going to depend on your particular relationship to your particular family member, which position he holds in the church, and how spiritually healthy the church is. But mostly, it will depend on whether God is truly leading you to this specific church or not.

If this is the only doctrinally sound church available to you, join it. Sound doctrine is more important than potential family issues.

If it’s a strong, healthy church, you have a solid, loving, relationship with your loved one on staff, and you’re convinced through wisdom, prayer, and circumstances that it’s God’s desire that you join this church, then go the direction God is leading you and join it.

Having been a member of a couple of churches in which a pastor’s extended family were members of the church, and even when extended family members simply attend the same church together and none of them are on staff, I would encourage you to think about the following points and sit down with your daughter and son-in-law and have an open and honest discussion about these things and how they might be handled. A sit-down meeting like this will help give you more insight as to whether or not you should join the church:

•What are your daughter’s and son-in-law’s thoughts about you and your husband joining this church? Would they be uncomfortable in any way with you joining the church? Encourage them to be completely honest about concerns and problems they foresee arising, and lovingly hear them out.

•Honestly and objectively consider the emotional and personality dynamics of your relationship with your daughter and son-in-law. Would your son-in-law feel tempted to make church decisions that would please you rather than following God’s leading or the pastor’s direction to do something else? Would you be tempted to be critical or manipulative with your son-in-law if you didn’t agree with his decisions? Could you graciously submit to your daughter’s leadership (without trying to tell her what to do) if she were leading the area of ministry you were working in? Ministry is hard enough without the added pressure of trying not to offend a family member, especially a parent.

•Recall or imagine the worst thing you’ve ever seen or know of happening in a church. Now imagine that happening in this church with you, your husband, your daughter, and son-in-law as members of the church, and your son-in-law in a position of leadership. What would be the impact on your familial relationships with one another?

•What’s going to happen to your personal relationship with your daughter and son-in-law if a problem arises in the church and you’re on opposite sides of the issue? What if it’s such a huge problem you and your husband have to leave the church? How will that affect your family?

•One thing I have always encouraged pastors’ wives to do is to have at least one good, godly friend outside the church she and her husband serve. That way, she has someone who’s not personally involved with the church who can pray for her, offer her objective counsel, and with whom she can freely share her burdens. Your son-in-law needs that too. Consider whether you and your husband could be a greater support and godly counsel to your daughter and son-in-law by not joining their church.

•If you decide to join the church, are there any “ground rules” that either you and your husband or your daughter and son-in-law feel would be beneficial to your relationship as family members, as church members, and as assistant pastor to church members? It may be helpful to discuss these, write them out for clarity, and agree to them before you join the church.

•Bear in mind that any negative situation that might happen in the future is not something you can foresee right now. Even if something nasty does end up happening in the church it doesn’t necessarily mean you were wrong in deciding to join the church. God may put you in this church specifically for the purpose of being a biblical example and influence in that future situation that He knows is coming, even if it’s extreme enough to cost you your relationship with your daughter and son-in-law. Our calling as Christians is not to maintain family relationships at all costs, but to follow and obey Christ and His Word no matter the cost. Will you – and they – be able to do that if you join this church?

•Remember that the final decision on this issue is up to your husband, and God calls you to graciously submit to whatever he decides.

Pray and discuss these things with your daughter and son-in-law, and ask God to lead you and your husband to a wise decision.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: How to Leave a Church

 

What is the biblical way to leave a church?

This is a great question that I’ve received from several readers. There are a lot of different circumstances that might cause someone to leave her church, and there are right ways and wrong ways to leave. I’ve been so grateful to hear from women who want to handle things biblically.

First, a couple of words of counsel that generally apply to nearly all situations when you’re considering leaving a church:

•In most circumstances, even bad ones, I would counsel against “ghosting” your church – simply disappearing with no explanation or goodbyes to anyone. When you’re preparing to leave, as appropriate to your particular situation, tell your pastor how much he has meant to you. Say a special goodbye to dear friends. Speak words of encouragement to your leaders and teachers. Search your heart for anyone you may have sinned against, repent, and apologize. Leave graciously.

•If you’re married, you and your husband will need to talk and pray together about whether or not to leave and how to do so. Be sure to remember that your husband is responsible for making the final decision and you are responsible for submitting to him.

Let’s talk about some of the more specific reasons you might have to leave a church, and what it would look like to leave well in each situation.

Death

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and you die unexpectedly, you’re off the hook. It’s OK to “ghost” your church. :0)

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and have a terminal illness, use some of your remaining time (if you’re able) to make a gracious exit. Take some time for special goodbyes. Discuss your funeral service and details with your pastor if applicable. Consider leaving a gift to your church in your will.

Moving or Temporarily Relocating

If you’re moving too far away to continue attending your church, let your pastor and those you’re close to at church know.

Do you know your new address and/or e-mail address? Provide it to the church office if you’d like them to keep sending you the church newsletter and any other mailings, and let them know if it’s OK to give that information out to other church members who would like to stay in touch. Make sure you have correct phone numbers and e-mail addresses for church friends you want to stay in contact with. If you’re not yet connected to a church in your new hometown, ask your pastor if he can suggest a good church in the area.

For those who are temporarily relocating (for example, college students or military families) and want to keep your membership in your home church, yet be active members of a church in your new location, find out if your new church has any sort of dual membership option (sometimes called “watchcare”). This allows you to maintain your membership in your home church while giving you membership benefits (voting, teaching, communion, or whatever your new church’s policies are) in your new church.

Switching from a good church to a church that’s a better fit for your family

Maybe the church you’ve been attending is a good one, but you’ve recently become more Reformed in your soteriology and you’d like to join another church in town that you more closely align with, theologically. Perhaps there’s a nearby church that has started offering programs and accommodations your disabled child could benefit from that your current church isn’t equipped to offer. Maybe, though doctrinally sound, your current church has switched to a genre of music that, even after giving it a good faith effort, still grates on you to the point of distracting you from worship, but another local church has music you’re more in harmony with.

None of these are reasons you absolutely have to leave a church. In fact, if your church is teaching sound doctrine, and the reason you’re considering leaving is a matter of preference or convenience, I would encourage you to try to work things out and stay at your current church if at all possible. It might be that God would have you start programs and accommodations for the disabled at your current church, or that He will begin to use the new music style in your life in some way. At the very least, when it comes to non-doctrinal issues like these, give it plenty of time, prayer, and serious thought before you leave.

Talk to your pastor (or appropriate elder) when you start thinking about leaving. This should not be an “If you don’t change X,Y, and Z, we’re outta here!” type of conversation. Be kind. Express your concerns or needs lovingly and biblically. Find out if there’s any information you need to know that would affect your thoughts about leaving. For example, maybe the pastor has also started becoming more Reformed and needs you to stay and support him as he begins transitioning the church in that direction. Maybe a lot of other church members have expressed discomfort with the new direction the worship music has taken and the leadership is considering changes that would make it easier for you to stay. You never know until you discuss it with your pastor.

If you come to the decision that you really need to move to another church, talk with your pastor again and let him know your decision. Take care of all of your church responsibilities before leaving: if you’re teaching a class with a definite end date, finish it. If you’re teaching a permanent class, let whoever is in charge of securing teachers know when you’ll be leaving so a new teacher can be found. Wrap up any projects or turn them over to the appropriate person. Resign any positions you hold. Don’t leave your brothers and sisters in the lurch.

When you say your goodbyes, it’s not necessary to disclose to everyone every detail of your reasons for leaving, but, if possible, try to stop any gossip before it starts by making sure people understand you’re not leaving because of someone else’s sin, unresolved conflict, false teaching, etc.

Leaving due to sin or false doctrine

The chairman of deacons is having an affair and nothing has been done about it. Your pastor just finished Bill Johnson’s book and is starting to teach New Apostolic Reformation false doctrine. Women have been preaching from time to time on Sunday mornings.

The most crucial time not to simply disappear from your church is when there’s sin or false doctrine in the camp. Jesus and the Apostles did not handle sin and false doctrine by avoiding it or ignoring it. They loved the people committing the sin and teaching the false doctrine enough to confront them – sometimes harshly, if needed – so that they might repent and be reconciled to Christ. We don’t run. We reconcile.

Just as God placed Esther in exactly the right position at the right time to help rescue His people, it could be that God has placed you in your church and given you a biblical understanding of the situation for such a time as this.

In cases of both sin and false doctrine, you should usually* follow the steps for church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-20:

1. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (15)

2. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (16)

3. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. (17a)

4. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (17b)

(*If you have knowledge that someone is imminently about to commit sin, especially if that sin will victimize someone else, and time is of the essence, gather the appropriate leaders and/or church members and intervene immediately. If a crime has been committed, alert law enforcement.)

In my article, The Mailbag: How should I approach my church leaders about a false teacher they’re introducing?, I’ve outlined some steps to take when approaching your pastor or lay leaders about using materials authored by false teachers. Most of this information can be adapted for dealing with issues of sin and church discipline as well.

If the sin or false teaching issue is resolved biblically, praise God, forgive, do whatever you’re able to do to be at peace with all involved, and stay at your church if at all possible.

If you have done everything you’re able to do to help bring about a biblical resolution to the situation and the sin or false doctrine is being allowed to continue, it’s probably time to leave and find a spiritually healthy church. Talk to your pastor or elders, and let them know you’ve decided to leave and why.

Attempt to leave as graciously as possible, taking care of your teaching/serving responsibilities, saying goodbye, making arrangements to stay in touch with friends, etc.

You will need to prayerfully consider the biblically appropriate way to explain to fellow church members and leadership why you’re leaving. Don’t slander people, make an unnecessary scene, or disclose inflammatory details indiscriminately on your way out, including on social media. However, it may be a situation in which those left behind need to know what’s going on so they can make an informed decision about how to address the situation or whether to stay or leave themselves. It may be appropriate to write out a calm, objective, scripturally annotated letter explaining your reasons for leaving, and mail or hand deliver copies of it to the appropriate people. You might need to talk to the denominational leadership board or organization that oversees your church. There are so many different possible scenarios it would be impossible for me to make a blanket statement as to what would or would not be biblically wise and appropriate in every single situation.

 

No matter your reasons for leaving your current church, your search for a new church to join with needs to begin as soon as you’ve made the decision to leave. If you need some help, ask your pastor or trusted Christian friends for suggestions of good churches, or explore the Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the sin of staying out of church, because for the Christian, Church is Not Optional. And that’s Non-Negotiable.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.