What to do when You’re Sinning

A lot of times when I am going through a time of not caring about much, having a “meh” attitude about life, I slip into some pretty comfortable sins. Perhaps my favorite one is not doing the good I know I ought to do, per James 4:17. I don’t use my time for His purposes…I don’t intentionally invest in people in order to encourage them toward Him…I don’t think of others more highly than myself and act accordingly (Philippians 2:3). I don’t discipline my thoughts or my mouth to think and speak things that honor God.

After a lengthy spell of this self-centeredness, the Holy Spirit breaks through and convicts my hard heart of my wrongdoing. My stubborn self probably won’t admit to other humans that I’ve been sinning, but, I know the Spirit has nailed me…

Usually, what ensues next is an internal debate about how I need to stop myself and do right, but also that I don’t really want to stop and/or I don’t have the will power to stop on my own. Sometimes the excuses win and I stay stuck in my pattern of sin for a while longer. Other times, I respond to the Spirit.

It occurred to me while studying 1 Samuel that I’m probably Jewish. Not nationality-wise, of course. Blond hair and blue eyes are not what you think of when you hear “of middle-eastern descent.” What really occurred to me is I am just like the Israelites in behavior.

In 1 Samuel the Israelites start out as a theocracy. That is, they are governed by God Himself. They have judges/leaders in place to help them through civil affairs and military strategies and whatnot, but, ultimately, those leaders are not leading Israel: God is. The prophets tell the judges what God wants them to do, and the Israelites decide whether or not to do it.

After some pretty amazing military battles in which Leader God miraculously delivers Israel from enemies and grants peace between Israel and rowdy neighbors for the first time in forever, the Israelites decide they don’t want a theocracy anymore. Rather, they want a king–i.e., a human–to lead them (1 Samuel 8:20).

Why? Because they want to keep up with the Joneses. “All the other nations get to have kings, why can’t we?” they whine (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20, Kelly Levatino Translation).

Now, Samuel knows this is a stupid request. So you know what he does? He prays. If that ain’t a lesson in leadership, I don’t know what is. But I digress.

And when Samuel prays, God tells him what to do. Crazy right? Maybe if you and I thought that could still happen today when we pray, we’d pray more often and with more anticipation. But probably not. I digress.

Sam tells the Israelites, “Look, I talked to God, and He says if you guys want a king, you need to know that man is going to oppress the daylights out of you. It’s not going to be good, you guys,” (1 Samuel 8:11-17).

“We don’t care!” the stupid people reply, “We want a king!” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Samuel just shakes his head. He does’t argue with them or call them names or pull his judge card and “overrule” their decision. Instead, you know what he does? That guy prays again! He goes back to God and tells Him what happened (as if He didn’t already know), and God says, “Give them the king they want,” (1 Samuel 8:21-22).

Samuel installs Saul as king, effectively ending his own rule as judge. And as he steps down, Samuel says, “Let me tell you people something. You all have a long history of doing whatever you want, getting yourselves into desperate situations, realizing you’re in those situations because you’ve been sinning, and then running back to God crying, ‘Mea culpa!’ And you know what? Every time you’ve sincerely repented, God has been faithful to forgive you and deliver you from your circumstances,” (1 Samuel 12:6-11).

Samuel continues, “This time your sin is that you said, ‘We want a king to rule over us’–even though the Lord your God was your king,”(1 Samuel 12:12 NIV).

And so it finally dawns on the Israelites how their demanding a king has been sin all this time. When this reality hits them between the eyes, they respond to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king,” (1 Samuel 12:19).

Instead of going to God themselves in the midst of their guiltiness, the Israelites ask the “senior pastor”, as it were, to pray for them while they keep their distance from the Lord they think will kill them for their disobedience (and for good reason; He does have a track record of that…).

But Samuel tells them, “Do not be afraid. You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart,” (1 Samuel 12:20).

In other words, RUN TO GOD! This is when you need Him the most! When you’re being convicted of your sin and need to make things right with Him, GO TO HIM!

Samuel goes on to advise, “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless,” (1 Samuel 8:21).

So, not only do the Israelites need to go to God in their sinful state, they also need to stop turning to useless idols in their sinful state.

When we are caught up in sinful patterns and are convicted to repent, we have the same two choices Israel had: we can run to God and deal with it, or we can run to useless idols.

Our “useless idols” may look a little different than Israel’s Baals and Ashteroths, but, essentially, they are the same. Today we run to Netflix or Facebook or ice cream or adult beverages or our spouses’ approval or overworking or helicopter parenting or spending too much time on hobbies or a million other things in an effort to not have to deal with our sin, our guilt. We indulge in distractions and/or surround ourselves with people who will tell us we aren’t that bad, hoping God will agree and the Spirit will leave us alone.

But those useless idols cannot rescue us.

There is only One rescuer.

Jesus took our sin upon Himself, in part, so that when we screw up, we can go to God WITHOUT FEAR of punishment. The only thing God gives us when we come to Him with repentant hearts is grace. He graciously forgives us and repairs our brokenness that results from our sinning. He puts us back together.

Samuel goes on to tell the Israelites, “For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people, because the Lord was pleased to make you His own,” (1 Samuel 12:22).

When we go to Him, He WILL NOT reject us; He chose us–we are His.

In the midst of our sin, do not turn away from the Lord. Go to Him. The sooner the better.

100 Times

I love Peter. He’s not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking, and he wears his heart on his sleeve, for better or for worse. I think we’ll be good friends in heaven. (Until we call each other out and get into a fist fight…)

Anyway, I read an interaction between Peter and Jesus last night in Mark. Jesus was telling the disciples it’s basically impossible for man to get into heaven on his own merit. (Mark 10:23)

And Peter didn’t care for that.

Peter was pretty sure people ought to be able to earn their way into eternal life, and, as Jesus repeated himself, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”, Peter blew up. (Mark 10:24)

Peter yelled incredulously, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10:28)

To be fair, I am reading intonation into the text, which probably says more about me than about Peter, but I can hear Peter’s tone inflect in a manner bordering on the line of being disrespectful to the Messiah. (Okay, running clear over the line at breakneck speed…)

Peter was hacked. He had left his family, his livelihood, and the comfort of home to follow Jesus, and now he felt like Jesus was telling him that wasn’t enough to get into heaven… “We have left everything to follow you!” I think Peter was totally exasperated.

I’m not sure if Jesus responded calmly or heightened his emotion to match Peter’s frenzied speech because that’s all Peter would understand in the moment… either way, Jesus responded, “Truly, I tell you…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

Jesus spoke to Peter’s concern: those who give things up for the gospel will have eternal life, for it’s by that very gospel that man is saved.

But that’s not what garnered my attention in this passage.

I found it peculiar that Jesus promised one hundred times as much of what we give up in this present age. In other words, He will provide now above and beyond what we lost or gave up when we became followers of Christ. God will meet those needs this side of heaven, perhaps in different ways than when we were unbelievers, but He will meet those needs nonetheless and in a much more abundant fashion.

My pastor postulated last night that God meets those relational and felt needs through the body of Christ. I think that’s true.

The relationships are most intriguing to me. When we accept Christ, sometimes the people around us don’t understand it. So they distance themselves from us. Or sometimes we distance ourselves from them because we no longer feel like we have anything in common with them. Or sometimes God calls us away physically to be a witness for Him in another town or state or country. We lose relationships for the gospel.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging. He created us; He knows we are relational. He knows we need emotional intimacy to thrive. He promises to supplement those lost relationships 100 fold in this lifetime.

That’s a little bit exciting.

We don’t lose relationships and spend the rest of our lives alone when we become Christians. We get to have a whole bunch of new relationships – relationships that are truer than the ones we had before because both parties are their fullest selves – most actualized, to borrow a term from the world of psychology – when they are Christians.

Paul and Timothy are examples of this. Without taking too much time to elaborate, they both literally left their homes and families and day jobs to take the gospel all over Eurasia (there’s a word I want to start using more often…). No doubt they felt lonely at times… but the Lord blessed them with each other. On more than one occasion Paul refers to Timothy as his son or son in the faith, and Paul even tells the Philippians he has no one else like Timothy. They had a special relationship they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t given up other relationships for the gospel.

I’m thankful I have a handful of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children in the faith. They get me better than any of the people I had to leave behind when I became a Christian. I’m nowhere near 100 yet, but if I’m willing to open my heart to a few more people and invest some time in a few more relationships, maybe I’ll get there.

How to Have the Same Mindset as Christ Jesus

It’s been a crazy two weeks for our family. An unexpected event has turned our world upside down. We’ve grieved. We’ve felt angry. We’ve felt hurt. We’ve had to process those emotions with the Lord and with others. And then we had to start making several significant life changes for our family that weren’t even on our radar 2 weeks ago.

The Lord doesn’t waste turbulent times like these.

His biggest challenge to me in the midst of this craziness has been to take a look at my heart and to really examine how well (or how poorly, as the case may be) I love other people

There’s a passage of scripture that reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Ah.

This is a convicting knife to the heart when you’re feeling wronged and hurt by someone else. We still have to value them? We still have to consider their interests? We have to think about them as Christ thinks about them?

What, exactly, is “the mindset of Christ”?

Verse 7, “…he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” and verse 8, “…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…” (Philippians 2:7, 8).

Christ’s mindset toward others – all others, even those who don’t “deserve” His love – is to serve them humbly and to die to Himself. When Jesus hung on that cross, He didn’t do it because it was in His best interest. When He was beaten beyond all recognition, Jesus’ thoughts weren’t fixed on Himself. He was solely concerned with doing what was in our best interest.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters,” 1 John 3:16.

Even our brothers and sisters who hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Even our brothers and sisters who repeatedly hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 18:21-22)

I struggled long and hard with that last one. I wrestled all last week, looking for scriptural loop holes. I came up empty. The Lord kept bringing me back to two thoughts:

  1. If I give up on those who hurt me, how will they ever grow?
  2. How many times has Jesus given up on me?

That second thought puts a lump in my throat every time I think about it. Jesus has never, for any reason, ever refused me another chance. How dareever consider, for any reasonrefusing to give someone else another chance? Jesus has forgiven me too much for me to wash my hands of someone else (Luke 7:47).

Having the mind of Christ toward others is longing to see them grow in their relationships with the Lord no matter what it costs me. 

How Sanctification Works

When we become believers, we’re given a couple of gifts.

1) We get to go to Heaven when we die.

2) We get to have a relationship with God now.

What we’re not given is instantaneous spiritual maturity.

We are the same ole shmucks we were before we accepted Christ, screwing things up, refusing to cooperate with God and His plan for our lives, oscillating between giving up on this life that’s just too hard and trying to control every little thing under the sun in an attempt to self-protect. We keep these patterns up when we begin walking with Christ. They don’t magically disappear.

And every day for the rest of our lives, we have a choice to make: will we cooperate with the Lord’s desire to gently grow us out of our self-defeating patterns, or will we hold onto our patterns more tightly than we hold onto our Christ? A lot of us mentally assent to the former while living the latter…

This whole process of “growing up” in the Lord is called sanctification. And the Bible speaks to it. In fact all of Paul’s letters to different churches contain encouragement for them to mature spiritually because it’s that important and it’s that central to the Christian life. So it’d behoove us to explore how sanctification works.

Today, I want to highlight just two verses on the subject.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Both these scriptures speak to growing spiritually… But did you notice how that growing occurs?

God does it.

GOD does it.

God DOES it. 

God does IT!

Is that not the best news you’ve heard in awhile?!

Our only responsibility in this whole “making ourselves better” thing is to be open to the Lord, to have a cooperative spirit. He does all. the. rest. 

We don’t have to try harder to be better Christians or read more or serve more or pray more or tithe more or ______ more or get our own hearts right or pull ourselves up by our boot straps.

We aren’t responsible for our own sanctification. We are only responsible for being willing to be sanctified by God, and He will surely do it.

Why Church Membership is Important

So my last three posts – When it’s Not Okay to Leave Your Church, When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church, and What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church – all started with a basic presupposition: church membership is important.

Why is church membership important?

But there is an ever-increasing number of Jesus-loving people who don’t share that view. And it makes perfect sense that if you don’t value church membership, you are less inclined to feel like loyalty to your church (or any church, for that matter), is a biblical hill to die on. 

In fact, one of my readers was brave and honest enough to just say what a lot of you may be thinking:

“These last three blogs seem like a whole lot of agonizing over a non-issue to me. If a church is not for you, move on. End of story. And no, don’t feel sad or guilty about it. There aren’t thousands of separate churches. There is one true Church (as in body of Christ that we commit to), and all the separate institutions are just parts of the whole. If you don’t like your building, go to another. Loyalty to a bad/mediocre/not for you church is just silly.”

I so appreciate this comment because it clued me in to the fact that I shouldn’t assume we all value church membership. And we must value membership before we can talk about persevering in our commitments to our churches.

So, why is church membership important? After all, church membership isn’t even in the Bible…

Or is it?

It’s true, you can search for the word “membership” all day long and not find it in the Bible. But if we stop and look at Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings, we find commitment to a local church commanded ad nauseum.

Each letter Paul wrote was to a local church body – at Rome, at Corinth, at Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica. And in talking to these individual churches, Paul stresses things like unity (Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:14) and each believer using his spiritual gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:12). He emphasizes serving one another (Galatians 5:13) and sacrificing personal freedoms in order to see to the best interests of others (1 Corinthians 9:12, 10:32). Paul commands Roman believers to “be devoted to one another in love,” and to, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10).

New Testament books written by other people speak to the same topics as well as to believers in local church bodies submitting to church authority figures (Acts 16:4, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

In other words, the majority of the New Testament is about how to do church in the lowercase c sense. And when all the lowercase churches do church the way Paul and others tell them to, the uppercase Church – as in the body of Christ all believers are committed to – is freed up to accomplish its God-given responsibilities to spread the good news about Jesus and to help believers grow in their understanding of Jesus.

Without committing to a local church body – and by that I mean doing more than filling a pew anonymously on some Sunday mornings – how do we live like the New Testament tells us to? When we church hop and/or fly under the radar of church authority by not committing to a local church (which our culture calls “becoming a church member”), it’s hard to be held accountable to live our lives according to the Bible. We have no community context in which to live out the New Testament commands.

If we leave our churches when our preferences aren’t met, how is that being devoted to one another or honoring others above ourselves or sacrificing personal freedoms for the benefit of others?

If we leave our churches every time the Elders make a decision we don’t particularly care for, how is that submitting to their God-given authority?

If we leave our churches every time we have a disagreement with other believers, how is that working toward unity?

If we aren’t committed to our church, who’s going to help us see when we are erring in our ways?

What’s more, it’s difficult (impossible?) for the Church to do its jobs when believers constantly flit from one part of the body to another – from one little c church to the next. It takes time and people to get programs that reach nonbelievers and programs that disciple believers rolling, and it takes commitment from said people to keep them rolling. If we all leave our churches every time we become dissatisfied with something, there is an “us” shaped hole in the ministries in which we were serving/participating, setting the ministries back.

Church membership is the answer to these kinds of problems. It isn’t a commitment to a building, like my friend stated, but, rather, it is an avenue through which we can be encouraged to live our lives according to the New Testament – to love one another, to work out our differences for the sake of unity, to serve others, to submit to elders – which requires a community of believers.

“Church membership” may be a modern term not used in the Bible, but the concept is one of its main themes. The idea that one can be committed to the capital C Church without being actively involved in a local lowercase c church is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

You may love Jesus, and, by His grace, you may be going to Heaven, but the Bible is clear that you can’t live a New Testament life without being committed to your lowercase c church. God desires us to live in accordance with His word because it’s in our best interest to do so and because He is glorified when we obey.

And that, I believe, is a biblical hill to die on.

What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church

The fact is there are lots of awesome church people out there that have decided it’s not okay for them to leave their churches because they don’t really have biblical reasons to do so.

So they are staying. Right where they are. And, truth be told, they are miserable. They find it difficult to be at their churches. They aren’t happy, and unhappy people have difficulty connecting with others and with God.

What then?

Are they obligated to stay at their churches and be miserable?

No.

God doesn’t want you  miserable at your church. Barring any unbiblical things going on, God wants you happy at your church. 

Read that again.

God wants you happy at your church, not at a new church. 

How do I know that?

a) God loves us and wants us to be happy (Psalm 68:3). God is a compassionate God who weeps with us and rejoices with us and is able to relate to every emotion we have (Matthew 14:14, John 11:35, Hebrews 4:15). He desires for us to feel happy, but that is not the end all be all of our existence, and if our happiness and our growth in Christ are at odds with one another, God will choose to attempt to grow us every time (2 Corinthians 3:18).

b) If there is one thing the New Testament stresses to the church, it’s unity (2 Corinthians 13:11). When people leave their church bodies in search of personal happiness in a new church body, whether they intend to or not, they effectively stress fracture their former body. Whether they leave quietly or recruit loudly as they go, they weaken other believers in that body by taking away their services (assuming they were serving in the first place) and by causing other believers to wonder if they should leave too.

When the body gets multiple stress fractures from multiple people leaving, it becomes so weak it breaks. And when the body breaks in multiple places, it hurts. A lot. For a long time. Ministry is crippled, to some degree, among the remaining church members as they are left to try to salvage the body. Energy and resources have to be focused on healing the body rather than on what the church should be focusing on: spreading the Gospel and discipling believers.

c) Every time we feel like our happiness is at odds with an opportunity for us to grow, we aren’t viewing the situation how we should (James 1:2-3). We need a heart change quick. We should value above all else our conformation to the image of Christ. That should be our chief source of happiness, and being miserable at your church affords you the perfect opportunity to grow. Rejoice.

So, if you’re unhappy at your church, can I gently challenge you to stop waiting for the things around you to change to suit your preferences and to start changing yourself?

If you want to feel happy about going to your church, stop the self-focus – “What am I not getting?” – and train your mind to focus on others (Philippians 2:3-4) – “How can I serve others here today?” If you’re not serving, start (1 Peter 4:10).

Now, the tricky part is we can serve until we’re blue in the face and still feel unhappy about our churches because our hearts are still focusing on ourselves while we go through the motions of serving others. Psalms says God doesn’t value that kind of external sacrifice, he wants our hearts (Psalm 51:16-17). When we serve with the motivation to honor the Lord, others will experience the love and truth of Jesus, and we will gain joy knowing the Lord is happy with us (Ephesians 6:7). 

If you are among the minority of church members who do serve and are others focused, but you still feel unhappy with your church, there is one other area that needs to change.
Consider that everything your church does is not for your benefit. If you’re a seasoned believer, the outreach arm of your church is not trying to make you happy, it is trying to reach unbelievers and new believers and welcome them into the church so they can come to know Christ. What’s more important than that? (Matthew 28:18-19)
Knowing this, seasoned believers should approach outreach times not with an “I’m not getting anything out of this” attitude but with a rejoicing heart that the Gospel is being preached and non and young believers are getting exactly what they need – small doses of scripture and basic truths (1 Corinthians 3:2). Your jobs during outreach, seasoned believers, is to bring non and new believers so they can grow and to pray for the Spirit to move. Rejoice that seekers are being introduced to Christ at your church!
Likewise, if you’re a young believer, the intensive Bible studies that are way over your head are not trying to make you happy, they are trying to help seasoned believers go deeper in their relationships with the Lord (Hebrews 5:14). If you’re in one of these classes, and your eyes are glazing over because you don’t care about the original Greek, your job is to pray that the Spirit would move and grow these other members in their walks with Him. Rejoice that seasoned believers can grow at your church!
This is the kind of perspective change – to value others more than ourselves – that is called maturing in Christ. If you church-hop in this moment, you lose. You lose the opportunity to mature in your faith (Ephesians 4:15). You lose the opportunity to be apart of others coming to know the Lord.
If none of this is helpful, you need to call your pastor, schedule a meeting, and have an open, honest discussion with him about how you’re feeling. Tell him that you are unhappy and that you don’t want to leave, but you don’t know how to get happy, and allow him to speak to the sources of your unhappiness. Some of the very things that cause you the most trouble could be simple misunderstandings. Or they could be legitimate problems that your pastor needs to be aware of so he can redirect the church.

When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church

Yesterday I struck a nerve by writing an article called When it’s not Okay to Leave Your Church. My main point was it’s not okay to be selfish, and leaving your church because your personal preferences aren’t being catered to is unbiblical.

I would be remiss, however, to leave the discussion at that. Because the fact is there are times when it’s okay to leave your church – and by “okay” I mean biblical.

The number one reason you should leave your church: the Gospel is not being preached.

Here’s what I am not saying: it is biblical to leave a church if the Gospel isn’t preached how you like it preached. In other words, if you don’t like the preacher or his preaching style, I am not saying you are right to leave. In fact, yesterday I said you’d be dead wrong to leave over that kind of thing.

What I am saying is, unfortunately, there are a lot of feel good churches out there that teach things not found in the Bible.

Churches that teach Bible stories but never get around to explicitly stating that Jesus is God, He died for our sins, He rose again, He is the only way to Heaven and right relationship with God, and we all need Him.

Churches that preach self-help instead of Jesus-help. The Bible teaches all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and apart from Jesus we can do nothing (read: we can’t help ourselves), but if we remain in Jesus, we will bear much fruit (read: Jesus is our help).

Churches that teach if you love Jesus enough, you will be healthy and wealthy. The Bible teaches in this life believers will have troubles of many kinds, trials, sufferings and hardships, and nonbelievers will hate us.

If the aforementioned unbiblical things are taught at your church, you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (like Romans 3 and John 15, for example). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to teach the entire scope of the Bible, not just the bits and pieces they like.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you must leave. To remain a part of a “church” that doesn’t preach the Gospel is to perpetuate a lie, namely that Jesus might be a nice guy, but He isn’t necessary. Your mere presence makes you an accomplice to and responsible for the falsehoods being taught as truth. If you know that any seeker who comes to your church will be misled, deceived into thinking they are hearing the Bible when they aren’t, and you keep attending and tithing, you are giving your church the two things they need to keep teaching falsehoods: people and money.

A second biblical reason to leave your church is like the first: the leaders (main decision makers: pastors, elders, deacons, etc.) are living in ways that the Bible explicitly says not to.

What I’m not saying is you should leave your church if you think the pastor’s house is too big or the elders’ aren’t spending money the way you would if you were in charge or the leaders sometimes make mistakes or they occasionally sin or they have hurt your feelings or they have weaknesses. Your leaders are human. They aren’t perfect, and you shouldn’t expect them to be.

What I am saying is you should leave your church if leaders are stealing money or having affairs and refusing to repent or are sexually abusing children or are physically abusing their spouses or have drug or alcohol addictions that are going untreated or are consumed with arrogance and pride and refuse accountability – lifestyle choices that go against scripture and for which they are wholly unrepentant.

If your church leaders are acting in these unbiblical ways, you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, for instance). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to repent and make the necessary changes to their lifestyles in order to live and lead biblically.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you must leave. To remain a part of a “church” that allows leaders to consciously and consistently live lives that are opposed to scripture is to perpetuate a harmful and untrue version of Christianity, namely that we can expect Jesus to be our Savior without having to submit to His lordship. Your mere presence makes you an accomplice to and responsible for the falsehoods being taught as truth, maybe not from the pulpit, but by the behavior your leaders are modeling. If you know that any seeker who comes to your church will be misled, deceived into thinking they can live anyway they want to and still expect a ticket into Heaven, and you keep attending and tithing, you are giving your church the two things they need to keep perpetuating falsehoods: people and money.

A third biblical reason to leave your church: there is no opportunity for your personal growth in your relationship with Christ through the study of scripture.

Here’s what I am not saying: you can leave your church if the pastor doesn’t “feed you” on Sunday mornings. In other words, if you aren’t “getting” anything out of the message, I’m not saying you have biblical freedom to leave. You don’t. If you only ate one meal a week, you’d die, and it’d be your fault. The same is true of our spiritual lives. You are responsible for feeding yourself, and you need to eat daily.

What I am saying is your church should help you find food. They should encourage personal Bible reading, whether that’s providing a reading plan or Bible study material, they should be doing something to point you toward personally acquiring more Bible knowledge. They should also encourage mentoring/discipling relationships where someone older in the faith teaches someone younger in the faith. These are biblical concepts, and churches of any size can and should help their congregants grow in these ways. 

If there are no opportunities like this at your church – and I mean none, not just none that you like or none that “fit your schedule” – you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (Romans 12, 2 Timothy 3, and Titus 2, for example). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to develop ways to encourage congregants to grow in their personal relationships with God.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you can leave with a clear conscience. But you don’t have to. You could take the initiative and go find your own Bible study resources… You could take the lead, find an older believer, and ask them to disciple you… And you could stay at your church.

The last reason leaving your church could be a biblical decision: God is calling you to serve somewhere else. 

What I am not saying is if you’re unhappy at your current church, and you’re pretty sure God would want you to be happy, and you think you can make that happen by switching churches, then God must be in that decision. God is more concerned with your spiritual growth than with your personal happiness, and he likes to use uncomfortable situations to encourage such growth, including, but not limited to, less-than-satisfying church experiences.

That being said, I believe there are times God legitimately calls people to leave their churches to go serve elsewhere. It may be to go plant a new church in an under-churched area (read: not 1 mile down the road from your current church). It may be to go on the mission field. It may be as a result of moving out of town. It may be because another church has a legitimate need for someone with your gifts and talents to come use your gifts and talents to serve their body. 

If you feel like God might be calling you to go to another church, you need to pray. A lot. And ask the Lord to search your heart and reveal to you what’s really inside. Be honest with yourself. If you are genuinely being called away from your church, your motivation should be one of spreading the Gospel and serving others. There should be no trace of bitterness and/or entitlement. In your heart of hearts, your incentives for going to a new church should not include any selfish reasons – “I am more fulfilled there”, “the pastor really connects with me”, “I like the music better”, “I really get into the worship”, etc.

If you check your heart and you still feel called to a different church, pray some more. Ask the Lord to prepare your current church for your departure, because, even if you leave for biblical reasons, your leaving will leave a hole in your current church. That body will be changed.

If you leave for unbiblical reasons, your leaving will cause disunity. Some people will feel angry you left. Some people will start to wonder if they should leave, too.  Seeds of division will be planted (or watered and harvested if seeds were already there).

But if you leave for biblical reasons, although people will be sad to see you go, they will remain unified. In fact, they will be strengthened because they know you’re leaving to further the Gospel elsewhere while they stay and continue to spread the Gospel where they are. Paul calls this being partners in the Gospel (Philippians 1:5), and it is an encouraging thing to stop and think about people you love who no longer go to church with you but in whom you have total confidence that they are laboring for the Kingdom somewhere else just as hard as you are where you are. It bonds us, this Kingdom work.

If you’re considering leaving your church, make sure you’re doing so for a biblical reason – an others focused reason – and not just because of a personal preference. The biblical reality is there are very few situations in which God wants believers to change churches and a whole host of reasons Satan wants us to change churches. Discern wisely, friends.