When To Leave A Bad Church

By Edwin Christiaan

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 1. Corinthians 15:33 NLT

For some time, God allowed Sophia and I to attend a certain church even though we felt very uncomfortable with the way the church was conducting its spiritual affairs. This particular church went through several splits in the past and therefore considerably decreased in size. Some of the surviving members are still looking back at the years when the church was dynamic and growing, continuing to hope against all odds for those glory days to return.

After God released us from this church, He clarified His purpose for us being there. God said that He wanted us to get an in-depth understanding of what He is feeling and experiencing when being in a bad marriage relationship with His Bride, the Church, which is us, supposed believers and followers of Jesus Christ.

With this understanding, we would be able to effectively, and in a profound way, communicate and instruct others through His Word about this very important subject. Further, God said that many who have been confused and unnecessarily hurt by bad churches will through these teachings, find the answers they so desperately have been looking for on this subject on when to leave a bad church.

First of all, this is the way Jesus Christ meant for the church to function, as a place where we all can come to know Him through His Word which saves, heals, delivers, comforts, and teaches us how to love and grow more and more in every way to be like Him:

He (Jesus Christ) is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. 

Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Ephesians 4:11-16 NLT

Jesus showed His love for us, the Church, as He compared Himself and the Church to a good marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Jesus sacrificed His life for us in order to cleanse us from our sins and make us holy, removing the spirit of fear from us, giving us instead a spirit of power, of love and of a sound mind. (See 2 Timothy 1:7) Now we are so in love with Jesus for what He has done for us and how He is lovingly treating us and leading us as we grow to be mature and effective Christians. We are excited about following Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life and want everybody to know about it! (See John 14:6)

And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. Ephesians 5:25-28 NLT

Now that we have established God’s intention with the church, we can see that ultimately the spiritual quality of the leadership determines the effectiveness of the church. If the leadership is of good spiritual quality, the church will be growing in their relationship with Jesus and this will undoubtedly show in the way they love God and each other. In doing so, the church automatically becomes a testimony to the world:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:34-35 NLT

Likewise, if the spiritual quality of the leadership is bad, it will result in either the church growing deformed or not growing at all. In other words, the church is not being led into a growing relationship with Jesus and is ultimately being characterized as a church that is spiritually immature, not able to really love others unconditionally, and is biblically illiterate. Instead of the leadership teaching from the scripture, loving and caring for people, often the focus becomes more about the church organization, the size of the building, and the protection of the leadership’s own position. Selfishly, these church leaders are motivated by the desire for money, luxurious living, and control.

Care for the flock of God entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly — not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example. 1. Peter 5:2-3 NLT

Unfortunately, many believers who have suffered any type of abuse in their lives tend to gravitate toward church leaders who have it in them to continue the same generational pattern of mistreating them. They just don’t know any better, and therefore base their choices on what is familiar to them – what they are used to – and continue to suffer the consequences of it until they find real healing and are able to break this cycle of abuse.

We often get impressed with the gift a pastor has, yet seeming unable to understand why this same person is so unfriendly, overbearing, controlling, jealous, or money hungry. One of the reasons we get impressed with leaders like that is because they use their charisma to promote their gift. The Bible says that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (See Romans 11:29). In other words, you can be very gifted and yet, that doesn’t say anything about what kind of person you are. The gift we receive freely from God, but we need to work on our character daily to produce the fruit of the Spirit of God:

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

What to look for in a church
The quality of leadership and what is taught or not taught are key indicators whether the Holy Spirit is actively working in the church.

That is why we need to ask ourselves questions like these:
• Does the pastor believe that everything that is written in the Bible is the truth?

• Do the pastor and leadership of the church teach about Jesus as the God-man and salvation in Jesus Christ only?

• Do they baptize believers in water and pray for the infilling of the Holy Spirit?

• Do they teach about God’s unconditional and unfailing love and His grace?

• And also very important, do they teach about sin and the forgiveness of it, Satan and hell?

• Are there teachings about miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Speaking in tongues, how to pray for the sick and receive healing, and how to get delivered from demons?

• What is the church’s view on homosexuality?

• Does the church reach out to the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

• Is the church taking care of those who are poor and needy?

• Does the church have significant financial debt?

• Does the church leadership mentor or train men and women to be the future leaders in the church and eventually take over their ministries?

• Do they acknowledge and support the calling one has received from God or are they being threatened by it for the fear of losing their position?

• Are they allowing prophecy and the prophetic?

• Does the pastor put him or herself in the center of attention, or does he/she take every opportunity to pass on the glory to God?

• Is the pastor or members of the leadership living in sexual sin?

• Are their lives transparent?

• Is the pastor’s wife supportive?

• Are members generally healthy and happy?

• Is the leadership constantly begging for money?

• Is godly discipline and correction applied when members are living in sin as indicated in the Bible?

Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself. You are really a nobody. Galatians 6:1-3 NLT

Reasons For Leaving A Church
Here are some examples given in the Bible of immature churches who weren’t growing due to bad leadership. There was division in the congregation, and the members were fighting each other. This is the way the apostle Paul addressed this church:

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to mature Christians. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn’t handle anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your own sinful desires. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your own desires? You are acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord. When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I prefer Apollos,” aren’t you acting like those who are not Christians?  

Who is Apollos, and who is Paul, that we should be the cause of such quarrels? Why, we’re only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. My job was to plant the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow. The ones who do the planting or watering aren’t important, but God is important because he is the one who makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work as a team with the same purpose. Yet they will be rewarded individually, according to their own hard work. We work together as partners who belong to God. You are God’s field, God’s building — not ours.
1. Corinthians 3:1-9 NLT

And then there is this one church:

There is so much more we would like to say about this. But you don’t seem to listen, so it’s hard to make you understand. You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right.

So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start all over again with the importance of turning away from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.
Hebrews 5:11-14, 6:1-3 NLT

This is another example of very bad selfish church leadership:

Dear friend, you are doing a good work for God when you take care of the traveling teachers who are passing through, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church here of your friendship and your loving deeds. You do well to send them on their way in a manner that pleases God. For they are traveling for the Lord and accept nothing from those who are not Christians. So we ourselves should support them so that we may become partners with them for the truth.

I sent a brief letter to the church about this, but Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader, does not acknowledge our authority. When I come, I will report some of the things he is doing and the wicked things he is saying about us. He not only refuses to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church.

Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. 
3. John 5-11 NLT

Qualifications For Leaders, Also Called Elders and Deacons In The Church
It is a true saying that if someone wants to be an elder, he desires an honorable responsibility. For an elder must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exhibit self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home and must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, peace loving, and not one who loves money. He must manage his own family well, with children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

An elder must not be a new Christian, because he might be proud of being chosen so soon, and the Devil will use that pride to make him fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not fall into the Devil’s trap and be disgraced.

In the same way, deacons must be people who are respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers and must not be greedy for money. They must be committed to the revealed truths of the Christian faith and must live with a clear conscience. Before they are appointed as deacons, they should be given other responsibilities in the church as a test of their character and ability. If they do well, then they may serve as deacons.

In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not speak evil of others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.

A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well.  Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.  
1. Timothy 3:1-13 NLT

An elder must be well thought of for his good life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who are not wild or rebellious. An elder must live a blameless life because he is God’s minister. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or greedy for money. He must enjoy having guests in his home and must love all that is good. He must live wisely and be fair. He must live a devout and disciplined life. He must have a strong and steadfast belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with right teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong. Titus 1:5-9 NLT

In Conclusion
Leaving a church is usually a difficult decision to make. Every church is different, even within denominations, since the pastor and the leadership are different. But when the leadership is unqualified and error is being taught, the Holy Spirit will not have His way and be able to be effective in the lives of the people. The intention of God is that when men and women who come together, desiring to live godly lives, submitting to the Holy Spirit, faithfully teaching and obeying the Word of God, and seeking an intimate relationship with Him, awesome things will happen!

We believe that under these above guidelines, we are supposed to commit ourselves to a church and its leader or leaders who are walking examples of God’s Word.

Remember your leaders who first taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and trust the Lord as they do. Hebrews 13:7 NLT

Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit. Hebrews 13:17 NLT

A final reminder!
And now beware! Be sure that you feed and shepherd God’s flock — his church, purchased with his blood — over whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. I know full well that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some of you will distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you — my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you. Acts 20:28-31 NLT

Copyright©2009 Edwin & Sophia Christiaan