In this post, there's something of an overlap between this and my occasional series on visiting other churches. It's somewhat personal: at my current church for years I have found myself in the situation of that proverbial frog in a pot of water, wondering if it has gone from comfortably warm to a little too warm, whether it's getting hotter, whether it's time to jump. I don't think I can belong to my current church in good conscience anymore. I've had my doubts for some time. "When to jump?" can be unclear because life is complicated: there can be reasons to stay and reasons to go at the same time. And "Where to land after the jump?" is part of the problem: there's no such thing as an association of humans that never has problems. So what is a deal-breaker?
This post goes into more than just my current situation. I'm looking at all the reasons I've either had myself or heard from others about leaving a church where they have long been a member. I am not looking to catalog my church's issues so much as working toward clarity about what is a deal-breaker.
When I first wrote this post, I split it into two lists: one about doctrinal reasons, and one about all the things that a church does besides convey doctrine. I'm also considering that dividing line between doctrinal reasons and the rest. For this current post, I'm bracketing the doctrinal reasons as something that's in the scope of a blogging series on controversies among churches (a series I've currently paused that I'd hope to resume at some point). There is some question whether it's legitimate to join or leave a church over reasons that aren't doctrinal. I think that's best discussed after we see the reasons themselves and can assess what kind of reasons they are, if not doctrinal.
- The church or the leader shows little sign of interest in Jesus (or: the interest in Jesus is limited to his death)
- The sermons portray God almost exclusively as wrathful and vengeful, as Someone that nobody of good conscience would serve willingly
- The church or the leader puts themselves above the Christ or the Bible by routinely altering passages being quoted, effectively dropping passages, or having other authorities that supersede it
- The leader uses the leadership position to teach things contrary to what the church body teaches; any supervision of that leader has proved ineffective
- In worship services, the church or the leader uses some private or sectarian statement of faith in place of one of the ecumenical creeds
- The leader has a temperament that is not well-suited for leadership: too thin-skinned to accept feedback and therefore address problems as they arise
- The church or its leaders take a manipulative approach to problem-solving on matters that are internal to the church. (Examples: the effort is directed to stopping the suggestion that something needs to be addressed; the effort is directed to stopping discussion prematurely; if the leader's efforts at persuasion have been unsuccessful then the leadership suggests that the membership should fall in line as a matter of the leader's authority)
- The church or its leaders take a "click-bait" approach to announcing or promoting certain events, using outrage-mongering or emotional manipulation to increase attendance
- The church uses sermons to promote income-generating workshops or retreats
- The church budget does not devote enough to helping the poor
- The church is not warm or welcoming; there is daylight between the group of people who are members and the group of people who are welcomed and included
- The church does not look after its own in times of crisis, or looks after certain members but not others
- The church does not look beyond its own in times of crisis, and does not open its doors or seek out the hurting
- The church or the leader expresses disagreement with other churches in a way that shows enmity towards them
- The church or its leaders promote an anti-vax agenda
- There is some concern whether the leader has lost faith, or is still a Christian, or still holds the beliefs of the same denomination as the congregation