Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Is it OK to Leave?

Leslie Basham: Does your church seem dead? Here's some advice from Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Plug in, serve, love, pray like crazy, and believe God to bring new life to something that looks like it has so little life at all. God can do that. That's what revival is about--God breathing new life into old systems that are tired and need a fresh breath of the Spirit. God really can do that.

Leslie Basham: It's Thursday, August 11th, and you're listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. We're in the middle of a series called Who Needs the Church? Nancy's talked about the importance of involvement and community, which leads to the question: Is it ever okay to leave a church? How do you know when it's time? Here's Nancy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We've been talking about the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church capital "C". God has this great grand plan for the Church. It was a mystery to Old Testament saints, but it's a mystery that God revealed in the New Testament--a plan that God has had through all the ages to make His wisdom and His glory known through the Church.

I hope that through this series you've developed a greater love for the Church, a greater sense of what God intended the Church to be, and that you are more committed perhaps than ever. Maybe for the first time you're making a choice to make a commitment to get plugged into the life not just of the capital "C", big "C" Church, the universal Church, but the local church, the local expression of the body of Christ.

Now the question arises, and I have talked with people over the years, many people. Some of our listeners have written in as we did a survey, a poll, on We asked people for their view on the local church: What were some of the needs in the local church? We received back some answers that were pretty disheartening. People were pretty frustrated over their experience with the local church. One of the questions that rises is: Is it ever right to leave a church? And if so, when and how should I leave?

Now, I'm not going to explore that subject in the depth that it needs or deserves, but let me just give some suggestions and insights to help you think through that. Is it ever right to leave the church? Obviously, one time to leave a church would be if you're making a move, if God is leading you to another state or another part of the country. But let me suggest that when you prepare to make a move (it may be a job change or you're moving to take care of a member of the family or whatever) investigate the local church situation before you make a final decision if you possibly can.

Now I realize there are some times when you have to make a move. You can't check all that out in advance. But how important is it to look into the church situation and know that there's a church where you can plant your family, where your marriage can grow and thrive, where your children can grow and thrive? That ought to be, I think, one of the very top considerations when you're making a move is where is there a local church, a local body that we can plant ourselves in.

When you get to that area, don't do this stuff of hanging around for a year or two before you find a local church, visiting all the churches in the area, and taking months and months to settle into one. That's dangerous. I'm not saying don't check out some different churches, but make sure that you don't take forever to do it.

So that's one time when obviously you leave your local church is when you're making a geographical move. But assuming you're not moving, are there other reasons to leave a church?

Well, one that I think would be clear is when there is doctrinal heresy being taught from the pulpit in the church on a consistent basis, and it's not being dealt with. It's not just that one thing is being said wrong that you don't agree with one Sunday but then it's corrected. But if there is teaching in the church that is contrary to the Word of God on the essentials of our faith, then you're in the wrong church.

What are the essentials? The authority of Scripture, the gospel, by faith through grace in Christ alone. That's the gospel--who Christ is, the Son of God. If you're in a church where the fundamentals, the essentials, the foundational principles, the truths and doctrines of our faith are not being taught, then what you're in is not really a church. It's a building; it's an organization; it's an institution, but it's not a true local church. You need to be in a true local church.

If there's doctrinal heresy, if your church is not committed to the doctrines of Scripture, the foundational doctrines of Scripture. (There are some secondary doctrines that characterize different denominations. It's okay to disagree on those things, but the essentials need to be there) If they're not, you need to ask the Lord is it time to be in another church?

If you're in a church where the church refuses to deal with blatant ongoing sin or immorality, then you need to say, "Lord, are we in the right place if this is not a church that is committed to being a pure church?" Now, I'm not saying that every sin that takes place in the church needs to be addressed corporately, collectively. The Scripture gives us illustrations throughout the New Testament of particular issues.

For example, Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 5 about a man in the church who was having incest with his mother. I mean, it was a wicked immoral situation, and the church wasn't doing anything about it. And Paul said, "You have to deal with this." If you're in a church where the leadership of the church persistently refuses to deal with blatant or known sin or immorality, then you probably don't belong in that church. It's not functioning as a Biblical church.

If you're in a church that is characterized by spiritual deadness--there's no heart for God, there's no hunger for God--especially if you have children growing up in that church then it may be time to say, "Lord, should we be somewhere else where our children can have a sense and where we can have a sense of the reality of Your presence."

Don't expect heaven till heaven. Don't say, "Well, there's not much life here, so we'll go find something else." Because if you're an essentially a discontented person, you may find that problem follows you everywhere.

But I'm just saying if there's chronic lack of spiritual life, chronic unwillingness to deal with issues, what do you do if that is the case? If there's no life in your church, if there are serious chronic problems . . . . I think there are some churches (and God knows where and when) that God has just written Ichabod over that church.

The glory of God has departed from this church. It ceases to really be a church. It's just the bundle of sticks we talked about earlier in the series--a group of people who get together, but there's no life; there's no vitality.

What do you do if you sense that's the case in your local church? Well first let me say, be patient. Don't jump to that conclusion the third week you're in the church. Now maybe it's really, really obvious and I know I'm talking to people who are in a lot of different situations, so I hate to broad brush. You need to get in the Word and get on your knees and ask the Lord to show you what the situation is in your case. But be patient with imperfections and weaknesses and needs in your church as God is with us. Remember that people are in a process and give room for growth, give time for growth.

Be prayerful. Before you open your mouth to speak to another soul about the problems in that church, if you ever do, talk to God about it. Don't become critical. Don't go around talking to everybody else. "I'm just really concerned about our pastor." That is sin; that is wrong.

Now, if your pastor is having an affair . . . and I thank the Lord that all the pastors that I've been under in my life have been godly men. But I know there are some who go back on their covenant to the Lord and aren't fit to be spiritual leaders. If there is a known sin like that, then it needs to be dealt with. But if you're just aware or sensing things that are troubling your spirit, go to the Lord. Ask Him to deal with it. Ask Him to show you His perspective.

You know, church is a lot like marriage and real life. Life is hard. It's messy at times, but just stick with it. You work through the problems, and you grow through them. There are some problems in our churches that we just need to pray about and wait on the Lord.

If you want a better church, pray for the one you have. If you want a better pastor, pray for the one you have. But having waited, having prayed, having sought the Lord, having been patient, having done the most you possibly can to be a part of the solution, to be a part of the life there and you see it over an extended period of time not happening, then it may be that God has turned out the light in that church as He said He would do to the church in Ephesus if they didn't get back their first love.

He said, "I'll remove your lamp from its lamp stand" (Revelation 2:5). That can happen in a local church. At that point prayerfully consider if and when it's time to make a change, and then ask God to direct you as to how to leave that church. I would say, generally, that should be done quietly and without creating contention or division. Now it's a different situation if again there's blatant sin going on in the leadership or something that is clearly contrary to Scripture that's not being addressed.

But as women, you know what? By and large it's not our responsibility to deal with those things. If the men who are given the responsibility of leading the church are not dealing with them, then don't you become a point of contention or criticism in the church. Don't be divisive, don't be contentious, don't be disloyal, don't try to draw out other people with you, and don't create a split in the church. That has all the ramifications, implications and more than divorce does in marriage. It's just messy, messy, messy. Sometimes it will happen, but don't you be the one who instigates it.

If you're going to leave and it's time to make a change, then do it quietly, in most cases for sure. Ask God to direct you to a healthy church where . . . not a perfect church. There isn't one in any community anywhere this side of heaven. But ask God to direct you to a church where you can place your life.

If God leads you to stay in a church that has some of the kinds of problems that we've been talking about where it's a gray matter, it's not a clear matter. If God leads you to stay there or perhaps you have no other option. Maybe your husband says, "This is where we're staying." You are his wife; you want to stay under his protection and authority. Or maybe there are no other churches--literally no other options in your area.

If you're going to stay there, don't sit and sour. Don't become bitter, don't become cantankerous, don't become ornery, don't become divisive, don't stand up and speak your mind and tear apart the church in church meetings or behind the pastor's back. Plug in, serve, love, pray like crazy, and believe God to bring new life into something that looks like it has so little life at all. God can do that. That's what revival is about--God breathing new life into old systems that are tired and need a fresh breath of the Spirit. God really can do that.

Leslie Basham: God has used a study in some churches to bring about the kind of new life we've been hearing about. The study is called Seeking Him. It is designed for small groups and individuals. It will walk you through some of the marks of personal revival.

A listener named Gail went through the study then wrote us and said, "Though I have been a Christian for 16 years, I was surprised and thankful for the number of things that still needed correction and repentance in my life. I've been so challenged by the study that I brought a copy to our pastor. I asked if we could consider doing a church-wide Sunday School class on this study as a tool to help bring much needed revival in our church."

If you'd like more information on Seeking Him for yourself, small group or church, just visit You can find out more about the Seeking Him workbook and the DVD of Nancy's teaching. You can also call 1-800-569-5959. That's also the number to call if you appreciate the ministry of Revive Our Hearts and want to help us continue on the air. We're supported by the donations of our listeners and you can help us by calling 1-800-569-5959.

How is the church kind of like a big mural? Find out tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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