Ethics: Whether or Not To Leave a Church Over the Pastor’s Sermons

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What would you do Wednesday!

Today’s scenario is based on a real life dilemma from a reader who is struggling with how he or she should remedy their situation. I will give the gist of the situation, but the reader who sent the inquiry will remain anonymous.

Let’s see what advice you would give your friends.

A married couple who are personal friends have been attending and serving their local church in as many ways as they can. They have been involved in this church since moving to the area a year ago. They love the church and love serving their fellow Christians.

But they have struggled with the pastor’s sermons for the past year.

Your friends come to you for advice and lay out the situation.

We’ve struggled with the pastor’s sermons for the past year. There seems to be little to no substance in them. Our pastor is a great guy and we’re sure he loves the Lord, but his preaching is just lacking. For one, he’s a sports guy and he seems to always weave sports into his sermons some how, but that’s not the heart of the issue.

We talk to our teenagers about the sermon as part of discipling them. When we ask them what they learned the usual answer is that they could not follow the pastor’s points to understand the sermon. Granted, we home school and know that we have the primary responsibility to teach our children. However, it’s hard to explain to our kids why the sermons are hard to follow, if they should be, and how to think about them with a gentle, loving attitude toward the pastor.

The church has a few others problems too with substantial decreases in giving and membership. These declines could be a result of the lack of leadership since the pastor pushes the church to find it’s own vision and that he is not going to give them his. It is not just us, but the church has a whole seems to be hurting spiritually from a combination of a lack of leadership and shallow preaching. It is getting close to the point where the church may not even survive financially.

We’re not sure what to do at this point.

What advice would you give your friends?

  • Find a new church?
  • Share their concerns with the pastor privately?
  • Faithfully stay with this congregation regardless?
  • Or…?
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tagged as , in Culture,morality

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dan Kassis October 26, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I felt compelled to comment because my wife and I made this very decision for this very reason last year. Over and over again God has provided reassurance that we’ve obeyed Him by leaving. Here are the reasons why, but first a caveat.

It would be within reason to stay if you believe it’s your mission to provide godly, biblical leadership to this church in a missionary sort of way. If the people aren’t receiveing a good source of spiritual nourishment because of the pastor’s partial disobedience in his position, perhaps God has placed you there to help right that wrong. Let me tell you that will require maturity and patience. But that would have to be your call as an individual accountable to God. No one else can make that decision for you.

Anyway, here are the reasons we left.
1. We did bring our concerns to the pastor and received nothing but excuses and denials of his dereliction of duty despite sufficient evidence to the contrary.
2. We heard numerous other mature believers in the church express similar concerns and saw many leave for the same reason.
3. As a father and husband it’s my duty to see that my wife & kids receive good spiritual food. I came to the place where I believed I was putting them in harm’s way by staying.
4. As an adult Sunday school teacher my weekly lessons became polemics against the sermons. As right as I thought I was, it was wrong of me to remain and cause continual dissention. A Christian’s job is to uphold sound teaching, and causing factions in the church is not a reasonable response to a lack of it.
5. Our goal was not to make a statement by leaving, but to find a church were sound teaching existed. By God’s grace we did, and we have the satisfaction of knowing our energies are contributing to a healthy ministry.

Over the past couple of years I have prayed that our former pastor would repent of his poor teaching and that his congregants would either leave or demand that he change his ways. I can’t say I know what the pastor has done since then. But I can tell you I have seen many former members seek the goodness of God’s Word where it may be found.

Blessings to you as you wrestle with this decision. I hope I’ve helped in some way.

2 Christiane October 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Surely the Church prays in community together ?
A sermon is not the central focus of a service . . . Christ is, hopefully, the center of every Christian service.

I don’t understand this post.

3 Chris Poe October 26, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Christiane,

If I am not mistaken, you are a Roman Catholic. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

The difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (and perhaps especially Baptists and confessional and conservative evangelical Protestants) likely account for the lack of understanding. The preaching of the Word (and thus, preaching Christ) is the central focus or high point of our services. You cannot divorce Christ from the Word, although sadly your church claims that the Word (i.e. the 66 books of the Bible) is not a sufficient guide.

A lack of sound preaching and the lack of focus on Christ what this post is about.

On the other hand what we see as the utterly blasphemous and blatantly unbiblical “sacrifice” of the Mass is at the center of Roman Catholic services.

Mark,

If the parents would just send their kids to the youth services, it will be ok. The pastor’s messages must just be above their heads. 😉

4 Wade Phillips October 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Let me give just a little push back to the prevailing opinion. I was in this very situation, no less than 6 years ago. Every Sunday was the same sermon, light on substance, low on doctrine, heavy on personal stories. It was utterly frustrating, and meant for a pretty low time in my family’s life. There were numerous times when we considered leaving. But we decided to stay. Let me tell you why, and then let me tell you what has happened since.

We saw the potential the church had. There was an established core of believers, who had a passion for evangelism. There were several couples in our Sunday School class who shared both our frustration and our vision for more. We saw great potential in the body. And the pastor was a good man, a great Christian. We cared a great deal for him. I went through a period of critiquing every little thing he said from the pulpit, and then decided it would be better to encourage him instead.

Despite all of our frustrations, we stayed, and now we are glad we did. During that time of frustration, I tried my best to be committed to my church, teach my Sunday School class faithfully, and disciple the believers I’d been entrusted with without rebelling against the leadership of the church. Sometimes it was harder than others. I wasn’t perfect. But I made every effort. During that time, my influence in the church grew, not because I was trying to take over, but because I was being faithful to the Word, and lead in ways that were appreciated by the leaders. In other words, because I was willing to clean the toilets, they were willing to listen when I offered constructive, loving advice.

It was not long after that our pastor decided to retire. After his retirement, I was elected to the pastor search committee. We found a pastor who was committed to preaching the Word. During a town meeting when he came for his visit to the church, he called us “a mile wide and a inch deep.” The church still called him. Since he has become pastor, he has led us to become much more deep doctrinally, and significantly more mission minded. The church has grown enormously over the last 2 1/2 years. I’ve been able to be a part of a real revival in our church, because we decided to stick it out during a difficult time. I’m a part of the leadership team, helping lead our church into what we hope will be the next phase of this awakening.

I’m not saying what the right thing for any particular person is to do when faced with this situation. I’m glad we did what we did. If we had left, we would be missing incredible blessings right now. If you decide to stick it out, you need to learn how to encourage instead of complain. And you must be very, very patient. Change doesn’t come quickly. But it can come.

5 Brian Osisek October 26, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I believe in the Primacy of Preaching in the local church. However, as the head of the home a father must first be the primary spiritual developer of his families faith.

But certainly, your Church must have a pastor who is totally committed to the exposition of the Bible. Remember the word’s of Jesus “man can’t live by bread alone, but by EVERY word that comes from God (Matt. 4:4).

I would address this issue with the pastor, if there is no change in the preaching, I would start looking for a church that has a high regard for the authority of the scriptures

6 Nick Kennicott October 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Thanks for your comment, Wade. As a pastor, I certainly hope I’d hear from, be challenged/critiqued/encouraged/etc. by a church member over time before they just leave. While I strive for excellence and depth in preaching each week, the reality is (and every Pastor worth his salt I know will agree) sometimes, we just miss it…

I’ve heard some really terrible preaching, and I’ve heard some world-class preaching. There’s obviously a difference. I think a part of this conversation that hasn’t been considered is the reality that many Christians have become even more critical of their pastor’s preaching because they have instant access to some of the greatest preachers in the world via podcast. I will never be a Piper, Sproul, Lloyd-Jones, etc. in the pulpit, but I strive to be faithful to the Word, give as much meat as I can, and trust the Lord will use the discipleship ministry within the church to make up for what is lacking in my pulpit ministry.

All that said – I would really, really caution anyone from leaving if they haven’t spent a lot of time in prayer and in conversation – honest, hard, gut-wrenching conversation – with their pastor. I am thankful to have several brothers in my congregation that work to make me a better preacher, offering weekly encouragement and criticism. That is far greater for the body than leaving, in my opinion.

If they’re an Arminian, move on. haha

7 Mark October 27, 2011 at 10:56 am

Dan, thanks for sharing your story. Your decision to find a new church home does not sound like it was an easy one. Appreciate the caveat.

Christiane, hopefully, Chris’ answer made sense. Even if you disagree with the position of the sermon in a protestant worship service, if the sermon is not focused on Christ then it would be difficult to make Him the center of worship.

Chris, thanks for answering.

8 Mark October 27, 2011 at 11:03 am

Wade, thanks so much for sharing. What you have shared is something I have struggled with when considering whether or not to leave a church. It seems there is a maturity factor in play as well as consideration for one’s family. If you are mature enough and God has given you a position of favor to lead others it may be best to stay where you can faithfully effect the lives of others. One of the difficult consequences to consider is leaving your fellow Christians rather than staying as you did and helping the spiritual growth in the body.

9 Mark October 27, 2011 at 11:06 am

Brian, thanks for answering. Depending on the situation I would consider an approach between yours and Wade’s while certainly heeding Nick’s charge of prayerfully considering whether or not to leave.

10 Mark October 27, 2011 at 11:11 am

Nick, you may never preach like Piper or Sproul, but don’t you preach in a barn like Spurgeon did down in my hometown? 😉

Seriously, I think the easy access of so many great preachers has harmed the body in some instances. I like to joke with my pastor telling him that after he preaches on a text I go home and judge his sermon compared to how Piper preached the same text. Of course, I don’t really do that.

I appreciate your last paragraph the most that a member should prayerfully consider leaving and not take that decision very lightly. However, some of that may depend on the pride/humility of the pastor. In your case you seem accepting of constructive criticism whereas others may not be so accepting.

11 Jared Moore October 27, 2011 at 12:36 pm

If we have covenanted together with a local body, then how can we leave?

I just find it interesting that the apostle Paul didn’t encourage members at the Corinthian or Galatian church to leave due to the terrible teaching and/or immorality. He instead worked to correct their false teaching and false living. I think we should do the same within our churches.

In the U.S., we have so many churches that we think we have the right to just pick up and move from one to the next. If we indeed covenant with a local church, then we do not have this right. Once my family and I join a church, they’ll almost have to vote me out to get me to leave; unless I must move for other uncontrollable reasons. We must be willing to bleed for the sake of the body, whether we’re pastors or laity.

I understand the balance between being a faithful church member and a faithful husband/father. We just can’t take our commitments lightly. If our pastor is a poor preacher, then it’s a good time to 1) teach our family to test preaching, hate evil, and hold onto what is good (1 Thess. 5:20-22), 2) encourage him in his walk with the Lord, possibly through a Systematic Theology Bible Study together (you could even let him teach it.), 3) love the other Christians who are there, helping to teach them sound Biblical truth.

If every mature Christian leaves these type of churches, all the mature Christians will be quarantined to a small amount of churches. I think we can agree that this isn’t good. How are these immature churches supposed to mature if mature Christians always leave? Instead, I think we should work to love and Biblically reform the churches we’re in, unto the glory of God.

(I’m still thinking through this issue. My opinion above is not absolute, but a working opinion, subject to change.)

12 Committed Christian October 27, 2011 at 2:48 pm

This post caught my eye because I am in the process of finding a church. I moved a long way away from my former church and am put a lot of thought concerning what type of church I should attend. I visted a church big on missions and evangelism yet the preaching was a big turn off. Otherwise the church was faithful. But the two sermons I listened to were not substantial doctrinally, were full of stories, and some gospel was contained therein. But I visited another church which had a simple worship service and the sermons were more substantial and were given out of genuine concern for the congregation and visitors. The pastor even went out of his way to take my husband and I to lunch. After talking with the pastor some I realized that he was a faithful shepherd and that God is honoring his faithfulness to the word and his calling by granting him more “sheep”. The church is much smaller and seemingly does not have the wherewithal as the larger church to do missions and evangelism, but I would much rather go to the small church because the people are welcoming and the pastor is a faithful shepherd of the sheep and takes the Word seriously. The Word is vital for one’s spiritual growth and it is not worth it to attend a church where this vital element is missing from the sermon. I went to a few churches like this before and I was in a spiritual pit.

13 Chris Poe October 27, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Jared,

I find your comments interesting in light of some of your blog posts that come to mind. Certainly we don’t want to bolt at the slightest disagreement. And I agree that it can be hard to know where to draw the line.

For example, what if one is in a solid Bible-believing church and a new church is planted or a new pastor comes to town and the church member has more in common with the latter with regard to doctrine and practice? Some will move with nary a second thought in that circumstance when perhaps they should consider things more slowly. I think in that kind of situation it also makes a difference if certain doctrinal distinctives are insisted upon in the first church that would bar our hypothetical member from serving in a leadership capacity, assuming he is gifted and qualified for such.

One post that comes to mind is the one about jingoistic 4th of July services and similar things. You said that it was idolatry. If after discussing it a church is going to persist in such (as well as perhaps the kinds of things in Mark’s post) while a mature member or family regards it as idolatry, should they stay anyway?

14 Jared Moore October 28, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Chris, you ask a good question. If the entire worship service is idolatry, then I understand the reasoning for leaving. But, if there are idolatrous elements, they should be able to apply 1 Thess. 5:20-22.

I just worry that in the Evangelical church, many Christians leave at the drop of a hat. I think we believe it’s largely our “right” to pick and choose where we go to church. The Scripture however place more emphasis on being one body in Christ. When we join a local church, we JOIN.

When I went up to CHBC in DC, one thing I noticed was that they were occasionally sending a handful of families to help make a difference in other local churches. I think that’s awesome! What a great reason to leave a church.

15 PrayBuddy November 8, 2011 at 6:25 pm

First, you should be praying for your pastor, church, and for direction you should make for your family. Second, I would recommend sitting down with your pastor or deacons to discuss your issues and point out that church membership has been declining and there is obviously a problem. If you feel like this is your family (as I think you should), then you should desire to help your family and confront them during their times of struggle. If you attempt to help the pastor, deacons, and church but see no change, then it might be time to consider a new church home. Just allow God to lead you in your steps. Remember that the pastor and church need you just as much as you need the church.

16 Joshua S. November 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I wrestled with this issue for two years, and I finally switched churches. Now I drive an extra twenty minutes than I used to so I can go to a church where they preach Christ and him crucified for my sins.

But it was hard to switch. On one hand, I loved- still love- my old church and its pastor. There was a great sense of community, and the pastor was a really cool guy. It was like home. However, I wasn’t getting what I wanted most.

I desired to hear Christ preached, but I wasn’t hearing Christ. I was thirsty for the Word, but all I got were drops of water. It pained me to do so, but I left. I didn’t know what else to do.

I am happy with the community and the preaching at my current church, but sometimes I wonder if I made a good decision. Sometimes I question my motives for leaving. Was I being selfish, mean-spirited or critical? Perhaps so.

And then I feel accused, as if I’ve committed a great sin by joining a more biblical church. Some would call me a jack-ass for what I did, and I won’t deny it. But I will say this: if pastors would but preach the Word, then this wouldn’t happen.

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