What Kind of People Leave A Church?

The world is a face-paced place. Because of social media, technology, and transportation improvements, we can go anywhere in a matter of minutes or hours, where once it would take days and months. People can travel by car, plane, or boat into places that we used to only read about in books and magazines. We can get updates from events simultaneous to their occurrence. Job changes can move us, relationship changes can move us, national changes can move us from one place to another. Mobility is the expectation of today’s man or woman, even an entitlement. Because of being able to move on a whim we assume that it is a right in every area of life.

 

However, there is one area of life, if you are a Christian, where mobility is not a right. There is one point in life, and there are conditions where, a Christian moving from place to place, or rather, church to church, is actually a sin. However, because we are accustomed to moving so much in our daily lives we don’t see it as such. A true Christian, though, is very concerned about how God sees things more than how we see things. Allow me to explain.

 

The New Testament is an extended exposition on the words of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the person who hears and acts upon His Words is a wise man (Matthew 7:24ff.). He also said that His Words are spirit and life (John 6:63, 68). His Words are the foundation of the church (Romans 10:17). Moses’ words meet none of these criteria. Therefore, when a pastor preaches, He preaches the words of Christ primarily (2 Timothy 4:1-2). You cannot hear the words of Christ from any other place than the local church. Now, I am very aware of internet preachers, ministries, and other venues of teaching outside of the local church. However, I am not speaking of what we have in existence in the evangelical world today. I am speaking of what the New Testament instructs and commands. Only the local assembly is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). There are ministries outside of the local assembly, but, biblically-speaking, they should be an extension of a local church and not an independent “ministry” built upon a man who does not tether it to the leadership of that church. Maverick ministries are non-existent in the New Testament.

 

But, with the advent of denominations and an infatuation with church splitting, there are about as many flavors of ministries in existence as there are colors in the spectrum. If you want a church of any kind, you can probably find it somewhere and attend it. What has developed, then, is a type of consumerism in church attendance. The idea that the church is created from the demand of the people (2 Timothy 4:3-4) is a popular concept, judging from the behavior of the reasons people leave churches, but not a biblical one.

 

What I would like to do in this blog is identify what kind of people leave a church outside of positive circumstances (job change, valid relocations, military, etc…). It is important that it be clear that leaving a local assembly is unbiblical, unloving and selfish, outside of the positive circumstances that occur in life. There is a regular sinful pathology that is identifiable in people who are about to leave a church and the Word of God identifies them already.

 

Unregenerate:

The number one reason a person leaves a biblical church is that they are unregenerate.

 

John 10:14

14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me,

Jesus taught a parable wherein He identified four soils which all heard the same Word from the same sower. However, only the final soil produced fruit (Matthew 13:18-23). The first heard the Word and were confused by what they heard. The devil, then, comes and snatches away what they heard and the soil produces no fruit. The second soil, which is the heart of the hearer, hears the Word, rejoices in it, and then, when deep things happen in their lives, they reject what they had heard-they fall away. The next soil hears the Word, but his heart is in love with the cares of this world. The eternal is secondary to the temporal, and the word cannot take root and produce fruit. Wealth, money, temporal concerns “choke” the Word. The fourth soil is the soil which hears the same Word, understands it, and then does it, thereby producing fruit. This man or woman who hears, understands, and obeys, is elsewhere identified as “regenerate”:

 

1 John 2:3–6

3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

 

Jesus’ teaching here leaves no room for any other conclusion. This does not mean that they will never be saved, or that they are to be hated by those who are. It just means when you see this kind of behavior in professing believers, evaluate them based upon Jesus’ Words and not the assertions of the people. One family left our church a few years ago and we ran into them recently. When asked why they left, they said, “Well, we can find truth in other places.” I am not at all saying that only one place preaches truth. I would wish that every church that uses the name of Jesus Christ preached the truth. However, when you are already in a place that does, to leave that for another is filled with ulterior motives.

Let’s identify these people a little more closely.

Soil #1 – roadside soil

Matthew 13:19

19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.

Jesus said that there is a type of person who hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it. Relative to the church-attender, the Word is taught, he hears it, but it causes great confusion. The assertions of the Scripture are just so foreign to him. It is like a big puzzle to him. But, instead of being drawn to the Word of God (John 6:68-69), he is repelled by it because it is non-intelligible. I can tell these people pretty easily. They enter the church, sit down, and wait for the show to start. When the teaching starts they look so puzzled. They might even look upset, uncomfortable. I have seen people slink down into their chairs, stair out the window, and even seemingly memorize the church bulletin during the teaching. They are bored and really can’t wait until service is over. Spiritually speaking, God is not working in them for understanding. If that is the case, then it is clear that at that point this person is unregenerate. The evil one is allowed to penetrate their heart and take away the Word they heard, usually on the way out from church.

Soil #2 – rocky soil

Matthew 13:20–21

20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.

There are those who leave a church after seemingly dominating the church with joy over finding the Word of God. They are outgoing, exuberant, and excited. There is an outward expression of elation at finding the Word, God, Jesus, and a church. The assertions of Scripture are understood….superficially. But, like plastic, their joy is cheap, superficial, and easily burns away under the fire of persecution. When they have to uphold their rationale for believing the Word they are so excited about, they, over time, fall away from their testimony to that Word. They aren’t so happy anymore. At the first hint of persecution, or affliction in general, they apostatize from Christ and leave His church. One avenue that this follows is that when a local church develops a reputation among other churches, the unbelieving world, or otherwise, a person begins to have to decisions to make. The church that works hard at preaching the truth, upholding the truth, and obeying the truth will receive stigma from lesser-committed churches and mocking unbelievers. In fact, it may be that a biblical church is one in a hundred and so the odds are stacked against it. This person, who is shallow and veneer-like in their commitments to Christ, take all of this in and conclude “The Word is not worth all this pressure.” They leave. This lack of commitment in the face of pressure is an indication that they are unregenerate.

Soil #3 – thorny soil

Matthew 13:22

22 And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

There are church-attenders who leave a Bible-teaching church after they are overcome with worry over their finances. Why Jesus put this in here is very interesting. I mean, this is so common, so hard-hitting. Who doesn’t worry about their finances? Who doesn’t have a care in this world about meeting their needs each month? Isn’t this a little unreasonable for Jesus to even introduce this concept? However, Jesus is right. I have known people who simply cannot let go of being dominated in their hearts over their money, their wealth, and the cares of meeting their needs. They call it “stewardship.” Jesus calls it idolatry (Colossians 3:5). A preoccupation with money and earthly instruments of life will ALWAYS choke the Word. No one is immune to it. It becomes a master and, due to our nature, it rules over us. Here, the Lord said that when a person like this hears the Word, worry immediately comes in and the mindset that wealth produces comes in and takes the Word having been heard and begins to suffocate it. The voice of God in the written Word preached gets smaller and smaller. Disinterest grows and grows. This is especially true if his love for money is challenged by that same Word. This is exactly why it is easier to shove a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom. This kind of person is unregenerate. They sometimes end up content in other churches where the Word is not preached so clearly and they are then able to serve two masters. The Word simply cannot produce fruit in the heart of this person. That is what Jesus said.

Soil #4 – good soil.

Matthew 13:23

23 And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

In this soil, the same phenomena happened-the Word was preached and heard, with one exception. It was understood. Now, think about this-how is it that he could understand it and the others could not? The soil condition was different. It was good. It was pure. It was prepared. How? The other soils were off the path, rocky, and thorny. They were not prepared. Only soil that is on the right path, good and clear of thorns can understand the preached Word. If you see a man or woman who 1) hears the Bible taught accurately, 2) understands its content 3) and proceeds to bear the fruit of conformity to the Scripture (even meagerly), then you have a regenerate person. They will bear fruit. The other three soils could never bear fruit because the seed could never take root. For one reason or another, the condition of the soil was not conducive to growing fruit. In essence, the soil was bad.

Further, think about this: who prepares the soil? Can we prepare our own soil?  Matthew 13:19 indicates that the metaphor of “soil” is referring to the heart. It is a condition of the heart. Can a man or woman improve their heart? No. You and I are completely incapable of changing our hearts. Our hearts are unprepared soil predisposed to filth, lying, and deception (Jeremiah 17:9). Who, then, changes the heart? God alone (Acts 15:9; cf. Titus 3:5-7).

God says,

Jeremiah 13:23

23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin,

Or the leopard his spots?

Then you also can do good

Who are accustomed to doing evil.

The reality is that when you see a person who hears the Word of God, does not understand it and then abandons it by leaving the church that is preaching it (even for an alternate form of Christianity, that is not proven to be biblical), then you see a man or woman in whom God has not worked for regeneration. That does not mean that you write them off forever. It simply means that you understand the reality that you are dealing with and minister accordingly.

Church Discipline

Biblically-speaking (as opposed to humanly speaking), the only other time people are seen leaving a church in the NT is that they are cast out of the church by the church and its’ leadership.

Matthew 18:17

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

1 Corinthians 5:13

13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

Romans 16:17–18

17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

2 Thessalonians 3:6

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.

2 Thessalonians 3:14–15

14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

Titus 3:10–11

10 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

2 John 10–11

10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

All of these are forms of distancing from a professing believer who refuses to obey righteousness. Remaining in a biblical church is righteous. Unrepentant sin is enough, in the minds of the NT writers, for faithful believers to begin alienating from those who participate in sin. Further, the very evidence of leaving a church that preaches the truth, upholds holy living, strives for obedience, and is filled with regenerate people who are, themselves, also striving, demonstrates the potential for unrepentant sin, if they have not arrived at it already. However, they have left too early to have it exposed.

The sin that occurs when a person leaves a local church is that the church in which Jesus Christ is abiding (John 15:10) is under one command, the very command that the person who abandoned the church in an unqualified way, has disobeyed:

John 13:34

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

It is not possible to love one another when you have left the church. It isn’t. You might feel nice feelings, have emotions, and/or good memories of some events that you participated in. However, this command from Jesus Christ is comprehensive. It is disobeyed when the people you abandoned are the very people you are to love “to the end” (John 13:1). In short, if you, the reader, have left a biblical church (and that itself is a broad category, I understand that. But, you know what I mean) without being sent out in good faith by the people and leaders of that local assembly of the redeemed, you have left in an unqualified way, abandoned the ones whom Christ loves, and have established yourself in a perpetual state of sin since you are now not able to obey the command Jesus gave to His disciples, the one command that separates true disciples from the world – “love one another.”

The only conclusion that can be drawn is a disdain for God’s children, His Word, and even God Himself. And, friend, that has consequences:

Mark 8:38

38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”