I posted a comment on the Pyromaniacs blog on the subject of leaving church, and I thought I'd reproduce it here. The blog suggested as a rule of thumb, "you should not leave your church." My comment:
People do leave churches for all sorts of reasons, some of them good.
So far I've been a member of many congregations over the last thirty three years [over on the Pyro blog I said ten, but I realized I missed counting a few—some were different congregations in the same church, one I checked out for six months before moving, etc.] and been encouraged by the leaders of five of them to leave. In no particular order, the reasons included
1. To go to theological college.
2. To become an assistant minister.
3. One never gave a reason.
4. At another it related to a sermon I preached on 1 Timothy 2 on women's ministry (my view is theologically complementarian).
5. At another the reason was that it would be 'good for me and good for the gospel' (in the sovereignty of God, it was. There may have been other reasons, but they were not made public).
We're blissfully happy at the church God has led our family to, and where we've been for four years now. And I'm starting to feel less paranoid about being encouraged to leave again. ;-)
My basic test for joining and staying in a church (and sometimes, for leaving) is 3-fold.
1. Is the gospel preached (including the bits people don't like to hear) with some evidence that people are attempting to put it into practice? (The faintest scintilla of response in the hearts of some will do)
2. Am I being encouraged and finding opportunity to 'speak the truth in love' (especially including the gospel, and especially including the bits people don't like to hear).
3. Would I feel comfortable inviting my non-Christian friends to come and hear the teaching?
If the answer to those 3 questions is yes, I should stay. If the answer to any of the questions is no, I should stay and work to do something about the problems until it becomes clear that what I am trying to do is undercutting or opposing what the leadership is trying to do (being invited to leave might be one indication of this).
I admit my three-pronged test is nowhere near as succinct as the rule "You should not leave your church", but I think it may potentially end up being more biblically faithful and effective for the growth of the gospel.