In America today, a significant number of people are switching churches or leaving altogether. I’ve found that unwarranted criticism often plays a significant role. Here is part two in a series entitled, Biblical Principles to Consider Before Leaving Your Church.

How will leaving affect the local body of believers? Leaving a church can have social ramifications as well as emotional and spiritual. Friendships often end when someone leaves. When this happens, new believers and others are frequently baffled and confused. As a result, they start asking questions. Depending on whom they ask, the church's reputation may be damaged by gossip.

We should consider how leaving will affect others, and, when possible, leave on good terms without gossiping or criticizing the leadership. This can be difficult in challenging situations because we want people to know why we left. Our sinful tendency is to pull others down. We may think that somehow this makes us look better. If we are truly concerned about the body of Christ, we will hold our tongue. Self-righteousness has no place here. I’m not referring to sweeping corruption and deception in the church under the rug; I’m referring to protecting the Body of Christ versus slandering her.

Do you have a critical spirit? This could also translate into a cynical or negative attitude. This is one aspect of Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). If you have a judgmental attitude, you’ve already turned a deaf ear to God’s leading—it will be difficult to discern His will. Ironically, I’ve noticed that those highly educated in biblical doctrine are often the most critical, cynical, and negative. Often, they do not practice what they preach. Why is this? It’s simple: “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). As we learn the Scriptures, we can become filled with pride and easily see the flaws in others. Blinded by pride and convinced that God has called us to critique others, we think that we’re more knowledgeable, holy, and in tune with the Spirit, and that God has obviously given us the “gift” of criticism, when indeed, no such “gift” exists! Be careful here—it can be a critical attitude, not God, that is leading.

In The Bait of Satan, the author writes, “When you're out of the will of God [by being negative and complaining], you will not be a blessing or a help to any church. When you're out of the will of God, even the good relationships will be strained...Offended people react to the situation and do things that appear right even though they are not inspired by God. If we are obedient to God and have sought Him, and He is not speaking, then do you know what the answer is? He is probably saying, ‘Stay right where you are. Don't change a thing.’ Often when we feel pressure we look for a word from God to bring us relief. But God puts us in these very uncomfortable crucibles to mature, refine, and strengthen, not to destroy us!”

Of all the books I’ve read, the sermons I’ve heard, the people I’ve talked with, and the devastation I’ve seen firsthand, one common denominator was present: critical, divisive, offended people who do not forgive or release bitterness, anger, and hurt, never experience freedom, happiness, or true restoration. Let’s all begin practicing what we preach. Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Simply stated, bitterness, negativity, and anger will lead you in the wrong direction. It takes genuine love and humility to avoid being a “divisive” person who is proud, unteachable, and eager to dispute.

Oswald Chambers said, “When God reveals the faults and flaws in others, it’s not for the purpose of criticism, but for intercession. It takes a great deal of humility to admit that we may have a critical spirit. I’ve been guilty of this myself. The key is to acknowledge, repent, revisit the purpose of love, and ask for forgiveness is warranted. A critical spirit rarely guides us in the right direction. James 3:17 reminds us that God’s wisdom “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”

Is anger, pride, unforgiveness, or selfishness the fruit of your life, or is patience, humility, forgiveness, and gentleness? We can choose whether or not to have a critical attitude.

In closing, it seems that those who have been greatly humbled by life and who are broken as a result, are often the most forgiving and patient people. The lesson: Humble yourself, and God will exalt you—exalt yourself, and He will humble you (cf. 1 Peter 5:6). How are you doing in this area? Pride says, “Fine!” Humility says, “This is something I need to work on.” Work on building others up rather than tearing them down.