Nine Reasons to Run from a Church

From Roger Olson:

So here are my suggestions for behaviors that should cause people to RUN from a congregation EVEN IF it is perfectly orthodox doctrinally and even though its reputation is evangelical:

1) Condoning (including covering up) sexual abuse or sexual immorality of leaders within itself.

2) Silencing honest and constructive dissent.

3) Treating leaders as above normal ethical standards, above questioning.

4) Implying that “true Christianity” belongs to it alone or churches in its network.

5) Using intense methods of “discipleship training” that involve abuse of persons–including, but not limited to, teaching them they must absolutely lose their own individuality and sense of personal identity in order to become part of an “army” (or whatever) of Christ and using methods of sensory deprivation, brainwashing and/or abject obedience to human authority.

6) Teaching (often by strong implication) that without the church, especially without the leaders, members lose their spiritual connection to God. (This happens in many, often subtle, ways. For example a church may claim that its “vision” of the kingdom of God is unique and to depart from it is to depart from God’s kingdom, etc.)

7) Simply closing itself off from all outside criticism or accountability by implying to its members that the “whole world” outside the church is evil.

8) Falling into magical, superstitious beliefs and practices such as “spiritual warfare” with an emphasis on destroying all of a certain kind of object because objects “shaped like that” are often inhabited by demons. (A few years ago some churches were teaching people that if they were having marital problems it was probably because they had owl-shaped objects in their homes. I was told by members of a church that having books about world religions or cults in my library would corrupt my spiritual life. A church held bonfires to burn records and books considered unholy. Etc., etc., etc.)

9) The pastor literally owning the church lock, stock and barrel.

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  • josenmiami

    yup, those are all good and sufficient reasons for leaving a church. What about lesser reasons? Suppose the pastor is a narcissist? (rather common these days). What if the messages are all “feel good” messages about fulfilling one’s potential? What if the church is large and the people are all anonymous consumers? no sense of community or accountability? What is the overriding goal of the church is numeric growth at any cost, even at the expense of discipleship? What if the church is relentlessly political? Especially in an unbalanced way or with non-biblical values? What if the tone of the church is angry or defensive towards society?

    What if God just never shows up?

  • Yeah, I had the same thought. The author seems to be avoiding a direct accuasation, but I can’t help but think this was a singularly significant church in his mind.

  • I imagine that Olson would agree with you that these issues might contribute to a legitimate need to leave, although he might consider them lower on the scale than the comparatively short list we see here. Probably worth a conversation, but I’m sure that he wasn’t trying to say “these reasons, and only these reasons.” Rather, he was trying to list some reasons that, to him at least, were “obvious” (but which obviously aren’t obvious to everyone, or they wouldn’t even need saying).

  • josenmiami

    I suppose there is a difference between necessary and sufficient reasons to leave. Olson’s list would be the “necessary” reasons … “run, don’t walk to the exit.” The ones I mentioned are not exactly ‘necessary’ but perhaps ‘sufficient.’

  • Rick

    Near the end of the article is points out some examples (without using names), including the states they are from.

  • thesauros

    Wow, we have been very fortunate. In our thirty years and five different congregations, we’ve never had to face any of this stuff. Not to say there hasn’t been conflict; after all humans were involved. But nothing like the abuse and error described in the article or comments.
    God Bless.

  • Tree of Life ©

    Re #1 “condoning…:”

    And what if my church – or yours – is registered property of a State that is not only “condoning…,” but “actively promoting…” in every conceivable way?

    What part responsibility do I – or you – have for the ills we each perceive in our midst? Consider Rev 18:4…

  • Julia Wedding

    A problem in some big pentecostal churches in Sydney is people are herded out the door right after the service so they can’t get to know each other normally, unless they join supervised groups. No room for individuality, and leaders trying to subtly control everyone and tell them how to think and act. Luckily there are still lots of churches (eg incl Anglican and United) where the Bible is read, taught, and discussed much more fully, and where people are encouraged to develop their own friendships as fully functioning adults.

  • Julia Wedding

    Another sad, huge problem in some churches in Australia and NZ, is the wrong teaching that the more money you donate to the church, the more God will bless you. This teaching became so bad in some pentecostal churches in Sydney over the last 20 years that the media did some articles on it. Of course, in the NT St Paul teaches Christians to give willingly as much as they CAN AFFORD TO GIVE, NOT WHAT THEY CAN’T AFFORD TO GIVE. It’s sad when ministers are rich with many poor people in their churches who give more than they can afford. Those ministers will be in GREAT TROUBLE on judgement day…

  • Aaron Lage

    I agree. I think the important one is what you ended on – what if God never shows up?

  • Tertullian2009

    What the heck does that mean? I hate language that says nothing. What does it mean for God to “show up”–as if He were not there already or is one of the tardy parishioners?!!

  • patriciamc

    I’ve been following this story since this morning, and this is all very, ah, interesting….

  • Amanda B.

    I read the list above as reasons not just to leave, but to flee. Sometimes it’s worth toughing it out in a church with problems, sometimes it isn’t. But if a church displays any behaviors Olson lists above, it’s not just worth leaving, but dangerous to stay.

  • Howard Taylor


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    A people with a deep love for the Living God and His Kingdom.

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    A people who live by the moral laws of God, believing their bodies are the temple of God and should be respected as such.

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  • Stan Ables

    When the pastor uses the greed manipulative OLD Testament doctrine falsely applied to the New Covenant Church of tithing and claims that it is evidence of your salvation.

  • Good list, Shane. There’s a lot of crazy stuff in churches.