Thinking About Leaving Your Church? Not So Fast5 min read
Jack, the deacon over the bus ministry, is upset that his elders have not purchased a newer church van. The current van, a 1997 Dodge Ram with 240,000 miles on it, is now unreliable. It’s had a rough life of senior trips, benevolence, youth events, and regular Sunday morning routes. Now, the bottom of this ugly van is rusted out, the transmission has been rebuilt twice, and the gas mileage is terrible. Yet the elders still won’t sell it and buy a new one. And Jack is the one delegated to drive the van most of the time.
Marilyn, a 56-year-old single woman, loves to decorate for events. This past month, however, the Vacation Bible School planning team did not choose the theme she wanted this year. She already had several decorations and prop ideas for the theme she suggested, and now thinks to herself, “They knew what I wanted, but decided to go with a more boring theme. How could they do this to me? They just don’t care! I don’t think I can work with these people.”
What do these people all have in common? They are all thinking about leaving their church.
No, they are not upset about moral compromise, false doctrine, or spiritual infidelity within the church. Marilyn, Jack, and the Johnsons are simply suffering from a ‘consumer’ mentality. They have contributed emotionally and financially to their respective congregations, and now expect a return on their investment. “What is the church doing for me?” is the unspoken attitude.
Their stories illustrate the common reasons people decide to leave: personality conflicts, hurt feelings, pride, and selfish preferences. People rarely leave over legitimate biblical issues. When things get difficult, their grievances start multiplying. “I’m not being spiritually fed here.” “I’m not getting anything out of worship.” “They aren’t using me.” “There aren’t enough activities for my kids.” “I’m tired of all the hypocrites.” “The elders won’t listen to me.” There might even be some truth to these statements.
Do they sound familiar?
Yes, the church has plenty of people whose lives do not resemble the life of Christ. There are elders who abuse their authority or are really bad at leading. Big decisions are sometimes made haphazardly and without the consent of others. And there are sometimes plenty of personality conflicts, power fights, and relationship squabbles. The temptation to find refuge in a “stronger” congregation can be very appealing.
But the church is not a business, and you are not a consumer. You are a Christian who is part of a community – a church family that is imperfect. Your commitment – not your circumstances – to the body of Christ is what matters the most. Regardless of whether your circumstances are delightful or dreadful, it is your dedication to Christ that should determine whether you should stay or go.
“But you don’t understand. My church has a lot of problems!” Yes, and so do you. So do I. We were slaves to sin, and now – by the grace of God – we have been rescued (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Luke 15:11-32). For the rest of our Christian walk, we will be in a state of transformation into the image of Christ (Rom. 12:2; Gal. 2:20). The church is too. If Christ is committed to us, despite our shortcomings, should we not be committed to His Bride, despite her human imperfections?
More than likely, church problems aren’t keeping you from becoming more like Christ. It is your commitment to building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12), despite her problems, that is making you more like Christ.
Would Christ have you run away from your church the moment a bad decision is made? Or would He ask you to be His light in the period of darkness?
“They aren’t using me.” Maybe you haven’t been given the job you want. But maybe that is because you could serve a greater role doing something else.
“I’m not being fed here.” Maybe you are confusing real spiritual growth with faux spiritualism. Maybe you are relying too much on the church, rather than your own study of the Scripture, to grow closer to God.
“The elders don’t do anything.” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. What they need, however, is your encouragement. “The elders won’t listen to me.” Maybe you just need to learn to be submissive to their decisions (Heb. 13:17).
“There aren’t enough activities for my kids.” Then you need to step up and help with the children’s ministry at your church. If you think of church as a daycare for your kids, you have other problems to deal with.
“I’m tired of all the hypocrites.” If your brother or sister is wrestling with sin, then they need you to help them overcome their inconsistencies (cf. Heb. 10:24-25). They need the encouragement and support of faithful Christians like you. The last thing they need is for strong Christians to flee.
God has given us His church, and through it His grace transforms us (Titus 2:11-12). Christians are to build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11), but that can only happen if we are committed to one another.
Think twice about leaving. Perhaps your congregation needs you now more than ever before. And perhaps fleeing the moment the road gets bumpy will keep you from maturing in an area in which you need to grow spiritually the most.
[NEXT POST: When It Is Time To Leave]