**This post was originally posted here on Sunday, September 1, 2013. I have changed a couple of things ever so slightly.**
For months I have been praying and thinking about how to write a post on this topic. Wouldn’t you know, inspiration struck at 3:30 a.m. I am so glad we went to church last night (a Saturday) so I won’t be fighting sleep in church this morning. Not that I ever fight sleep in church of course…I am super holy that way. 😉
It seems today’s church is making some great strides in really big areas: loving the widowed and orphaned, adopting, helping to meet the physical needs of the world around us- just generally being the hands and feet of Jesus. I think that is wonderful!!! I think we need even more “big picture” thinking from the Church and fewer selfish attitudes and mindsets.
That being said, Chase and I are seeing a common thread in our American churches that is exactly selfish attitudes and mindsets.
We love the “big things” which entail loving the world around us and we should-it is very biblical.
On that same hand though, we should love the small things which entail the local body in which the Lord has placed us. These “small things” are what I believe we should focus on for awhile. Your church is where the most growth should be happening. This is where love should be experienced the most. This is your family. This is where you hear from the pastor that answers to God for what he teaches you (James 3:1.)
This is your springboard into the big picture so we have to get this right. He who is faithful in the least is faithful in much…
Your local church is really no small matter. (I Corinthians 3)
In my mind, family is a good picture of the kind of relationship you should have with your church. A church membership is a big deal, and one that needs to be approached with great thought and prayer. Once you are in it. You are in it.
Leaving your church should also be approached with GREAT thought and prayer. Leaving a church is painful (or at least it should be) because of the relationships, service to that church and shared life you have with the people who make up your church. Leaving and joining another church feels like divorce and remarriage. It is a big deal.
Ephesians 5 is a fabulous chapter, one of my favorites since it is mostly on marriage. I think though we can also apply those verses to our relationship with our church family, because they teach us how strongly Christ feels about the Church and shouldn’t we be like Christ and care about what He cares for?
Jesus loves the Church and gave Himself up for it.
~How are you (how am I) giving yourself up for the Church in which God has placed you?
Christ nourishes and cherishes the Church as His own body.
~How are you (how am I) cherishing your church and taking care of it as you do yourself?
Christ cleans the Church with the washing of water by the Word.
~How have you (how have I) washed your church body with the Word of God lately?
For better or worse, lately Captain Awesome and I have been inundated with people all over these United States asking our thoughts (ok, let’s be honest-mostly Chase’s thoughts. That is why I blog, haha! 😉 on when it is time to leave a church. I think it is a good question because sometimes it is necessary, but let me follow up that question with some more questions to think about: (Don’t you hate it when people do that???)
~Did God place you in that Church Body?
~Are your grievances biblical or preferential?
~Have you addressed your grievances with the Pastor and leadership?
THIS IS HUGE. DO NOT. Hear me, DO NOT leave a church without honoring your pastor enough to respectfully air your grievances and hear his explanations, reasons or thoughts. This is critical but is generally not done because it is uncomfortable. And honestly, this should be done long before you reach the point where you are considering leaving. Having a youth pastor for a husband was hard many times, but nothing was harder than when people pulled kids out of our youth group without an explanation, a grievance we could address or fix, or even telling us why. Please give your pastor and leadership a chance to explain their decision making process or recognize and repair the problem you notify them of. You would want the same courtesy. Romans 13:7
~Does only one spouse feel it is time to leave? If your husband does not think it is time yet, Honey keep your mouth shut. He is your spiritual leader and in charge of that decision. Even if he agrees that all is not well but it not ready to leave, let it be. Too many women are making this huge call (or pestering their husbands until they give in) and it is having devastating effects on the Church and their own families. Do not be that woman. Air your grievance, give your opinion and pray about the situation. Believe me. I know. SUPER hard to leave it at that. Spiritual discipline is hard, but the reality is that is not our call to make. Just one to support. I Peter 3:5
~Are there still good things happening in your church? Are some things still moving in a biblical direction? Is there hope? Revelation 3:2
~Is your pastor humble and teachable? (Not perfect, but being changed by God willingly.) Acts 20:28
~How much have you prayed about it? How much have you prayed for your Pastor and church body? How much have you prayed about the situation bothering you?
~What can you do to help the bad/unbiblical situation?
~Are you encouraging or discouraging your church body with your grievances? Are you working to maintain peace or are you causing further division?
~Are you able to serve in your church somewhere? (Maybe not your ideal position, but can you be involved?)
~Does God generally move us out of uncomfortable situations we don’t like because we don’t like them or does He generally help us through a situation for our growth, the greater good and deeper personal relationship with Him? James 1:2-8
And finally, (if you are still here, you are awesome!)
~How aware are you that Satan is out to kill, maim and utterly destroy your church? I am serious. If your church is preaching the Bible and equipping the body of Christ you had better believe there are forces out to destroy it any way possible. This hit me strongly very recently when we were staying on the property of a struggling church (I haven’t updated this poor blog yet but we are in missions! YAY! So we are on furlough more or less. 😉 two different nights my son and I had very out of the ordinary, intense, demonic dreams that really opened my eyes to the battle going on there that we couldn’t see. My son does not have dreams that he really remembers at all much less could give me so much detail about and the detail stayed consistent when I asked him about it later. My dream was about people in the church family and my son’s was about the people while in the church building itself.
There is a war for your church. What side are you contributing to? There is no neutral ground.
After all of those questions, you have probably guessed that we by and large don’t encourage people to leave their church and that is an accurate guess. There are times when it is necessary but we don’t believe it is the majority of the time.
Paul addressed many different churches for umpteen reasons and there was never an encouragement to split the church, leave the church, start a new church or cause division in the church. Or am I forgetting some verses? 😉
Chase also likes to point out that in Revelation when Jesus confronts the churches about their numerous sins, He never encourages anyone to leave or the church to shut down, rather to strengthen what remains, hold fast, and to seek His riches, His clothing and His vision. (Revelation 2-3)
I will also say that if after reading all of the above, you feel it is indeed time to leave your church, you need to be sure you are doing it lovingly, patiently and graciously.
You do not act as though the people still there are traitors, (no matter your reason for leaving) you do not cause further dissension among the body that is still there and you do not gossip about your now previous church and pastor. End of story. I shouldn’t have to list verses for this one. Pretty Christian 101, right? I wish, but it is not always the case and unfortunately, I haven’t left a church sinlessly myself. But our goal should always always always be unity, love, forgiveness, peace and grace. God bestowed all these on us when we could not have deserved them less…we ought to do the same for our church and church leadership at the very least.
Let’s work on the small things. We need to get back to basics before we can make major strides in our world.
Where is the love for our church?
How should we respond when we struggle with issues and people in our local body???
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18 ESV)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV)
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-12, ESV) (cited from Psalm 34:12-16. Isn’t it awesome when the New Testament quotes or references the Old??? I love it.)
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21, ESV)
I know. The hard thing about church is that it is very personal. They are the family we chose and so when it gets dysfunctional or an individual hurts us it is personal. But this is life. People are people are people are people. No one is immune. No one is perfect. Everyone is hurting in some way. Everyone has blind spots. Everyone acts selfishly. But we need to give grace, forgiveness, love, truth and compassion to all-especially those closest to us, especially those who are of the household of faith.
Let us pray we will respond to church struggles with grace, love, unity, time and prayer, not selfishness, ego, vanity and impulsiveness.
We cannot expect to change the world with our love and unity if we aren’t loving and unified at home.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)