This is Part 1 in a series of posts called “How To Leave A Church.”
After church services one Sunday, a couple greeted me on their way out the door. By their cliché Christian lingo, I knew they weren’t our typical nonreligious visitors.
“Pastor, what an anointed word from God you delivered today,” the husband said. I cringed. Normally the only people that talk that way are on really scary Christian television programs. I swallowed and said, “Hope to see you next week.”
His wife looked at me with a grin and said, “Nope. We won’t be back. Years ago the Lord told us to attend a different church every week. So we’ll be somewhere else next Sunday.”
I said, “Let me get this straight. You go to a different church every week?”
“Yep,” said her husband. “Been doing it for five years now.”
I said, “How sad.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you never get a chance to experience real Christian community,” I replied. “You’re, like, connoisseurs of fine churches. My hunch is it wasn’t the Lord who called you to do this. Find a church and put down roots.”
We’ve become a nation of church shoppers, and unfortunately this couple wasn’t far from the norm. If the preaching gets boring at our church, we start Googling. If the worship style changes, we go to First Church’s early service. If our Sunday school class starts to get too impersonal, we don’t sweat it; we try the hot new church in town. We Christians change churches like we change favorite restaurants. I can’t help but think this must make God sad.
In the New Testament there are dozens and dozens of things Christians are told to do. Leaving one another is not one of them. In fact, we’re told to do the exact opposite.
- Is there someone at your church you can’t stand? First John 3:11 tells us to “Love one another.”
- Did the pastor at your fellowship hurt your feelings? Colossians 3:13 says, “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.”
- Do the attitudes of the people in your church family need to change? James 5:16 says, “Pray for each other.”
In other words, roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of building community where you are. Don’t go spiritually AWOL. Stick it out, through exciting times and boring times. Pray, serve, love, forgive, sacrifice, and resolve like authentic followers of Jesus. Christian community isn’t something that happens instantaneously. Real community is forged on the anvils of time and struggle. If you jump ship when things get tough, you’ll condemn yourself to one long journey of spiritual superficiality.
I know this from experience. My parents started attending Eastpointe Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio, when they were both teenagers. They’re now in their seventies. They’ve never joined another church. Over the past sixty years, they’ve seen quite a lot. They lived through the “clapping in church” controversy of 1976 as well as the mediocre church softball team of the early 1990s.
They’ve seen people get married, have children, and those children get married and have children. They’ve seen hundreds of people come to Christ and some of those people fall by the wayside. They’ve buried dear friends. They’ve served with great pastors and mediocre pastors and experienced great worship and boring worship. Through calm years and tumultuous years, my parents have given, served, and prayed their entire lives in that one church.
One day in the future, both my mom and dad will pass away, but right before that happens they’ll each be able to do something someone who has spent a whole life church shopping cannot—they’ll look back and savor the memories a lifetime of faithful participation in one congregation brings. They’ll look back and relish the dangerous conversations they didn’t avoid, sins they were encouraged to confront, and authentic Christian friendships it took a lifetime to develop. Jesus wants you to experience the same thing.
I’m sure you know this already, but it’s worth repeating: That “perfect church” you’re looking for already exists. You attended it last Sunday.
Therefore, the real question is: If this is the “norm” taught in scripture, is there ever a time when a Christian can (or should) leave a church?
What do you think?
I’ll address this in my next post.