November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
The purposes of the church, according to Acts 2:42, are teaching Biblical doctrine, fellowship with one another, remembering the Lord’s sacrifice, and prayer. The church is also the body of Christ in this world—the hands, mouth and feet of God (1 Cor. 12:12-27). The church must glorify God by being like Christ, to love each other as He did (John 13:34).
This post isn’t for promiscuous church-hoppers. If you’re a committed church member considering leaving the congregation you’ve been a part of for another church, think on the following four things first. If you can honestly address them, you may be ready to make a switch to a new church, or you may be ready for a mistake. Whether you stay or move on, the main thing is to be like Christ. But certainly don’t leave church if…
1. Your church isn’t perfect.
This should almost go without saying. If you have come to discover you are surrounded by a congregation of human beings deficient in organization, communication, consistency, faithfulness, etc., that is what you’ll eventually find at any other church too. Perfect churches don’t exist. In fact, corporate failure is a requirement for any church—hospitals are not full of healthy people either. Don’t leave a church for that reason alone. Stay, remove the plank from your own eye, and love your flawed congregation with the same grace Christ has shown you. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8b)
2. You are splitting over a non-essential issue.
This is where the need for real discernment comes in. I would suggest reading Fundamental, Important, and Non-Essential Issues (A Suggested Method for Resolving Differences in the Assembly) by Bill MacDonald for a good grasp on how to classify doctrines of the Christian faith in terms of whether we should divide over them. Does your church have too many Persons in the Trinity (a fundamental issue), too many points in its Calvinism (an important issue) or too many guitars in the band (a non-essential issue)?
On such conflicts, Bill MacDonald concludes:
“Leaving an assembly over a non-essential matter is never the ideal. There can be fellowship without total agreement on these topics. Where there is love and brokenness, prayer and patience, humility and forbearance, differences can be settled amicably. Believers can disagree without being disagreeable. The only times when it is better to leave is when a person is convinced that in staying, he is being unfaithful to the Lord or unable to remain without disturbing the peace of the assembly. Even then… in everything, love.”
Sometimes a non-essential issue is in the church environment, for example, there aren’t enough members close to your own age or station in life. By leaving you then become part of that problem. Why not fix it by staying, adding to the incentive for the small number of your generation that are present in the church, and newcomers, to stay? Why not invite your peers to church? It’s hard to imagine that one’s personal need for fellowship with their own generation is so great that they really must leave over the issue, but I suppose it’s possible. Still, if love rules, don’t leave before considering the opportunity to grow your generation in the church, as well as the wealth of opportunity to learn from older generations and teach younger ones.
3. You haven’t considered the Golden Rule.
“In everything, love.” (1 Cor. 16:14) Young or old, it’s easy to get lost in your needs that aren’t getting met or your feelings that have been hurt. We don’t truly live out love for God and neighbor when we don’t consider the needs and feelings of others, when we don’t practice doing unto others what we would have them do unto us (Matt. 7:14). Remember the good you received from this community in various forms—prayer, financial, in word or deed—and imagine how they may feel about the timing and manner of your departure. If you’ve been a part of this church for a long time, know that you are deciding not to help grow and support the body of believers that helped grow and support you.
By extension, make sure you’ve thought about committees and ministries you serve on and the voids that will be left if you leave, assuming you’re an active member. If you’re not involved in a particular ministry because one that could utilize your gifts and passions doesn’t already exist at your church, consider talking to the leadership about starting one rather than blending into an existing ministry somewhere else. Ultimately, be part of a solution rather than a problem, keeping the bigger picture of the kingdom in view in your decision to stay or go.
4. You haven’t talked to the leadership.
If after prayerfully contemplating 1, 2 and 3, you feel leaving church is the answer, do the minimum courtesy and tell your church leadership privately why you are leaving. Don’t leave a Dear John letter, but opt for dialog, being open to the idea that as the leadership learns of your situation, there may also be something that you need to learn from it. Many differences are just misunderstandings. Either way, they deserve to know why people want to leave. If there is a genuine problem in the church, the leadership needs to know about it. In a reasoned discussion, chances are they won’t try to talk you into staying in spite of your convictions. Members sneaking out the back door don’t serve the purpose of God’s church on earth.
There are legitimate reasons to leave a church, most of which center of on irreconcilable (implying that effort has been made to reconcile) differences over fundamental issues of Christian doctrine. Sadly, I’ve seen may people leave church over far lesser issues. (And sadly, many don’t join another church). In many cases, an eye on the purpose of church and the love we are called to have for our church will resolve the disunity. Regardless, let love rule over the decision of not only whether you leave but how you leave.
“In fundamentals, unity. In non-essential matters, liberty. In all things, love.” –Bill MacDonald