Recently, I posted an article by Aaron Loy on Facebook called, “5 Really Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church” (Relevant Magazine). Of course, as a pastor, I admit I’m biased, but I thought it was an excellent article that addressed some truly unhealthy and unholy reasons for leaving a church to go shopping for another. (You can read the article here: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/5-really-bad-reasons-leave-your-church/)
Boy, did I kick the hornet’s nest! I got emails, Facebook posts, and even unfriended by a few folks who really hated this article.
At the risk of getting further stings, let me tell you why I like the article and why I think some hate it.
I liked it because I’ve seen hundreds (maybe thousands) leave their church for the wrong reasons.
We live in a culture driven by a self-centered attitude that says, “What’s in it for me?” We also tend to think we know more about God, church, and life than everybody else (click on this link to read a blog I wrote about the age of arrogance: http://pastors.com/leading-age-ignorance/). A consumerism mentality has infiltrated the church. The attitude of many: If it’s not meeting my needs, why attend?
I liked it because too many view actively engaging in a church as an option.
Growing numbers of people are leaving the church because they see it as a waste of time. They’d rather get their spiritual food from a microwave TV dinner because it’s quicker, more convenient, and cheaper. Because they can flip on a dozen channels or go to thousands of websites 24/7, they choose to stay home and squeeze in a little God when there’s nothing else better to do.
I am deeply concerned about the isolationism that is becoming the new norm for Christians. More than once I’ve heard, “I don’t need the church. I have my family and friends and all the spiritual guidance I need (or want).” I have friends who almost brag about not going to church anywhere. I think this grieves the Holy Spirit. I know it grieves me.
Whether your church meets in a home, a cathedral, or a former K-Mart (like my church,
Eastpoint) is not the issue. Whether your church is made up of dozens or thousands is unimportant. What is important is our regular and active engagement with a group of believers who function as the church of Christ.
I liked it because it challenged us to work hard on relational wholeness rather than take the occasional relational copout, “God is calling me somewhere else.”
Doing church is hard because the church is people, and people are often broken. Church is messy because people are messy. But hard and messy can be good for us because it challenges us to grow in grace.
If we have the humble heart of Jesus, we will do our best to reconcile with the pastor or church member rather than use our differences and frustrations as an excuse to bail. One of the greatest lessons we all must learn is how to work through conflict in a God-honoring way. That doesn’t mean we must agree on everything. However, it does mean that we must love in spite of everything. Last time I checked, “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21) and “Love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8).
To be clear, there are some good reasons to leave a church and move to another. (Read what I wrote about this here: http://pastors.com/how-to-help-someone-leave-a-church-without-hurting-the-bride/).
It’s not always bad for someone to leave a church and move on. However, there is never a good or biblical reason for completely quitting on church. As the Body of Christ, we gather to celebrate, to grow, to serve, and to love one another. It’s what the first church did. It’s what the church has done for millennia. It’s what we are to do now and will do forever in heaven!
Is it always easy or convenient? Of course not.
Is it always fun and fulfilling? Nope.
Is it critical to a thriving relationship with Christ? Yup.
If you hate (or seriously dislike) the church, which is the Body of Christ, you can’t convince me you love Him with all your heart. Even on a human level, we understand how this works. You can’t say you love me and not love my wife. We are one. We go together. Just like Jesus and His bride. It’s a package deal.
I’ve learned a few things in my 35 years of being a pastor. I’ve learned that people come and people go. Usually, when they come for the wrong reason they eventually leave for the wrong reason too.
But what if?
What if we embraced the church with all its warts and wrinkles?
What if we saw conflict and struggle as an opportunity to grow?
What if we worked through our disappointments, stayed fixed on Jesus no matter what, and stayed connected to the church even when it’s difficult to do so?
What if we practiced loving the unlovely and demonstrated humble service to those who tick us off?
What if we acknowledged to a watching world that the church is far from perfect but still the hope of the world as the Body of Christ?
What if we agreed with Tony Campolo, “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother, and I love her”? (Meaning, the Church has miserably failed and prostituted herself many times throughout history, but a child still loves his mama!)
I’ve probably been in church more than most in my 57 years. As a preacher’s kid and pastor, I’ve seen the underside of the church up close and personal. I know the church has a tendency to operate more as an organization rather than an organism. I know it sometimes reeks like a business rather than being a blessing. I know too many pastors and leaders have failed too often.
But I love the bride because she belongs to Jesus, and my life would not be what it is without her.
Perhaps the writer of Hebrews put it best: “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day of His return drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25 (CEB)