Speaking of leaving your church . . .

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leaving-home cartoon

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?

Leaving Me Church
Furthermore, the connection many have to their community of faith isn’t very deep. So when things don’t go the way they want them to go . . . they just go, and usually in a tizzy.

  • 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.

Leave TV church
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.

Leaving LARGE church

  • 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).

Leaving Sheep Conflict

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!)

Leaving NO perfect

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.

I know.

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)

Leaving BRIDE

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17 Responses to Speaking of leaving your church . . .

  1. I really liked this, Kurt. I posted our story on facebook when you shared the original article. But from what we’ve experience, leaving a church is such a touchy subject. And everything was great at the church where were were serving before we began serving at the church we’re at now. I think we can say that God has called us somewhere else, but what matters are the motives. The questions in the link you sent us to on Pastors.com was a good list of questions to ask when leaving.

    But I totally agree with your heart about the church!

    • Hi Hannah, it is indeed a touchy subject . . . and one hard to completely address in a blog. And you are right, it’s always about the “why” (our motives) – Jesus always looks at the heart! BTW, love the pics of your babies! SO excited for you guys!

  2. Thanks Kurt, for sharing your heart. We are here to do two things…love God and love people. Loving God is the easier of the two in my opinion. Loving people is more difficult. They are right in front of us and let us down or are just hard to love. The Church is made up of people…those we love and those that are tough to love. We have to press in to loving God and He will give us what we need to love His people. Bless you for loving your flock…for we are those people that are not always easy to love! Your heart and obedience helps us to stay the course.

    • Loving God. Loving people. (Sounds like a great church motto!) 🙂 And I sooooo agree, loving people is the harder of the two. That being said, I DO love and appreciate you!

  3. Yes! I read that article last week and loved it, and loved this, too! Isn’t Christ, being the prefect groom to His bride, the Church, crazy about her? Then shouldn’t we, desiring to be imitators of Christ, also be passionate about the Church? Great post!

  4. The article was great, and so are your comments here. I dislike it when people take one sentence, out of context, and make a big deal of it, but here is my contribution from YOUR comments. Here it is: “I am deeply concerned about the isolationism that is becoming the new norm for Christians.”. To my mind, this is the crux of the entire matter. Leaving Church, leaving community, just plain leaving. And, commentating on the way out why under our breath as we leave. I have done it, to my chagrin. I am, however, over that. I have found a place where I am fed because I contribute. I can disagree (rarely) without feeling like I am being condemned. I can state my opinion (when I am not speechless) and not be ostracized. Being a part of something larger than ourselves is a great thing. Serving Jesus and His Church is an even GREATER thing. Thank you Kurt for being who you are. Love it, and Love you.

  5. I completely agree with you and Aaron Loy. How blessed we are to have a fellowship of believers to love, forgive and to worship and praise with until He returns.

  6. The article hit the nail on the head and I’m glad that you posted it for all of us to read. Leaving a church should not be an option. Moving to a new community of believers to help them and yourself grow should be an welcomed if directed by God. For instance, I was happy, content, and always felt loved and at home when I was at Life Center. The reason that I joined you in moving to the new church plant was that the Lord brought it onto my heart that I should because I might be able to contribute in a way that others would benefit from. Sometimes we can get too comfortable. The Lord asks us to move on, ahead, up, out, and it is for our own good. I still love and respect our Mother Church and always will. It’s like having grandparents to encourage us and it’s a safe harbour but Eastpoint is home until the Lord decides on a different path for me. AND I’m confident that he wouldn’t tell me to leave just because I was uncomfortable or challenged by something. That’s when we grow. Thanks for challenging us (me) and for loving us just the way we are. 🙂

    • Judi, some people (like you) are easy to love! Thanks for your kindness and faithfulness over all these years together.

  7. The article that prompted this blog entry hit the nail right on the head – 5 times in fact. Like you I have been in the Church most of my whole life. My wife Barbara and I met in 1984 in a singles group at Overlake Christian Church when it was still located in Kirkland. We stayed there until we moved nearly 50 miles away to Kent 18 years later in 2002. We visited several different Churches in the Kent area and began regularly attending Covington Christian Fellowship within a couple of months. We stayed there 11 years until we moved to Spokane last August.

    Was it always easy? NO! Did we ever hear sermons we didn’t 100% agree with? Sure! Did we sometimes question or disagree with decisions made by our Church leaders? Yes we did. Did we ever meet fellow Christians in our Church that we didn’t especially like, or with whom we had strong disagreements? Of course! But just as you can’t divorce yourself from your blood family, you can’t just walk away from your Church family either.

    This is not to brag about what a great Christian family we are, simply to show how much I (and I am sure I speak for Barbara too) agree with you regarding the importance of “sticking with it through thick and thin”. The Church is not a consumer commodity or a social club. As you so eloquently, stated, it is the Bride and Body of Christ. Our commitment to the Church needs to mirror our commitment to the Lord. We the members, ARE THE CHURCH. WE are the bride of Christ, and just like in a human marriage, you have to take the bitter with the sweet, the good with the bad, and accept and love your partner unconditionally, warts and all.

    Just as this is an unpopular idea in today’s world regarding marriage, it is also unpopular with those within the Church who have not learned this Biblical perspective on the Church – and their own proper role within it. Although these ideas may not be popular, they are still the truth. Keep preaching and speaking the truth in love, Pastor. People need to hear it – whether they like it or not.

    God Bless,

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