What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church

The fact is there are lots of awesome church people out there that have decided it’s not okay for them to leave their churches because they don’t really have biblical reasons to do so.

So they are staying. Right where they are. And, truth be told, they are miserable. They find it difficult to be at their churches. They aren’t happy, and unhappy people have difficulty connecting with others and with God.

What then?

Are they obligated to stay at their churches and be miserable?

No.

God doesn’t want you  miserable at your church. Barring any unbiblical things going on, God wants you happy at your church. 

Read that again.

God wants you happy at your church, not at a new church. 

How do I know that?

a) God loves us and wants us to be happy (Psalm 68:3). God is a compassionate God who weeps with us and rejoices with us and is able to relate to every emotion we have (Matthew 14:14, John 11:35, Hebrews 4:15). He desires for us to feel happy, but that is not the end all be all of our existence, and if our happiness and our growth in Christ are at odds with one another, God will choose to attempt to grow us every time (2 Corinthians 3:18).

b) If there is one thing the New Testament stresses to the church, it’s unity (2 Corinthians 13:11). When people leave their church bodies in search of personal happiness in a new church body, whether they intend to or not, they effectively stress fracture their former body. Whether they leave quietly or recruit loudly as they go, they weaken other believers in that body by taking away their services (assuming they were serving in the first place) and by causing other believers to wonder if they should leave too.

When the body gets multiple stress fractures from multiple people leaving, it becomes so weak it breaks. And when the body breaks in multiple places, it hurts. A lot. For a long time. Ministry is crippled, to some degree, among the remaining church members as they are left to try to salvage the body. Energy and resources have to be focused on healing the body rather than on what the church should be focusing on: spreading the Gospel and discipling believers.

c) Every time we feel like our happiness is at odds with an opportunity for us to grow, we aren’t viewing the situation how we should (James 1:2-3). We need a heart change quick. We should value above all else our conformation to the image of Christ. That should be our chief source of happiness, and being miserable at your church affords you the perfect opportunity to grow. Rejoice.

So, if you’re unhappy at your church, can I gently challenge you to stop waiting for the things around you to change to suit your preferences and to start changing yourself?

If you want to feel happy about going to your church, stop the self-focus – “What am I not getting?” – and train your mind to focus on others (Philippians 2:3-4) – “How can I serve others here today?” If you’re not serving, start (1 Peter 4:10).

Now, the tricky part is we can serve until we’re blue in the face and still feel unhappy about our churches because our hearts are still focusing on ourselves while we go through the motions of serving others. Psalms says God doesn’t value that kind of external sacrifice, he wants our hearts (Psalm 51:16-17). When we serve with the motivation to honor the Lord, others will experience the love and truth of Jesus, and we will gain joy knowing the Lord is happy with us (Ephesians 6:7). 

If you are among the minority of church members who do serve and are others focused, but you still feel unhappy with your church, there is one other area that needs to change.
Consider that everything your church does is not for your benefit. If you’re a seasoned believer, the outreach arm of your church is not trying to make you happy, it is trying to reach unbelievers and new believers and welcome them into the church so they can come to know Christ. What’s more important than that? (Matthew 28:18-19)
Knowing this, seasoned believers should approach outreach times not with an “I’m not getting anything out of this” attitude but with a rejoicing heart that the Gospel is being preached and non and young believers are getting exactly what they need – small doses of scripture and basic truths (1 Corinthians 3:2). Your jobs during outreach, seasoned believers, is to bring non and new believers so they can grow and to pray for the Spirit to move. Rejoice that seekers are being introduced to Christ at your church!
Likewise, if you’re a young believer, the intensive Bible studies that are way over your head are not trying to make you happy, they are trying to help seasoned believers go deeper in their relationships with the Lord (Hebrews 5:14). If you’re in one of these classes, and your eyes are glazing over because you don’t care about the original Greek, your job is to pray that the Spirit would move and grow these other members in their walks with Him. Rejoice that seasoned believers can grow at your church!
This is the kind of perspective change – to value others more than ourselves – that is called maturing in Christ. If you church-hop in this moment, you lose. You lose the opportunity to mature in your faith (Ephesians 4:15). You lose the opportunity to be apart of others coming to know the Lord.
If none of this is helpful, you need to call your pastor, schedule a meeting, and have an open, honest discussion with him about how you’re feeling. Tell him that you are unhappy and that you don’t want to leave, but you don’t know how to get happy, and allow him to speak to the sources of your unhappiness. Some of the very things that cause you the most trouble could be simple misunderstandings. Or they could be legitimate problems that your pastor needs to be aware of so he can redirect the church.
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20 thoughts on “What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church

  1. Well, slap me upside my head, Sister! Lol – I hear The Lord loud and clear. I’m going to start serving with my husband in an area that’s not my forte, but remembering what you said through God’s Word will help. I know God will heal my hurting heart in time and IF He wants to use my gift of song to bless someone, I trust He will find a way 😍. Young lady, you have helped me so much these last days. I thank God for you!

    • Thank you so much for that encouragement! I am so proud of you, and God even more so, for resolving to stay committed and to serve with a joyful heart for His honor. I know He will bless you for your obedience. Glory to Him!

  2. First of all, when is it acceptable to persecute other believers? I believe wherever you goto church is a personal choice which I thank god he blessed us with the ability to make. Is there not happiness that people are seeking god wherever they decide to worship him at? You’re blogs say a lot about biblical and unbiblical reasons but none are specific to church memberships. There are no specific verses about staying at one church however I can translate verses out of context all day for benefit of any point I would like to make but when all said they are still out of context. Maybe your next blog should be “when to stay at a church for the wrong reasons”. Personally I feel you are on a very unchristian like vendetta that you have made personal. This vigilante criticism isn’t going to get anyone closer to god so why stir the hornets nest?

    • Persecute other believers? Where you do see that? Surely your years of cleaning house for a living hasn’t jaded you socially so much that you actually think Kelly was persecuting other believers?!

      All joking aside, Jesus never says “don’t hold each other in the Body of Christ accountable to truth and righteousness and holiness” – He actually commands that we do, but with humility and integrity (Matthew 7:1-5) (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).

      There is a BIG difference between persecution (see Christians in Iran) and holding our brothers and sisters accountable.

      I hope that helps in some small way.

  3. I have enjoyed these last 3 blog post and found them very helpful. Someone has to step up and say the obvious. Thank you for being brave and obedient.

  4. […] What I am not saying is if you’re unhappy at your current church, and you’re pretty sure God would want you to be happy, and you think you can make that happen by switching churches, then God must be in that decision. God is more concerned with your spiritual growth than with your personal happiness, and he likes to use uncomfortable situations to encourage such growth, including, but not limited to, less-than-satisfying church experiences. […]

    • See you just scratch the surface with generalities. There is so much more to being happy then selfish reasons. Sometimes the church staff is toxic. Or the deacons and pastors are in constant conflict. But i am to just stay because if i left i would be selfish? How ignorant an answer. Your scripture references are so stretched that you come across a someone who knows a handful of verses and tries to apply them to everything. I pray no one else reads this article. It is nothing but degrading to people with broad generalities and assumptions.

  5. I’m considering leaving a committee I’m on at church. I’m not happy doing the work. Even though it is important work, it is just not for me. I’m feeling guilty for resigning and all the scripture I read says to serve joyfully. Any thought She?

    • The Lord has given each one of us spirituals gifts with which we are to serve the church. I suggest serving via your gift(s). That doesn’t mean there won’t be some aspects of that service that are cumbersome, but, on the whole, serving with your gifts is serving in your “wheelhouse”, which brings us joy.

      Conversely, serving in a way not suited to your gifts can feel like a chore nearly 100% of the time. What’s more, your serving in an area you aren’t gifted in prevents someone who IS gifted in that area from having an opportunity to use his gifts. Just because there is a need does not mean YOU have to meet it.

  6. I came across this discussion bc our church is dying. It’s dying bc members who were stalwarts for years and years became unhappy with a minister who has been with us now for 7-8yrs. A good man whom I like personally but disagree with in some messaging. I am upset with them bc as churches fade, (and ours was considered a healthy church before this trend.) we need to be very reflective on why we make our choices. I Have also been unhappy at times and have gone to prayer and other messengers when I needed it. Our minister became political after the last election and although he was “inspired”. He put a wedge between members. That sermon became too much of this earth and not close enough to messages of the Bible. Years ago I attended a seminar “Making Disciples of Broken People” by Pastor Erwin Manus of Mosaic church in LA. To put things in perspective In today’s terms he would be considered “progressive” and I would be “conservative” but his message was awesome. The broken disciples were ourselves and he spoke of this issue. The lesson, when your church is ailing and you don’t feel good, your church needs you to restore it to health. I understand that there are good reasons to leave, but consider whether you are doing enough to be a part of a solution and not exacerbating a problem. My old friends -good Christian servants- are by their actions of going to a popular and HUGE church are encouraging the demise of ours. We r the big iconic church that was part of our town since inception with huge history and still deep roots serving our community. But we can’t do it alone.

  7. If you are unhappy with a church then there is a reason- its that simple. If you are not getting help from the church or not satisfied, ,its a free country- you should leave. Why are you making a person feel guilty about leaving a church they are not satisfied with????? The bible never says you have to stay in a particle church.

  8. Susan, you are right: the Bible never says, “You have to stay in a particular church.” However, the problem with arguments from silence is silence on a subject does not automatically mean the opposite must be true.

    On this subject, the Bible doesn’t explicitly state, “You have to stay in a particular church,” because at that time believers didn’t have the option to go to other churches. They had no transportation and there were few believers to begin with. They either went to the local house church in their neighborhood, or they didn’t go at all. And all the local house churches were considered one church, i.e.- the church at Rome, at Ephesus, etc. So it would not make sense that any New Testament writer would feel like they needed to state, “You have to stay in a particular church.” Someone who was dissatisfied in the Roman church couldn’t hop over to the Ephesian church, for example.

    Secondly, although the Bible doesn’t explicitly state it, it implicitly screams, “be committed to the local church body at all costs unless something heretical is taking place.” I give many verses and examples in these articles: https://kellylevatino.com/2013/12/27/why-church-membership-is-important/ and https://kellylevatino.com/2013/12/20/when-its-not-okay-to-leave-a-church/.

    As for “making people feel guilty”, I simply don’t have that power. Every individual gets to decide how they want to feel. If they read my articles on this subject and feel guilty, I advise they go to the scriptures I reference and ask God where that feeling of guilt is coming from. He will reveal if the feeling of guilt is because they are disobeying His Word or because they are believing Satan’s false accusations that they are disobeying God’s Word. If they are in fact being obedient to the scriptures, reading them afresh will remind them of their obedience and help them dismiss Satan with confidence, thereby ridding them of the feeling of guilt.

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