What is the purpose of the Church?

“What is the purpose of the Church?”

The question gave me pause. I didn’t have a memorized answer I could just spout off when I read those words a couple of months ago. I guess that’s because I hadn’t really taken the time to consider the purpose of the Church… I knew the purpose of a Christianto know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16, John 17:3, Matthew 28:19-20). That answer I had worked out long ago…

The Church is just a bunch of Christians, so I reasoned the answer should be the same: a Christian’s purpose and the Church’s purpose is to know God and to make Him known.

Eight weeks later I’ve realized that, while my answer is technically correct, it’s slightly too vague. It’s too vague for our churches to implement, and it’s certainly too vague for our post-modern world to realize it must be understood within biblical terms of who God is.

A more specific answer is the purpose of the Church is to make disciples. Unfortunately, people have wildly varying ideas on what a disciple is.

Too many Christians, even Christian leaders, confuse disciples with church-goers or self-identified Christians or people who have prayed to receive Christ as their Savior or people who have been baptized or people who know a lot of Bible stories or people who serve their communities while wearing Christian t-shirts.

To be sure, all of those things are things disciples should do (although, we could stand to leave our “Serve Team” shirts at home…), but none of those things make someone a disciple in and of itself.

Why not?

Jesus said to the original disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Do you see the part we usually skip? We may go, we may share the Gospel, we may baptize converts, but then, at least in the culture I’m in, we stop… we don’t follow through and teach new converts to “obey everything [Jesus has] commanded”.

Oh, sure, we may preach tremendous sermons and offer fantastic Bible studies – really meaty stuff that teaches people the Word – but that’s not the litmus test for whether or not we’ve taught anyone to obey everything Christ has commanded…

What is?

When our people are telling others about Christ, training them in the ways of the Bible, showing them how and challenging them to live obediently to the scriptures, we’ve made more than converts – we’ve made disciples

And the cornerstone way in which a true disciple obeys Christ is by going and making more disciples who will mature and make more disciples who will mature and make more disciples who will… you get the point.

With a weak voice I have to ask, Church, are we doing that? Am I doing that?

The stats show, as a whole, we aren’t. And when I look around my community – Bible Belt, USA – I see a lot of believers doing a lot of good things, but not many doing the main thing – making more disciple-makers.

It’s time to stop being content with entertainment “Christianity” where our churches’ main focus is making sure people have a satisfying “experience” on Sunday mornings. It’s time to stop preaching the Gospel, helping people convert, and then letting them fall through the cracks of the mega church machine, never to be heard from again. Believers, it’s time to stop being content learning more Bible but not doing anything with that knowledge.

We are fooling ourselves if we think we’re living the Great Commission but we’re not 1) currently investing time and love into a relationship with an unbeliever in which we both model the Christian life for him and, when the Spirit leads, verbally share the Gospel with him, 2) walking a younger believer through his next steps in growing in his relationship with Christ, and 3) helping more mature believers take that final step of obedience by equipping and encouraging them to reach out to the lost, share the Gospel, teach and model the scriptures to younger believers, and help equip them to duplicate the process in someone else.

In short, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we are disciples but we aren’t making any disciples.

In the words of Michael Jackson, it’s time to make that change.

If you’re interested, I recommend reading DiscipleShift for a more detailed explanation of what I’ve summarized. If you’re super interested, I recommend reading Disciple Making Is next. If you’re still interested and/or refuse to read books, shoot me an email below and I’ll send you a short paper or two on the subject. And, lastly, if you’re local to me and want to be a part of making a change in how we do discipleship in our area, let’s chat.

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Cheap Grace

I started reading a Bonhoeffer book last week. He wrote it in the 1930’s, but it reads as if he wrote it yesterday.

Is the price that we are paying today with the collapse of organized churches anything else but an inevitable consequence of grace acquired too cheaply? We gave away preaching and sacraments cheaply; we performed baptisms and confirmations; we absolved an entire people, unquestioned and unconditionally; out of human love we handed over what was holy to the scornful and unbelievers. We poured out rivers of grace without end, but the call to rigorously follow Christ was seldom heard.

Bonhoeffer coined the term “cheap grace”. When we share with others that Jesus died on the cross for them and “all they have to do” to get to heaven is accept that, we are setting them up for the biggest fall of their lives (perhaps of their eternities as well). We tell people they just need to check that belief box, and then they can go about their way, living however they want to because all is covered by grace.

But that’s not the message of the Bible.

Belief in Jesus without repentance (defined as being truly contrite and resolving to do the opposite of the wrong you have been doing through the power of the Holy Spirit) is not true recognition of the depth of one’s sinfulness, of the holiness God requires of us, and of one’s need for Christ’s substitutionary death.

When we limit our sharing about Jesus with others – whether individually or from the pulpit – to “cheap grace”, we are only telling one half of the story. Yes, Jesus died to save us, and, yes, there is not one “good work” we can or need to do in order to be saved. But the grace God offers us through the killing of His Son is not cheap at all. As Bonhoeffer says, it is costly grace.

God’s extension of grace to us cost Him His Son. Go back and watch Jesus be beaten to a pulp and crucified in The Passion of the Christ. Not easy to watch for us; how much harder for Jesus’ Dad?

And the Christianity to which Jesus calls us is not cheap either. Go back and read Jesus’ commands to the disciples to give up everything and follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22); to hate their families in comparison to how much they loved Him (Luke 14:26); to die to themselves (Luke 9:23-24). If they wanted to be saved by grace, not having to do anything to earn salvation except believe the Gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9), the disciples would have to do it on Jesus’ terms. And His terms were/are, “accept Me as your Lord and Savior”.

When we offer people cheap grace, we erase “Lord” from Jesus’ terms. We shout Savior, but we don’t even whisper Lord. And that’s not biblical. People think they are becoming Christians because that go-to-Heaven-without-doing-anything deal sounds pretty good to them. But they aren’t surrendering any part of their lives, much less all of their lives to Jesus. They aren’t making Him their Boss. Cheap grace.

So our churches fill up with people who are fat on cheap grace and have never even heard of costly grace, if they attend church at all. The Christians who shared the gospel with them are to blame. And the pastors and Bible teachers they sit under are to blame. Our congregations swell with people who don’t live like Christians because they haven’t been taught the full picture of what it means to follow Christ. They prayed a prayer for cheap grace and think that’ll do. They go to church because it makes them feel good and/or just in case there was some fine print on that cheap grace that says they really DO need to attend church in order to get into Heaven. But after awhile, they don’t really see the point of attending church… they are confident they have their Get Out of Hell Free card, and sleeping in on Sunday mornings or going to brunch early to beat the church crowds is much more appealing. They stop attending altogether, only to be replaced by other people who have bought cheap grace. And on and on the cycle goes.

[Note: many people who accept cheap grace sincerely understand their need for a Savior and believe that Christ is the only Savior who will do. If this is the case, hear me: I believe they are just as saved as people who understand grace is costly. The difference that burdens me is not necessarily their eternal destinies being different. What burdens me is that when people stop at cheap grace and never come to understand costly grace – when they never move beyond belief in Christ to actually following Christ – THEY MISS OUT! They miss out on having a relationship with God that is more intimate than any relationship they have with a human. They miss out on being set free from sin patterns that hurt them and their loved ones. They miss out on being a part of the miraculous, powerful things the Lord is doing all around them. Cheap grace robs them of the life God has for them now.]

As I continued to reflect on what I was reading in the Bonhoeffer book, the Spirit politely insisted I take a look at myself.

I began to wonder if I am guilty of preaching cheap grace to people. I tell people about Christ every week. I share the Gospel. But have I shared cheap grace to the neglect of costly grace? Do I make it a point to emphasize to seekers that their decision to accept Christ as Savior must also include accepting Him as Lord? Boss? Master? I also teach Christians the Bible every week. But have I really been teaching believers cheap grace to the exclusion of costly grace? Am I too quick to offer grace when believers really ought to be challenged to follow after Jesus more completely?

Last week I read this:

Costly Grace

What is our Christianity costing us, really? If we are not committed to doing whatever He wants however He wants whenever He wants no matter what, we need to seriously consider whether we’ve been sold cheap grace. If our being a Christian isn’t costing us anything – everything – we don’t understand what being a Christian really is. The good news is Jesus wants to lovingly teach us.

Are you willing to be taught? 

Us Versus Them

In any kind of conflict, we humans instinctively feel defensive. Whether it’s a tiff with a spouse, a disagreement with a friend, or an argument with a boss, we immediately adopt an “us versus them” mentality. It’s just how we’re wired.

Which would be fine if that were how God is wired too. But it’s not.

In that passage we all hate, Jesus said we’re to forgive other believers who hurt us 70 times 7 times, by which He was implying as many times as it takes (Matthew 18:21-22). Why? Because Jesus has forgiven us a million times over – there is nothing He hasn’t forgiven us for – and He wants us to offer the same grace to others (Colossians 3:13).

And He doesn’t want us to just forgive them and part ways. He wants us to forgive them and continue in relationship with them (so far as it depends on us – Romans 12:18). (The obvious exception – when abuse is involved.) I know this because that’s what He does with us. And the longer we spend on this earth, the more like Him we should become (Romans 8:29).

He also tells us Christians to love one another as He has loved us… which begs the question – how has He loved us (John 13:34)? Unconditionally. He literally died for us, and He calls us to figuratively give up our lives for one another. 

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul pens a whopper of a passage. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Completely humble?

Every effort?

But what if I’m tired of trying? What if the other party doesn’t care? Worse, what if the other party continues to hurt me or show no regard for my feelings?

How long do I have to bear with them? Surely there is a statute of limitations… As much as my humanity would love to say there is, I don’t see one in scripture… Jesus’ “bearing with me” and all my crap doesn’t have a time limit. And neither should our bearing with one another.

But wouldn’t it be more “peaceful” for two people in seemingly irresolvable conflict to part ways? Let’s call that what it really is – to divide. Shouldn’t two believers who can’t work things out split up in order to “keep the peace”? After all, “keeping the peace” is biblical… (Romans 12:18)

As much I as I wish it did, that just doesn’t seem congruent with “keeping the unity”… Logically, how can that which is divided also be unified, simultaneously? By definition, it can’t.

Might I propose that between two believers, there ought not be such a thing as “irreconcilable differences”? By the power of the Spirit, at least one of the parties ought to be able to extend grace, humility, love, and mercy… as many times as it takes… and since we can only be responsible for our own actions in any given conflict, our choosing to be the party that makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit is all that’s in our control. We can choose to obey scripture, despite our feelings, and despite the other person’s choices.

But if the other person doesn’t seem to care at all about “keeping the unity”, that can make for a pretty crummy situation.

So what then? Are we to just remain in a bunch of miserable relationships – us versus the ridiculous them?

I don’t think so.

After his tall order of how we ought to behave, Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all and through all,” Ephesians 4:4-6.

You see, there is no “us” or “them”. At least there shouldn’t be. Not in the body of believers. We are one.

The people we disagree with – we’re one with them.

The people who hurt our feelings – we’re one with them too.

The believers who outright hurt us time and time again – one.

We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. The Church depends on it. The Gospel depends on it. We have to forsake the “us versus them” mentality that we reflexively assume when someone crosses us.

We believers are one, whether we feel like it or not. We should be rooting for one another to succeed, spurring each other on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Lord, by Your power, may everything we do and say contribute to the unity of Your Body, the Church. We are one. May we act like it.

 

 

Why Church Membership is Important

So my last three posts – When it’s Not Okay to Leave Your Church, When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church, and What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church – all started with a basic presupposition: church membership is important.

Why is church membership important?

But there is an ever-increasing number of Jesus-loving people who don’t share that view. And it makes perfect sense that if you don’t value church membership, you are less inclined to feel like loyalty to your church (or any church, for that matter), is a biblical hill to die on. 

In fact, one of my readers was brave and honest enough to just say what a lot of you may be thinking:

“These last three blogs seem like a whole lot of agonizing over a non-issue to me. If a church is not for you, move on. End of story. And no, don’t feel sad or guilty about it. There aren’t thousands of separate churches. There is one true Church (as in body of Christ that we commit to), and all the separate institutions are just parts of the whole. If you don’t like your building, go to another. Loyalty to a bad/mediocre/not for you church is just silly.”

I so appreciate this comment because it clued me in to the fact that I shouldn’t assume we all value church membership. And we must value membership before we can talk about persevering in our commitments to our churches.

So, why is church membership important? After all, church membership isn’t even in the Bible…

Or is it?

It’s true, you can search for the word “membership” all day long and not find it in the Bible. But if we stop and look at Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings, we find commitment to a local church commanded ad nauseum.

Each letter Paul wrote was to a local church body – at Rome, at Corinth, at Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica. And in talking to these individual churches, Paul stresses things like unity (Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:14) and each believer using his spiritual gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:12). He emphasizes serving one another (Galatians 5:13) and sacrificing personal freedoms in order to see to the best interests of others (1 Corinthians 9:12, 10:32). Paul commands Roman believers to “be devoted to one another in love,” and to, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10).

New Testament books written by other people speak to the same topics as well as to believers in local church bodies submitting to church authority figures (Acts 16:4, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

In other words, the majority of the New Testament is about how to do church in the lowercase c sense. And when all the lowercase churches do church the way Paul and others tell them to, the uppercase Church – as in the body of Christ all believers are committed to – is freed up to accomplish its God-given responsibilities to spread the good news about Jesus and to help believers grow in their understanding of Jesus.

Without committing to a local church body – and by that I mean doing more than filling a pew anonymously on some Sunday mornings – how do we live like the New Testament tells us to? When we church hop and/or fly under the radar of church authority by not committing to a local church (which our culture calls “becoming a church member”), it’s hard to be held accountable to live our lives according to the Bible. We have no community context in which to live out the New Testament commands.

If we leave our churches when our preferences aren’t met, how is that being devoted to one another or honoring others above ourselves or sacrificing personal freedoms for the benefit of others?

If we leave our churches every time the Elders make a decision we don’t particularly care for, how is that submitting to their God-given authority?

If we leave our churches every time we have a disagreement with other believers, how is that working toward unity?

If we aren’t committed to our church, who’s going to help us see when we are erring in our ways?

What’s more, it’s difficult (impossible?) for the Church to do its jobs when believers constantly flit from one part of the body to another – from one little c church to the next. It takes time and people to get programs that reach nonbelievers and programs that disciple believers rolling, and it takes commitment from said people to keep them rolling. If we all leave our churches every time we become dissatisfied with something, there is an “us” shaped hole in the ministries in which we were serving/participating, setting the ministries back.

Church membership is the answer to these kinds of problems. It isn’t a commitment to a building, like my friend stated, but, rather, it is an avenue through which we can be encouraged to live our lives according to the New Testament – to love one another, to work out our differences for the sake of unity, to serve others, to submit to elders – which requires a community of believers.

“Church membership” may be a modern term not used in the Bible, but the concept is one of its main themes. The idea that one can be committed to the capital C Church without being actively involved in a local lowercase c church is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

You may love Jesus, and, by His grace, you may be going to Heaven, but the Bible is clear that you can’t live a New Testament life without being committed to your lowercase c church. God desires us to live in accordance with His word because it’s in our best interest to do so and because He is glorified when we obey.

And that, I believe, is a biblical hill to die on.

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.

When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church

Yesterday I struck a nerve by writing an article called When it’s not Okay to Leave Your Church. My main point was it’s not okay to be selfish, and leaving your church because your personal preferences aren’t being catered to is unbiblical.

I would be remiss, however, to leave the discussion at that. Because the fact is there are times when it’s okay to leave your church – and by “okay” I mean biblical.

The number one reason you should leave your church: the Gospel is not being preached.

Here’s what I am not saying: it is biblical to leave a church if the Gospel isn’t preached how you like it preached. In other words, if you don’t like the preacher or his preaching style, I am not saying you are right to leave. In fact, yesterday I said you’d be dead wrong to leave over that kind of thing.

What I am saying is, unfortunately, there are a lot of feel good churches out there that teach things not found in the Bible.

Churches that teach Bible stories but never get around to explicitly stating that Jesus is God, He died for our sins, He rose again, He is the only way to Heaven and right relationship with God, and we all need Him.

Churches that preach self-help instead of Jesus-help. The Bible teaches all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and apart from Jesus we can do nothing (read: we can’t help ourselves), but if we remain in Jesus, we will bear much fruit (read: Jesus is our help).

Churches that teach if you love Jesus enough, you will be healthy and wealthy. The Bible teaches in this life believers will have troubles of many kinds, trials, sufferings and hardships, and nonbelievers will hate us.

If the aforementioned unbiblical things are taught at your church, you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (like Romans 3 and John 15, for example). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to teach the entire scope of the Bible, not just the bits and pieces they like.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you must leave. To remain a part of a “church” that doesn’t preach the Gospel is to perpetuate a lie, namely that Jesus might be a nice guy, but He isn’t necessary. Your mere presence makes you an accomplice to and responsible for the falsehoods being taught as truth. If you know that any seeker who comes to your church will be misled, deceived into thinking they are hearing the Bible when they aren’t, and you keep attending and tithing, you are giving your church the two things they need to keep teaching falsehoods: people and money.

A second biblical reason to leave your church is like the first: the leaders (main decision makers: pastors, elders, deacons, etc.) are living in ways that the Bible explicitly says not to.

What I’m not saying is you should leave your church if you think the pastor’s house is too big or the elders’ aren’t spending money the way you would if you were in charge or the leaders sometimes make mistakes or they occasionally sin or they have hurt your feelings or they have weaknesses. Your leaders are human. They aren’t perfect, and you shouldn’t expect them to be.

What I am saying is you should leave your church if leaders are stealing money or having affairs and refusing to repent or are sexually abusing children or are physically abusing their spouses or have drug or alcohol addictions that are going untreated or are consumed with arrogance and pride and refuse accountability – lifestyle choices that go against scripture and for which they are wholly unrepentant.

If your church leaders are acting in these unbiblical ways, you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, for instance). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to repent and make the necessary changes to their lifestyles in order to live and lead biblically.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you must leave. To remain a part of a “church” that allows leaders to consciously and consistently live lives that are opposed to scripture is to perpetuate a harmful and untrue version of Christianity, namely that we can expect Jesus to be our Savior without having to submit to His lordship. Your mere presence makes you an accomplice to and responsible for the falsehoods being taught as truth, maybe not from the pulpit, but by the behavior your leaders are modeling. If you know that any seeker who comes to your church will be misled, deceived into thinking they can live anyway they want to and still expect a ticket into Heaven, and you keep attending and tithing, you are giving your church the two things they need to keep perpetuating falsehoods: people and money.

A third biblical reason to leave your church: there is no opportunity for your personal growth in your relationship with Christ through the study of scripture.

Here’s what I am not saying: you can leave your church if the pastor doesn’t “feed you” on Sunday mornings. In other words, if you aren’t “getting” anything out of the message, I’m not saying you have biblical freedom to leave. You don’t. If you only ate one meal a week, you’d die, and it’d be your fault. The same is true of our spiritual lives. You are responsible for feeding yourself, and you need to eat daily.

What I am saying is your church should help you find food. They should encourage personal Bible reading, whether that’s providing a reading plan or Bible study material, they should be doing something to point you toward personally acquiring more Bible knowledge. They should also encourage mentoring/discipling relationships where someone older in the faith teaches someone younger in the faith. These are biblical concepts, and churches of any size can and should help their congregants grow in these ways. 

If there are no opportunities like this at your church – and I mean none, not just none that you like or none that “fit your schedule” – you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (Romans 12, 2 Timothy 3, and Titus 2, for example). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to develop ways to encourage congregants to grow in their personal relationships with God.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you can leave with a clear conscience. But you don’t have to. You could take the initiative and go find your own Bible study resources… You could take the lead, find an older believer, and ask them to disciple you… And you could stay at your church.

The last reason leaving your church could be a biblical decision: God is calling you to serve somewhere else. 

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.

That being said, I believe there are times God legitimately calls people to leave their churches to go serve elsewhere. It may be to go plant a new church in an under-churched area (read: not 1 mile down the road from your current church). It may be to go on the mission field. It may be as a result of moving out of town. It may be because another church has a legitimate need for someone with your gifts and talents to come use your gifts and talents to serve their body. 

If you feel like God might be calling you to go to another church, you need to pray. A lot. And ask the Lord to search your heart and reveal to you what’s really inside. Be honest with yourself. If you are genuinely being called away from your church, your motivation should be one of spreading the Gospel and serving others. There should be no trace of bitterness and/or entitlement. In your heart of hearts, your incentives for going to a new church should not include any selfish reasons – “I am more fulfilled there”, “the pastor really connects with me”, “I like the music better”, “I really get into the worship”, etc.

If you check your heart and you still feel called to a different church, pray some more. Ask the Lord to prepare your current church for your departure, because, even if you leave for biblical reasons, your leaving will leave a hole in your current church. That body will be changed.

If you leave for unbiblical reasons, your leaving will cause disunity. Some people will feel angry you left. Some people will start to wonder if they should leave, too.  Seeds of division will be planted (or watered and harvested if seeds were already there).

But if you leave for biblical reasons, although people will be sad to see you go, they will remain unified. In fact, they will be strengthened because they know you’re leaving to further the Gospel elsewhere while they stay and continue to spread the Gospel where they are. Paul calls this being partners in the Gospel (Philippians 1:5), and it is an encouraging thing to stop and think about people you love who no longer go to church with you but in whom you have total confidence that they are laboring for the Kingdom somewhere else just as hard as you are where you are. It bonds us, this Kingdom work.

If you’re considering leaving your church, make sure you’re doing so for a biblical reason – an others focused reason – and not just because of a personal preference. The biblical reality is there are very few situations in which God wants believers to change churches and a whole host of reasons Satan wants us to change churches. Discern wisely, friends.

When it’s not Okay to Leave Your Church

Can I be honest with you?

Thanks.

I’ve been thinking A LOT about biblical church membership this past year. More specifically, I’ve been trying to come up with a good rule of thumb for when it is okay for a church member to leave their church and go find a new one.

Unfortunately, my church has been in a bit of an upheaval for some time. To sum up why, our pastor left for the mission field 18 months ago. We had guest preachers for several months before hiring a new pastor a year ago. And, shocker, the new guy isn’t the old guy.

New leadership has brought new staff, new priorities, and new strategies. And we all know how well people deal with change

So. Upheaval.

I suppose because I have a small leadership role in my church (lay Bible study teacher), or maybe because I’m always in the wrong places at the wrong times, people have come to me with their complaints about all the changes.

And I have listened until I am blue in the face (listening really takes it out of me, apparently) about all the reasons people are upset. And my strategy for helping folks has been to boil things down to this one question: is the Gospel still being preached?

Invariably, they must answer yes. Our new pastor is very clear from the pulpit every Sunday that Jesus is the Son of God, He died for our sins, and He is the only way to Heaven.

So, in my book, because the Gospel is still being taught, any other changes, no matter how small or large, are not reasons to leave our church.

But a lot of my friends are still hung up on their personal preferences not being met.

“I’m not connecting…”

“I don’t like the new guy’s preaching style…”

“I don’t like that they spent money on ______…”

“I don’t like that my area of ministry is getting less attention than another area of ministry.”

But what these people are really saying is, “My plan would be better than the current plan.” And while that might be true, for people to take that as a reason to leave the church is to say, “My plan is more important than the current plan.”

They even rationalize things by saying, “I deserve to be happy with my church. With so many good churches to choose from, what’s the harm in finding a new one?”

Well, our friend Paul, a staunch proponent of unity in the body, says this, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others,” (Philippians 2:3-4).

It is selfish ambition and vain conceit to say, “If my church leadership doesn’t do things how I want them done, I’m leaving.”

It is only looking to your own interests and ignoring the interests of others to leave your church over personal preferences. Why? Because the church is a body, and each member is a vital part of that body (1 Corinthians 12). When one leaves for selfish reasons, there is a void, and it HURTS THE REMAINING MEMBERS!

Paul goes on to tell believers, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness,” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Jesus was never concerned about titles. He wasn’t worried about being rightfully honored. He didn’t focus on Himself or using His abilities to further His own agenda. He made Himself nothing, humbly serving others.

We church members would do well to do the same. Being a part of a church is not about you. It’s about others. And when you go to church with this question in the front of your mind – How can I serve someone here today? – then you get what Paul was talking about! Then you are living what Jesus modeled!

And – bonus – when you approach church this way, you will be more fulfilled.

If you are discontent with your church, ask God to help you change your priorities from yourself to His Kingdom. Look for ways to serve others so they will see Jesus in you and be inspired to move closer to Him themselves.