The Gospel, Sanctification, and Your Difficult Church Situation
Every now and then, the reaction I get from an article or blog post takes me by surprise. Whenever you write something, you expect people to respond. If you like the mutual sharpening that takes place in the marketplace of ideas, you enjoy getting feedback, pushback, encouragement, and even criticism.
In the April 2012 issue of TableTalk, I have an article titled “Not So Fast,” in which I encourage people to be extremely cautious about leaving their church fellowship for an easier situation across town. In mid-March, as the printed version began arriving in people’s mailboxes, I started receiving letters in the mail and e-mails from readers.
A good number thought the article was spot on. A good number thought I was needlessly judging their situation from afar and minimizing good reasons for leaving a church.
I’d be curious about what readers of Kingdom People think. Am I too harsh here? Am I failing to take into consideration the complexities surrounding church hopping?
Here’s the beginning of the article with a link to the full version.
Jim and Sandra were longtime members at Christ Church. They gave generously — of their time, their talents, and their financial resources. Christ Church was known for being evangelistic and putting a priority on God’s Word. And Jim and Sandra were fulfilled and thriving there.
But the day came when the pastor let Jim and Sandra down. A series of bad decisions critically wounded their confidence in their leader’s wisdom. They were hurt, confused, and disillusioned. They began to toy with the idea of going to one of the other strong churches in town.
When Jim and Sandra (not their real names) asked me about leaving their church, I said, “Not so fast.” Since then, I’ve counseled a number of couples and individuals in similar situations. And whenever the issue at hand does not concern biblical fidelity or theological compromise, I usually give the same caution about leaving a church: “Not so fast.”
In a culture of consumerist expectations and values, even people in strong, Word-centered, gospel-proclaiming churches can think of church loyalty in terms of payment and receipt. “We pay our dues and expect a certain return” is the unspoken mindset. So when things get difficult, reasons to leave begin multiplying: “I’m not being fed here.” “I’m not on the same page with the leadership right now.” “I’m not being useful here. Perhaps I could serve better if I were somewhere else.” The list goes on.
It’s true that there are plenty of Christians whose lives don’t resemble Christ’s. There are pastors who abuse their authority or lead poorly. There are churches that implement changes quickly, without the consent of key leaders, which then breeds disunity and quarrels. Leadership fumbles, personality conflicts, relationship breaches — they all exist in the church. That’s why, for many churchgoers, the temptation is strong to seek refuge and peace in another church across town.
But what if the choice to leave a difficult church situation will actually short-circuit your formation as a Christian? What if your desire for a better congregation will stunt your spiritual growth? Does God use uncomfortable church situations as part of His process of sanctifying us?