By Chad Napier, Crosswalk.com
If you have been a member or going to the same church for a number of years, odds are that you have thoughts about testing the waters somewhere else. We have spiritual dry seasons, and often the church is the first place we point our finger. Certainly, being a part of a dying church cannot be discounted as a legitimate reason for personal spiritual stagnancy, but more times than not, there are factors within us that play a part in the desire for a change.
Pastors, Sunday School teachers, song leaders, and deacons are not immune to periodic discontent. All church leaders have felt underappreciated or underused within the local church body. We have been hurt from being passed over for an Easter cantata solo, not asked to fill in the Sunday School teaching vacancy, or even hurt because no one ate the casserole we brought to the Homecoming service dinner.
There is a core reason for church discontent, and many times we use reasons which may be factual, but contextual in terms of the actual desire to depart. For example, it may be a fact that you were qualified and passed over for a position or role, but the main reason you want to quit the church is something deeper. The explosion of the early church and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit resulted in unity and selflessness among the body. In Acts 4:32, we are told, “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his won, but they had all things common.”
Many church members today lack this desire and perspective as they focus on consumerism and what a local church has to offer me. Consumerism turns the member into a church critic by rating the value of the service and performance of the pastor and singers. This individualistic approach to spirituality leaves one empty sooner or later and, unfortunately, infects other members. Thus, it is important to ask ourselves the “get real” questions. The answer may indeed be that the church is the issue and impeding your spiritual growth. Whether it is or not, the conclusion should result in a pattern of spiritual growth and patience within the baptized body of believers.
1. Why Am I Leaving or Feeling This Way?
This personal inquiry must be asked of ourselves. We need to be hesitant from “thinking out loud” to other members or even members of other churches to avoid sowing further discontent. This initial question is necessary to keep personal with you or your spouse. Many times the justification is “I’m just not being fed” by either the pastor, Sunday School teacher, or the music selection. If the issue of feeding is due to the pastor not preaching the Word of God or sound doctrine, you need to find the exit door immediately. This negligence speaks to not only the pastor, but also the leadership of deacons or elders who are “asleep” in their positions.
More times than not, however, the “lack of feeding” excuse is because the pastor or Sunday School teacher is felt to be unprepared, dull, or repetitious. In terms of displeasure with music, the issue is always grounded on the particular genre, whether it be traditional or contemporary. Another complaint plaguing those contemplating leaving a local church is the lack of growth, diminishing membership/attendance, or the lack of programs for the youth. One must be careful justifying leaving in terms of growth and attendance. When one church in the area is seeing great growth, peer pressure can give one the inherent desire to be a part of something successful. Many times, we do not even know the reason for the growth.
2. Why Did I Come Here to Begin With?
When we have an answer to the first question, we must consider why we even joined this church in the first place. Were all the factors now causing me to want to leave in place when I was so excited and wanted to be a part of this church? If so, what has now caused my feelings to change? Often the feeling of a need to leave follows the change of pastor for whatever reason. The newly elected pastor will never be the old pastor, nor should he try to be. If the reason for the departure is because of displeasure with the new pastor and his style, we must concern ourselves with whether our spirituality is pastor-dependent.
Change is inevitable within the church. There are going to be peaks and valleys with seasons of brightness along with times of gloom. The Lord, however, is going to be faithful to His bride. Such was the testimony of Paul. Despite the physical and mental hurt, his faith and perseverance in the Lord made it all worthwhile because he was strengthened during the heartache. James 1:2-4 instructs us still today to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” The maturation of our patience leads to contentment despite what our “feelings” are seemingly telling us. If one is convinced he or she cannot “feel” their spirituality because of a boring pastor, a serious spiritual impairment exists.
3. Have You Prayed about Leaving?
Hurt feelings are inevitable when a family leaves the church. Many times those who leave a church do not address the church to give an explanation. They either leave in the dark of the night or resign from their positions and never return. The departing brother or sister in Christ is effectually leaving our family. We question ourselves whether it was something that we did or if we could have done something different. Another consideration is with those who hold leadership positions. Would God desire you to leave a place where you are in His service to another place of worship where you do not have a place to serve?
The decision to leave a church in which you have invested your heart and soul into must be made in prayer. If one is not spiritually guided by the Lord, he or she is doing “whatsoever is right in his own eyes.” Oftentimes hurt feelings are the motivator to change locations instead of confronting the underlying issue. Jeremiah wrote in 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Fervent prayer concerning this difficult and serious decision will result in often difficult answers as the Spirit keeps us in uncomfortable situations for our ultimate growth and His glory.
4. Where Am I Going?
Ideally, the departing believer has a list of possible churches they wish to “try out.” The normal path follows the same strategy as when one leaves a job. We are unlikely to quit a job unless we have another employment opportunity waiting somewhere. A frequent tragedy resulting from leaving a home church is never finding another church and then deciding to stay home because “churches just aren’t what they used to be.” One must consider the possible harm to the family of spending months trying to find “that right house of worship” for months or even years. Trying out church after church for weeks is an exhausting endeavor and gives heed to the temptation of staying home altogether.
Consider Demas, who was once a faithful fellow worker in the ministry with Paul. In Philemon 1:24, he was mentioned to be a “fellow laborer” by Paul, and then in 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul wrote about the heartbreak “for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica.” Church leaders have witnessed this scenario take place all too often. A dedicated church leader or member becomes dissatisfied and decides to leave, but never finds another home church again. This scenario and course of spirituality is certainly never the plan of our Lord. We must be careful and abide by the concern in Hebrews 10:25 “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another.” Worship of our Savior and the deepening of our closeness with Him are the primary purposes for our church attendance, but lifting up those to the left and right of us on Sunday morning cannot be underestimated.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Capuski
Chad Napier is a believer in Christ, attorney at law, wannabe golfer, runner, dog lover, and writer. He enjoys serving his church as a deacon, Sunday School teacher, and fill-in preacher. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter. He and his wife Brandi reside in Tennessee with their canine son Alistair.