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You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
I find myself having a disproportionate amount of conversations with friends discussing the benefits and pitfalls of leaving or staying at one’s home church. If you are worried about the divisive nature of this blog, it is actually the follow up to a post I wrote on “How to Choose a Church“. Having recently left a couple of churches and now church planting myself I have, what I hope will be, some helpful musings. I am not in any way trying to advocate people leaving their communities of faith because they are bored or their church isn’t perfect. There is no perfect church! As the maxim goes, if you find the perfect church don’t join…you’ll ruin it. However, the sad reality is that far too often local churches stop functioning as the living body of Christ and they become His corpse; the Bride of Christ can habitually become the harlot. When this happens an exit is usually (though not always) in due order.
There are several helpful blogs out there on why people leave churches, how to leave a church and poor reasons for leaving a church (an odd source, but mostly good advice). If this is something you are considering, please peruse those first as this is not a light matter. However, I have yet to find a blog addressing the excuses we use when staying at a church we should leave. A good practice would be to ask yourself these questions to see if you are still at the church for the right reasons. Following are a few of the reasons given for staying at a dysfunctional church…I’ve tried to rank them from most understandable to least:
There are so many good reasons to stick it out at a church. In our culture we typically devalue commitment, fidelity and longevity. But that doesn’t mean you should continue living with your spouse if they systematically and repeatedly abuse you.
These are a few reasons/rationales I have heard on this subject…there are so many more…what are your stories and experiences?
It happens from time to time that you may find yourself looking to join a church. Maybe you recently committed to following Jesus (for the first time or with a renewal of a previous decision); maybe you moved; maybe your church has gone the way of the buffalo; or maybe you are in the unfortunate circumstance of needing to leave a dysfunctional church (see part two of this post). Whatever the case, if you are or have been in one of these scenarios you probably thought to yourself “no one ever told me how to do this”? This blog is for you…read it, comment on it, share it…help others make a healthy, important choice! While there are several blogs out there that address this they usually come down to doctrine (I am assuming you have a basic conviction on which you believe…if not talk to someone you trust. If the church teaches, adheres to and practices the Apostle’s Creed it should have relatively sound doctrine…the real tell-tale signs come forth in the following “temperatures” of the church:
○ Is the church a family?
○ Are they gathering throughout the week, not just on Sundays?
○ Are you invited to join people in their lives?
If the answer to any of those is an “I’m not sure” then keep moving on.
You can have all the bells and whistles but if there is no community it won’t mean much. We are called to be the church, not find a good show and enjoy the church. This is often a matter of substance over style. The two are not mutually exclusive, but my experience has been that when a church places a high value on production (good music, speaking presentation) it is often to the detriment of inclusive participation…only the good looking, well polished people have a place in leadership/participation.
○ How easy is it to talk to the leadership (pastors and elders)?
○ Are they identifiable on the website?
○ Have public profiles (besides the chief at the top of the totem)?
○ What about finances?
○ Can you see their financial books? Not just a general budget pie graph, but their actual numbers?
Once again, if you hesitate to answer or can not reply automatically let the search continue. There shouldn’t be any secrets when it comes to finances or oversight. Typically linked to this is a clerical/parishioner divide equivocal second only to the pope him self. Mega church pastors too often fall prey to the chasm of the Holy See through entitlement and lack of accountability; mainline pastors too often buy in to the chaplaincy gulf of spiritual feudalism.
○ Is the whole Bible preached there?
○ Are you discouraged from asking questions?
○ Is dogma firmly entrenched in the rhetoric?
○ Are large sections glossed over such as Spiritual Gifts? Sin and Atonement? Justice? Hospitality? Poverty? Theology in general?
If so it is probably a sign of the chink in the dragons scales…this is where the church display gross heterodoxy/heteropraxy. If the church speaks about money all the time (as many do) and they seem to be well off (which they rarely are) but never mention justice, the poor and purchasing power there is an obvious imbalance.
○ Is this a homogenous group?
○ Are all ages represented here?
○ Different ethnicities?
○ Various styles?
○ Are women valued equally as men and represented in equal numbers?
While everyone enjoys their own culture and we feel the most comfortable among what we have grown up with the church is to be a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom…a kingdom in which children and teens are valued just as much as adults, women just as much as men, black just as much as white, poor just as much as rich. If everyone in the church is 21 or 50 or 88 it is a sign that something is off…take heed.
○ This is the first and probably most important question I tell people to ask when they are looking for a church – “Can I be equipped and released to serve Jesus here”?
This is much more than volunteering…every church will take you as a volunteer…every church needs warm bodies for the kid’s program or to do bulletins. A mentor of mine wrote a blog asking the question “what would your church do if the Apostles Paul and Peter should up at your church tomorrow to work for two weeks?” Certainly we wouldn’t have them only do these tasks, we would say move in the power God has given you! Here is the catch, the only difference between us and them is the equipping they had…we have access to the same Holy Spirit. Let me elaborate: we put in place a rule, that if you want to lead from the front (worship, speaking, prayer, liturgy, communion) you must be in a discipling relationship (a Huddle).
A few musicians have approached us to play and when we tell them YES! We just need to get you in one of these relationships with accountability and direction and input and growth and prayer! They take off quicker than a Justin Bieber fan at an MMA match. If a church doesn’t want to invest in you this way and is willing to sacrifice your gifts, talents and availability without the covenant to see you succeed in following Christ get the hell out of there! Seriously!
○ How many churches have they planted?
○ What is the plan for church planting?
○ What about missional work?
○ Is the church growth through multiplication or simple addition?
Don’t let size fool you…while it is a sign that things can be efficient , creative, enjoyable, etc., it does not mean health. It is relatively easy to get a big crowd…take football…tens of thousands show up in an arena to watch guys in spandex hit each other…not super impressive. Don’t get me wrong…I think healthy things should grow and there is nothing wrong with a large church…but is that all there is?
○ Is there peace within the church?
○ Do the practice the Matthew 18 principle of resolving conflict?
○ What is the history of church splits? Staff leaving?
○ Has the church shrunk significantly?
This is a Hebrew word meaning peace, but not in the tranquility sense…in the fulfillment sense. Everything the way God intends it. Now the maxim is still true…if you find the perfect church don’t go there…you’ll screw it up. There is no church that is perfect, but there are plenty of churches that are a float (or sinking) amidst a sea of turmoil that they themselves have created (which is quite different from death or persecution…that is acceptable turmoil by church history standards). One great question to ask a church is how many “exit interviews” they have conducted? If the answer is none be ware. All churches loose people; good ones ask why? And not from a hypothetical stand point, but by sitting down and hearing from them…this is called shepherding. To my knowledge not a lot of churches practice this last idea, so I don’t think it is a deal breaker, just a good Litmus.
Caveat: It should be noted that the majority of folks don’t need new excuses to not join a church…it seems pandemic to our culture. If all seven of these are not present I don’t think it’s reason enough to not join a community. If you have exhausted your search and are still coming up short go with the closest fit and where the Holy Spirit leads. This is more 7 goals for a local church to embody than anything. Don’t fall into the trap of criticism and perfectionism…If you find a place where the people love Jesus more than anything else and there is transparent community with room to grow…stick it out!
Of course the critical facts in addition to this mix are prayer, conviction and trusted counsel, but hopefully you will have read some points that you may not have voiced before but have intuitively sensed. Take your time and lots of prayer…this is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life.