“I just wanted to let you know that I have given it a lot of thought and this is our last Sunday here.”
These words are always tough to hear, regardless of the reason given. Sometimes the reason is appropriate. Sometimes it’s not. The bad reasons are many, but they all share one thing in common—they are born out of the error of thinking that the church exists primarily for me.
Below are five questions to ask before leaving your church, as well as some suggestions for addressing the issues they may raise. Is your reason here? Before making the jump, take some time to evaluate why you are leaving.
“Am I too concerned with my own needs?”
People are messy and have legitimate spiritual and physical needs. The ministry of the church in part is to help meet those needs. But if I am leaving because I don’t feel my needs are being met, then it is possible that I have fallen for the lie that the church exists for me.
The cure for this is the gospel, because the gospel tells us that it’s all about Jesus Christ. A believer who understands this fundamental truth recognizes that the church is not about me. Rather the church exists for Christ. This is Christ’s church for which He gave His life and for which He will one day return. We are His body and He is our head, and rather than insisting that all our needs be met, we “are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Eph.4:15).
“Am I expecting my church to provide all my nourishment?”
A deep desire for spiritual nourishment is commendable, but sometimes we can buy into the consumer mentality which grows out of an assumption that the church exists to minister to me. We may be consuming but contributing very little in return. This mentality misses the point of growing into spiritual adulthood.
We need to be aware that we may be putting all the responsibility for our nourishment on the preacher and teachers. It is certainly true that Christ gave teachers (and other gifted leaders) to the church in order to equip that saints. It is also true that there are times in our Christian life when it is appropriate that we simply sit and take nourishment. However, a healthy Christian progresses from milk to solid spiritual food in order to be equipped to contribute. This means that I need to take responsibility and learn to feed myself and then disciple others to learn to do the same.
“Do I have unresolved conflict?”
Conflict is a part of any family and that certainly is true for a church family. It is easy to run away from conflict in the church family, thinking I can simply start over somewhere else. But doing so is to elevate myself and my needs and comfort above the good of the church.
There are times when conflict is going to occur. When it does, the Bible does not give us permission to avoid the issue by finding another church. Rather, it instructs us to seek reconciliation. Giving up is easy. Sitting down with someone in order to solve an issue between you is the hard, spiritual-muscle building work of maturity. Furthermore, when we choose instead to bail, we rob ourselves and our family member of the opportunity to experience the beauty of God’s work of reconciliation.
“Am I expecting my church to produce meaningful worship?”
Worship on Sunday morning differs from personal times of worship because of its corporate nature. The local church lifting their voices in praise and prayer to our Triune God can be a powerful experience that deeply affects us both bodily and spiritually. In fact, it can be so powerful that when we don’t experience it we can begin to think that there must be something wrong with the way our church does worship and seek the experience elsewhere. This grows out of a misunderstanding of what worship is and, yet again, is related to thinking that the church should be focused on serving me.
Worshipful intimacy with God is not something that can be conjured. Worship is the spiritual response of a grateful heart, grounded in truth, which flows through and from an awareness of who God is and what He has done in Christ. In Romans 12:1, Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” In other words, worship is not confined to thirty minutes on a Sunday morning and dependent upon the skill of the band or worship leader, but rather it is a daily act of service that flows from God’s mercies. We diminish the meaning of worship when we imply that it is the responsibility of the church to “induce” me to worship.
“Am I elevating my preferences over people?”
We all have preferences. We may like our coffee black or we may add cream and sugar. Some like a firm mattress while others prefer soft. Hardwood or carpet. Leg or wing. Ketchup or Heinz 57. The Gaither Vocal Band or Lecrae. None of these are moral issues. They are simply matters of preference.
Yet preferences can easily be elevated to levels that are inappropriate and, if allowed, can develop into golden calves that cause us to make foolish choices. Preaching and worship styles, remodeling projects and more can become obsessions and even reasons for leaving a church. In most cases, however, they aren’t good reasons. What it comes down to is we are simply elevating our preferences over people. This is symptomatic of a belief that the church exists for me.
A better response when what we may prefer is not what is happening is to apply the instructions which Paul gave to the church in Rome: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). Paul’s prescription for treating our tendency to lord our preferences over another’s is brilliant—focus on the person, not the preference. Prefer them as your preference of first importance. As we do this, we quickly find what was true all along—our preference really isn’t all that important. God’s people are.