Staying at a church seems like a no-brainer, but we do not treat it that way. In the intro post I wrote about three unstoppable forces that make someone leaving a church seem inevitable. As I reviewed my original notes on this post, I realized that I swapped one force for another—instead of “personal friendships,” I used “real or perceived needs.” I’ll count it, though. People do have a real need of friendship. 🙂
Before we delve more into leaving, though, I want to delve into the idea of staying.
My personal experience is that the vast majority of church members will not try and ask you to talk them out of leaving. Either they will (1) simply leave (I’ve gone this route) or (2) write, call, or meet with you to tell you they are leaving. I don’t usually run into a conversation that begins with, “I don’t want to leave, but have considered it, help me out.”
This post will be that conversation.
We Are Family
If you know me much, you know I’m a big fan of the church fam. I’ve written about this before (specifically with how the church family helps our decision-making). The family illustration didn’t come from me: it comes from God. Time and time again the church is referred to in familial terms (Rom 1:13; 1 Cor 1:10; Gal 4:12; Phil 3:1). Such language makes sense because, through Jesus, we become children of God (John 1:12-13), with God as our Father and Jesus as our brother—sealed with the Spirit, who lets us declare these things as true (Gal 4:6).
I often have to tell my sons to get along, to be kind, and that they can’t just leave one another. “I’m sorry if you don’t like one another. Get over it. You’re brothers.” That reasoning feels similar, doesn’t it (Phil 4:2-3)? Leaving your church is leaving a family—a local family that was bought by Jesus. Do people leave families? Sure they do. Does it hurt? Always.
When it comes to leaving our church, why do we suddenly get transactional rather than familial? I think it is because transactions make it easier for us. “You did not provide X for me, and I find that as grounds to leave.” It is the same thing that happens in a marriage—something (or, more accurately, many small things snowballed into something) became irreconcilable and now it is time to end the relationship.
Consider sticking it out because these are your brothers and sisters.
Hiding is Dangerous
I need you to grant me a little latitude in this one. I’d argue that most people don’t leave a church for another one without already having a decent idea of what that other one already is. Thus, when I say, “Hiding is dangerous,” most people probably aren’t fully hiding.
But, assuming that “church shopping” is actually going on (weird term, but it fits), then we need to take into consideration what happens when we become anonymous. An anonymous, church-meandering Christian life is a dangerous one. We need each other—we need people who know us and love us. The longer we go looking, the less we are experiencing the simple graces that come from being connected to a local church, and the more we feel like we are doing just fine on our own.
We aren’t doing just fine.
Have you ever tuned into the beginnings and endings of the epistles? They are often littered with names of real people who had real addresses and whose faces could be recalled by those reading the letters. If I say to you, “I was talking to Matt about the worship service,” 99% of people at Genesis would know exactly who I’m talking about. I only save 1% because we have two elders named Matt and new people might get confused.
When you start to wander, consider the toll that it takes on your own sanctification. I can hear the anticipation of people disagreeing with me on this one, and the disagreements might be valid. By the time people leave, they likely have fewer meaningful relationships at their current church (this goes back to that idea of friendships). Perhaps your joy in the Lord has taken a toll for one reason or another. Those could all be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that starting the search (unrelated link to rap song called “The Search“) is arduous, tiring, and can leave us taking quite some time before joining a new church family (why? See Reason 1). One month becomes two become six becomes a year—and we’ve missed out on so much life with our church family.
Not every church (not many?) have membership covenants, but some do. A member covenant is simply that—a way for people of a local church to declare their commitment to one another. As we teach it in our membership class, the covenant does not add to what Scripture asks of us. Rather, the covenant seeks to articulate it. (If you want to read ours, check it out here.)
The covenant is a reminder of our commitments together, and a regular review of these commitments can save us from many troubles in times when our bones are weary from our own pastors and fellow members. (If this feeling hasn’t happened yet, it likely will.)
Even if you didn’t have a formal covenant, joining a local church still means that the commands of the New Testament regarding how we should treat one another stand. They don’t stand only for your local church but certainly should be applied to your local church.
In a world where keeping our word is difficult, let’s remember what we committed to when we joined our church (Jas 5:12).
I’m sure you have other reasons to stick it out, and I’d love to hear them. Feel free to reply in the comments and let me know.