I have read several online articles giving reasons people use to LEAVE a church. I thought we should take a positive approach to this sensitive subject. Although this list is not exhaustive, here are some of my conclusions from 30 years of full-time ministry for reasons one should STAY at their church.
1. A Church with Sound Theology
My pastor did something when I was a young teenager that I have never forgotten. He preached for about 15 minutes with passion and vigor. Then he paused and asked, “How many of you believe what I have been preaching?” A good number of hands raised in the air. Then he said, “Everything I’ve said so far is not found in scripture. I made it all up!”
I wish more churches were filled with Berean’s. Who are they? The Apostle Paul described them in Acts 17:11 when he said, “They received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
Sadly, many Christians don’t know what is good theology or not. Most of the time this is due to laziness instead of opportunities to grow their theology. In too many churches, bad theology goes unnoticed and/or unchecked.
I have some dear saints in our church that don’t really enjoy our style of worship. But they tell me, “The reason I’m here is because of the good Bible teaching.” This encourages me stay accountable. My wife does the same thing with her thick cross referenced Bible opened on her lap Sunday after Sunday. 🙂
2. A church that is focused on the right things: Evangelism and Discipleship
Many churches have a singular focus of either evangelism or discipleship. I see the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and the early church doing both. The church is not a club for insiders only. Nor should it be soley a birthing room without opportunities to grow spiritually. I personally think it’s harder for a church to target both evangelism and discipleship. But that’s why it’s called the Great Commission instead of the Easy Commission.
My heart hurt when a friend of mine proclaimed on social media, “I’m so glad everyone in my church is already saved!” Not sure Jesus would be pleased if this was indeed true. After all, He did come to “seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) I also believe Jesus would not be pleased to see believers who remain anorexic in their faith. I think a follower of Christ should want to stay in a church that is focused on seeing people coming to know Christ as their Savior and also providing opportunities for people to grow in their faith.
3. A Church that is striving to stay RELEVANT while remaining BIBLICAL
Many of us have heard it said, “Methods change but the Message never does.” But how many really believe it? Changing or discontinuing church programs usually result in long-time church attenders packing up and going elsewhere. This is sad. I know of many churches who have refused to change and find themselves in churches with little to no next generation attenders. By this time, it’s too late to turn this kind of church around.
Not too long ago, there was no such thing as the internet, email, and social media. One can curse in the wind of change but change is still going to happen. Most church programs and methods that worked 20 years ago or even five years ago, no longer are affective. The only thing I see in the local church that stands the test of time, is the Word of God. In fact, Peter reminds us of this when he said, “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of God endures forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25) And Peter was quoting the ancient prophet Isaiah to prove his point!
I strongly believe a vibrant church can be relevant while remaining firmly biblical. I’ve seen change from sitting in wooden pews to padded seats, pastors wearing polyester suits to casual attire, singing old hymns to brand new songs, having a piano and organ as the only instruments to worshiping with a full band, opening thick leather Bibles to opening iPads, from information stuffed into bulletins to downloading a church app or clicking on a church website during the service, and pastors communicating behind large wooden pulpits to sitting on a stool on stage. I could go on and on. However, through all the changes in worship styles, attire, modes of communication, and effective children or youth programs that died a slow death over many years, there has been one thing that has stood the test of time: God’s Word!
A church that refuses to change will eventually die a slow and painful death. But a church who wants to remain effective in an ever-changing culture must do two things: 1. be utmost committed to never changing what should never change – the accurate teaching of God’s Word. 2. Committed to change methods to reach an ever-changing culture.
4. The church’s MISSION is their MAIN THING
Before unpacking God’s coming wrath for wickedness, evil, and rejection of Jesus as Savior, Jesus confronts seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3. The first church confronted is Ephesus which was known for their powerful legacy of early church leaders. Leaders that included Paul, Aquila & Priscilla, Timothy, and John. Given this lineup of leaders, it’s no surprise that Jesus complimented the Ephesus church for their good deeds, hard work, and perseverance. They were also commended for their love of truth and their opposition to false teachers. Good stuff. However, Jesus then said this, “Yet I hold this against you: You have left your first love… repent and do the things you did at first.”
Of all the seven churches confronted by Jesus, Ephesus was probably the strongest church in their theology. But they had diverted their affections. I believe many evangelical churches have lost their way and forgotten their purpose. They’ve diverted their affection after many good things but have drifted away from why the church was started in the first place.
This might sound harsh but the church wasn’t started in order to feed the poor and help the homeless. Neither was it started to conquer social injustice or be the catalyst of a cultural revival through political means. And for long time church attenders, it’s helpful to be reminded that the purpose of the church isn’t to maintain traditions, programs, or musical preferences – all of which have an expiration date.
The purpose of the church is to help people meet, know, and follow Jesus. This is why Jesus started His church and this is why the “gates of hell will not prevail against” (Matthew 16:18) the Bride of Christ!
I’m not saying a church shouldn’t do some to these things I listed. But they shouldn’t be the MAIN thing a church is called to do.
5. A Church with Leadership I Can Respect
Did you catch that I said “respect” rather than “agree”? It’s virtually impossible for any church attender to agree with every decision a pastor or church leaders make. As I look back, I disagree with some of my own decisions I made in the past.
Healthy leaders should have the following characteristics that are worthy of following: Humility, approachability, God seeking, counsel seeking, vision, resoluteness, Spirit led, willing to admit fault, sincerity, and authenticity.
No leader is perfect. No board of leaders are perfect. But most people can disagree with their pastor or church leader on certain decisions if they possess the above characteristics.
I have a high bar for why people should or shouldn’t leave a church. This standard was set by my parents who stayed at my home church for over 25 years until they moved out of state. They stayed through church splits, bad decisions as well as personal hurts and disappointments.
Jesus could have chosen heavenly angels to lead His Church. That might have been more effective. It sure would have been way cooler! But Jesus chose fallen human beings to lead His Church. But He gave us all the tools necessary to be successful: The Holy Spirit to guide us, the inspired Scriptures to teach from, and a Mission that is clear.
There are people that leave a church for good reasons. I afraid many leave for less than solid reasons.