A few days ago, I posted a link to an article by Jason Helopoulos listing several possible reasons for leaving a church. He broke them down into “Good Reasons for Moving On”, “Possible Reasons for Moving On”, and “Reasons Often Used Which are Insufficient”. You can (and should) read this article here.
Today, I think this is worth giving longer consideration, particularly for those who are members of Stevens Street Baptist Church. It’s no great secret that ours is a church in transition. Our pastor of 19 years resigned in March. Even though he left on good terms, and with the church’s blessing, whenever someone who’s been that instrumental in the life of a church leaves, it causes uncertainty and change. People are resistant to uncertainty and change, and so some have left, and others will leave. It is probably a safe assumption that many others have at least considered it, no matter how dedicated they are to this church body. I freely admit that I have.
With that in mind, it is important to consider the many possible reasons someone might have for leaving any church, but particularly this church at this time.
There are any number of terrible reasons to leave. Just yesterday I learned of someone who left because the love offering we gave to our departing pastor was too high. The list of insufficient reasons Pastor Helopoulos gave is by no means exhaustive, but I’ve heard every one of them given by folks who have left Stevens Street (with the possible exception of the inability to shuck corn).
I believe that the vast majority of times when someone leaves a church, it is simply because of the consumerist mindset that so pervades our culture. We feel that our churches should cater to our every need. Play the music we like. Have sermons that aren’t too long or too short. Provide something fun for our kids, our teens, our singles, our young couples, our men, our women, our seniors. Accept us as we are, and let us stay that way. (The fact that our churches often encourage this mindset is something I’ll leave for another time.)
To put it bluntly, leaving for “greener pastures” just because something isn’t exactly the way you’d like it to be is wrong. It’s the same with leaving simply because you don’t like or are afraid of change. Believers are called to covenant with a local church body. A covenant goes way beyond commitment. In many ways, joining a church should be like joining a marriage. Without taking the analogy too far (there are far fewer reasons — if any at all — for leaving a marriage), we need to remember that our covenant with our church body must also be “for better, for worse”.
There is no such thing as a “perfect” church, because every church is made up of sinners. There will be problems everywhere, just as there are problems at Stevens Street. But God is glorified when sinful people resolve problems and confront conflict according to his Word. That’s the beauty of the Church! The way we overcome sin (and the problems sin brings) ought to be one of the primary ways in which we image our Lord and Savior! When we break fellowship with our church simply because of something we don’t like, we are indistinguishable from the world.
When things get tough, those who truly love Jesus step up and look for biblical solutions to whatever problems arise. This is often a messy process, but it is also a glorious one, because it strengthens the Church. God ordains our testing — both personally and corporately — so that we may grow, but He also provides, through the Spirit and the Word, both the answers and the strength we need. Anyone can identify a problem. It takes someone wholly submitted to God to provide solutions.
This is by no means to say that everyone who has ever left Stevens Street is living in sin or doesn’t love Jesus. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some possible legitimate reasons to leave.