When Not To Leave A Church
1. When there are church problems
Ironically, this is one of the most common reasons people leave a church. When you think about it, however, this is crazy. Satan is hell-bent on destroying the church. With such a powerful being opposing us, do we really think any good church will avoid problems? I would say you have something to worry about if there are never problems. In Scripture we read about churches that had major issues. Every letter Paul wrote to churches contained instructions about their problems. Think about that; every church! Some churches had major issues (Corinthians, Galatians), other had smaller issues (Philippians, Thessalonians). Six out of the Seven churches in the book of Revelation were rebuked in some way. With issues ranging from immorality to false teaching, the call wasn’t to leave; it was to deal with this stuff. A person needs to stay until it is clear the church refuses to deal with it, or it is clear the church is committed to unbiblical ways. Remember, the church is not an institution or a building. It is people with whom you have become members. You can’t just up and leave any more than a person will just up and cut off their arm when there is injury or disease. Do the hard work until it is unquestionably clear that things are broken with no turn-around in sight.
2. When there is conflict
People don’t like conflict. That is understandable; even healthy. No one should relish conflict. But conflict is inevitable, and Scripture speaks to it regularly. Leaving is never the answer. In fact, if you do leave, be sure that your worship will be unacceptable wherever you go (see Matt. 5:21-26). As a rule of thumb, never leave a church when there is an unresolved issue. The gospel has freed you from such self-serving impulses. It is time to do the hard work of communication, confession of sin, seeking forgiveness, granting forgiveness, problem solving, and restoration. Two godly women in the church of Philippi had this very issue and the call was to work through it (Philippians 4:2-3). The church was even called to come along side these women and help them through it. If you are unable to live harmonious with someone in the church, it is an indication that you are giving yourself over to some selfish desire; be it anger, or fear, or something else. The Gospel is the ultimate unifier of people. If we cannot achieve unity (unity does not mean complete agreement on every issue), then we’re not understanding and applying the Gospel fully. Resolve your issues the best you can and then embrace each other in the unity of the gospel.
3. When your area of gifting isn’t utilized well
Without doubt, this will be a frustrating situation. All of us were made to work and to bear fruit. Just like a person experiences the disheartening effects of being unemployed, so a person will feel similar things when they are not serving in a church. This may be happening because the church is not well organized or it may be that the areas you normally serve in are filled. The temptation will be to simply leave. Before such a drastic move is made, there needs to be some important evaluation. Are there other ways your gifting could be used that you haven’t thought of? Is there a new ministry you could start? Do you have other gifts that could be brought to the forefront? Is there a way you could serve those who are already doing what you would like to have done? Are there lowly places of behind-the-scenes service that you could step into? An even bigger question revolves around discipleship. Remember, you are called to reproduce yourself. The goal is not to serve well and pass away. The goal is to serve well and train other who will serve when you are gone. Who can you train in your gifting? Who needs to grow in the faith that you could take under your wing? Yes, it may happen that another ministry could use you and a move is good. But leaving with frustration is not the mark of a humble servant.
4. When the music isn’t to your taste
Our entertainment culture has created this problem. We have grown so accustomed to finely-tuned performances that we forget our times of worship are about the people and their God, and not the music. Worship is not performance. It is not a concert. Concerts are about one group playing their style for a crowd that came to listen to them. A worship service is about everyone led to worship through truths put to music. The “truths” are what is important, the music is peripheral. Also consider that there normally should be music you don’t like. Why? Because there should be many different people of different ages and different backgrounds in the same room. Musicians should strive to play songs that will stir one kind of people, and other songs that stir a different kind of people. If the music is only geared to one set of people, something is amiss. However, if that is the case, there are still larger questions to be asked. There are more important issues at stake than the music not being what you like. Worship is important, music is less important. There is a distinction between the two. If the music is a large part of why you are leaving, your priorities are out of proportion.
5. When the preaching isn’t great
This problem is created by our technological age that has given us access to resources like never before. No matter where you are or what time it is, you can download sermons of great men around the world. This is a wonderful thing. But as always, there is danger in it. The danger here is comparison. With instant access to the best of the best, why bother with a very normal church lead by a very normal pastor. When you can listen to John Piper, why waste time with Jay Lickey? The main reason is that you can’t walk into John Piper’s office right now, but you can walk into mine. As wonderful as the internet is, even fiber optic cable can’t carry shepherding. Additionally, you are called to be a part of a local body. And that local body will have its own issues and peculiarities. Those types of things will be addressed in the week-in, week-out preaching and leading of very normal men. So, don’t be running off to the next up- and-coming preacher that can blow you socks off, or staying home to listen to celebrity ministers. That is a mark of someone wanting his ears tickled (2 Tim. 4:3). Be looking for a faithful man, skilled in teaching and preaching, that can exhort and admonish in sound doctrine. Go ahead and fill your iPod up with great preaching, but make sure your schedule is filled up with regular attendance at a regular church with a regular preacher.