Monday, March 25, 2013

Why People Leave a Church

Westminster Abbey in London, England
     There have been a number of research polls taken on why people leave a church.  Some of the reasons are valid such as moving away to a new location or a change of jobs.  Likewise, a lack of sound biblical teaching is another important reason to depart.  However, there are also reasons which seem not as clear:  hurt feelings; dislike of the pastor; disagreement over carpets, paint or physical facilities; finances; being too busy;  marriage issues; gossip within the Body; no one called to visit them.  I know a number of people who will never darken the door of another church because of one of these issues.
     Having gone through the pain of leaving a church myself, I know, firsthand, how difficult it can be.  My husband and I did so only after much prayer and soul searching.  We felt we could not stay due to differences in doctrinal teaching.  Afterwards, it took us some time before we were once again able to fellowship in a church body.  Such an action can be devastating emotionally and spiritually.  By God's providence, we were invited to our present church home by our current pastor.  With the invitation to come and visit, he also gave us time until we felt ready to plunge in once again.
     When I hear people say they want to leave their church home, I think of the article I read some time ago by Dr. Dale A. Robbins entitled "Before You Quit Your Church".  He listed five things to consider before leaving:  "If you are presently in a church that  1) is scripturally sound 2) is reasonably stable and  loving, 3) has godly moral leadership 4) is doing their best to exalt Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and 5) if they're making a reasonable effort to minister to you and your family then hang in there and remain faithful!  You don't know how blessed you are to have a healthy church like that."  These are some good guidelines for all of us to keep in mind whether counseling someone who is about to leave their church or for ourselves if we are contemplating the same.
     God has some excellent reasons why we need to belong to a community of believers.  People tend to overlook these in their effort to find the "exit" door of a church.  First, God commands us to fellowship with other believers.  Hebrews 10:25 reads:  "...not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."  Within the Body of believers, we are intended to grow and help each other in our daily walk with Christ.
     Another important reason to be in fellowship is for the preaching and teaching of God's Word.  Paul exhorted young Timothy (II Timothy 4:2) to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching."  This is how God will refine us if we sit under the teaching of His Word.  Yes, we can read it on our own, but there is no accountability outside of the church to help us stay on the right path.
     Thirdly, sitting in corporate worship allows us the chance to pray together, praise the Lord, take communion and encourage each other.  This is something we cannot do on our own.  Jesus told us that He would be present whenever two or three are gathered in His name, and He gave us an example of fellowship Himself as He went regularly to the synagogues and Temple to teach.  He did not isolate Himself.
     Finally, within the boundaries of the church body, we can serve one another and bring encouragement to one another.  Galatians 5:13-14 says:  "For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"  Our freedom that was bought by Jesus Christ gives us the privilege of being His hands and feet to bless those around us through service and encouragement.  The church is like our family and as we reach out to share the love of Christ with others around us, we will find the joy of the Lord.
St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland
     God's plan for believers is for us to work together to serve Him and bring glory to His name.  We are the Bride of Christ for whom He died.  Therefore, if you are thinking of leaving a church, consider the reasons for staying that Dr. Robbins listed.  If you have been through the pain of leaving a church, think about all the reasons why you need to find a new place to fellowship.  No place of worship is perfect because we are all sinners.  However, as forgiven believers in Jesus Christ, together we can glorify His name  through service in His Bride the church.  Selah!

Have you ever had to leave a church?  If so, how did God help you come back into fellowship?
I welcome your words of encouragement to help others in their walk.

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