Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Before You Quit Pace Community Church (or any church)

There are many reasons why people choose to leave a church – some of them good and some of them not so good.  Many times the Lord Himself may reassign a person to another church so they can bring ministry or encouragement to another congregation – that’s the best reason to change churches.  More often than not, however, people leave a church simply because they are disinterested, dissatisfied, or feel they can find something better.

To just stop showing up (no matter the reason) is the wrong way to leave.  It is inconsiderate and immature.  If feels like abandonment to those you left behind.  Instead, you should go to one of the pastors, or the senior pastor, and discuss it.

My advice to you is this:  If you are in a church that (1) is scripturally sound and Biblically focused, (2) is reasonably stable and loving, (3) has godly, moral leadership, (4) is doing their best to exalt Jesus Christ, and (5) is making a reasonable effort to minister to you and your children, then hang in there and remain faithful!  You don’t know how blessed you are to have a healthy church like that.  Many Christians would be give almost anything just to find a church that wasn’t involved in an all out war!

If you are unhappy with a church which fits this fivefold description (mentioned above), it’s very likely that the problem is NOT the church, but yours.  Maybe you are hung up on some trivial issue, your feelings have been hurt, you struggle with discontent from other personal problems, or you just don’t like being challenged towards spiritual maturity.

Here are six things to consider before leaving your church:

1.  Don’t leave out of your personal discontent.  If discontent is rooted within you, it will follow you wherever you go, regardless of what church you attend.  Three years ago a certain man who began attending PCC came to me after a few weeks and said, “I really like your church.  It’s so friendly and nice compared to the other churches in the area I’ve attended.”  I asked, “How many other churches in the area have you attended?”  “Almost all of them” he said.  Right then and there I inwardly knew that this man would give me problems, because when it comes down the basics, most churches are not that much different from each other.  Whenever a person finds dissatisfaction with several congregations, you can be assured that the problem is their own, not the church’s. And sure enough, the man eventually became discontented and left our church too, just like he had left all the others.

2. Don’t leave because your feelings got hurt.  Hurt feelings are a “violation of self interests” and are usually a result of being too self-sensitive. In any church or gathering of people there may be many offensive things said or done, mostly unintended, but you don’t have to let yourself become offended. Those who are easily offended may simply be immature, too self-centered, or may retain self-sensitivities due to past, festering wounds. Hurt feelings are probably the greatest reason why people leave churches, but deepening your roots in Christ and His word can immunize you against such tenderness. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165 KJV).

3. Don’t leave because you transferred your own personal frustrations here.  Sometimes unhappiness toward the church is a symptom of personal problems such as: family or marital difficulties, job dissatisfaction, personal offenses, memories of childhood abuse, mental stress, emotional illness, and so forth, which are then transferred upon the church and its leaders.  People who struggle with deep internal problems sometimes develop a distorted estimation of the people or situations around them, and may blame them, including the church, for their anguish. Generally speaking, the church is not your problem. Remember that it and its ministers are there because they love you and want to help you -- not hurt you.  So avoid pushing off your feelings of disappointment from other areas of your life onto the church.

4. Don’t leave over trivial criticisms. -- People sometimes have a remarkable ability of making a mountain out of molehill. I’ve known people to change churches merely because they didn’t like the way the way the pastor dressed, the color of the carpet, how the bulletin was typed, or other silly reasons.

Of all the many excuses that persons use to leave a church, trivial criticisms is the most shallow. If all you seem to do is criticize and find fault with the church, you have an attitude problem. Regardless of where you go to church, you’ll find similar faults again, because the problem isn’t with the church -- the problem is with you.

5. Don’t leave because you are being challenged to grow up into a mature disciple.  Many people do not understand that spiritual growth requires confronting and overcoming the conflict that’s within ourselves (James 1:3-4). The environment of the church provides two important features of your spiritual growth: (1) Church leaders (authorities) who will challenge you with truth and correct you when you are wrong. And (2) an environment of fellow believers, all of whom are imperfect, some worse than others, and whose rough edges will serve as sandpaper to smooth out your rough spots. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17).

If you really think you are so spiritual, then prove it by getting close to your brothers and sisters in the church and staying put.  Then you’ll find out what’s really inside you.  People are like “mirrors” in which we can see ourselves as we really are. If there’s bitterness or a lack of love within you, it will become exposed when people rub you the wrong way.  It you lack patience with other people, it will be manifested.  If you can’t get along with church leaders, it will soon reveal itself in rebellion.  If you are a fault-finder, it will surface when you see the sinful imperfection in others. 

Spiritual maturity is proven in the context of relationships in the church.  That is how God has designed it.  It doesn’t matter how much your feelings got hurt or how imperfect or unspiritual your brethren might be.  This does not justify your intolerance or impatience with them.  Neither are your criticisms of church leaders justified when they challenge your towards discipleship or have to make decisions in which you didn’t get your way.   These attitudes are characteristics of your own immaturity – a weakness that is within YOU that needs to be perfected.

This is why some people run from church to church – it’s easier to abandon people than it is to stay planted and work their way through the tough stuff.  It’s easier to start over in a new church than it is to be challenged through convicting preaching or correction.  But that’s not God’s way.

If a person remains an “island” unto themselves they will never have to face up to the spiritual immaturity within them.  Conversely, being in an environment with other imperfect people in the church will cause them to face the conflicts that must be overcome in order to grow up.  A sign of a spiritually mature person is that they can be loving and patient with anyone (1 John 2:10, Gal. 5:22-23), and they can humbly submit themselves to truth and the correction of godly leaders (Heb. 13:17).

6. Don’t leave until you have contributed in some way to try help make PCC better.  Some people come to church with the mistaken notion that it is simply a provider of entitlements for them, and nothing more.  They shop for a church as one might shop for fast food.  “Do you have a youth pastor that will play with my kids?  Does your church offer an aerobics class? How about free counseling?  Is there a fully staffed nursery I can use? Will the church pay my power bill?”  And when the church doesn’t meet their expectations, they drop out.

It may be that your church can’t meet those expectations.  Instead, you should find out what direction your church is headed, what their action plan is to get there, and then get on board with that agenda – rather than your agenda. 

Have you prayed for the leaders?  Have you offered to serve or help in areas of ministry where the church actually needs you?  Have you contributed your time, money, effort, and skills to the church in sacrificial living?  Have you humbly followed the direction of your church's leaders?  Have you done anything to make your church better?  Before you leave, you should.


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