Monday, June 6, 2011

The Benefits of Not Changing Churches

There are many good reasons to change churches.  I get it.  Even so, as a long-term pastor I’ve learned that there are also good (better) reasons to stay.  Do you find yourself thinking it’s time for a change?  Before you make a move too quickly, please consider the benefits of not changing churches.

First, staying with your present church (through thick and thin) models what Christian commitment means.  In American society today there is little or no regard for commitment.  Divorce is easy.  Couples commonly live together before taking vows.  Military service is shunned.  Duty has become a bad word.   And the philosophy that “the customer is always right” is deeply ingrained.  Unfortunately, this disregard for commitment has infected the church.  As a pastor, I loathe the consumer mentality and the “what’s in it for me” attitude that causes people to drift from church to church seeking a better youth group, a bigger flash in the pan, or a place where “I can get my way.”

Making a long-term commitment to a church family and seeing the commitment through cuts against the grain of selfish consumerism.  Christians should model commitment, not broken promises.  Commitment means laying down our lives – our personal agendas – for the sheep (the people) in our present congregation.  We are only as mature as the commitments we make and follow through on.

A second benefit of not changing churches, especially in the midst of conflict, is spiritual growth.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”

When we habitually change churches because of a little strife (which exists in every church) we rob ourselves of the opportunity to grow spiritually.  That’s like trading your family in for a new family every time there is an argument in the house.  It is only by staying with our church family and working our way through conflict that we learn to persevere and forgive like God forgives us through Christ.  As painful as the process may be, anything less strips us of the opportunity to grow.

A third benefit of not changing churches has to do with preaching. Longevity enhances the effectiveness of a pastor’s sermons.  Obviously one advantage of a lengthy stay at a church with a long-term pastor is that the pastor has a better chance to be an actual shepherd for you.  The long-term pastor is judged more on his life and behavior than on a specific sermon.  People are more likely to say, “The pastor not only talks about love; he gives love.  He was there in our family crisis when we needed him.”  A pattern of care can cover a multitude of less-than-stellar sermons.  Staying with one church under the care of the same shepherd for an extended period of time allows for the reality of Christ within us to deepen.

I have written about the benefits of long-term pastors here:  Pastoral Longevity and Church Health

A fourth benefit of not changing churches is the privilege of seeing God transform your family across generational lines.   When we first planted PCC, I knew only seven people.  Over the last thirteen years strong friendships and long lasting relationships have been forged with hundreds.  I have had the privilege of seeing multi-generational families attend our church, commit to Christ, and witness their spiritual formation. I have baptized grandparents, their children, and their grandchildren, entire families, many times over.  I had dedicated babies, married their young people, and performed funerals for their dead.  Over time I have watched little children grow up into young adults in our church family, being with them through every season of life.  Stories like this I could repeat hundreds and hundreds of times over.

The privilege of watching God transform families across generational lines is one of the greatest blessings I’ve known. If I hadn’t stayed at PCC, I would never have seen the children of believers raising their children to believe, too.  And if these people had not stayed at PCC themselves, they too would have missed out on the opportunity of worshiping as a family across generational lines.

A final benefit of not changing churches is that it enhances our chances of hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” on the day He calls us into account.  This is one we simply cannot ignore.  In Hebrews 13:17, believers are instructed, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”

This verse teaches us both sides of a double-edged sword.  Believers are commanded to follow their spiritual leaders, and spiritual leaders will be judged on how well they shepherd God’s flock.  This is a reciprocal relationship – both believers and church leaders must be concerned about the eternal welfare of the other.

Obviously, this cannot happen if pastors and church members are changing churches too frequently.

Whenever you consider a move to another church, you MUST evaluate how your departure will affect those you leave behind.  Will it benefit them or damage them?  Again, this doesn’t mean we can never leave one church for another; it does mean, however, we shouldn’t be quick to do so. Because we are accountable for the welfare of God’s people, we should honestly examine of our motives for leaving.  If we damage God’s people through an ill-advised or selfish move, He will hold us accountable.  When deciding whether to stay or go, we should keep eternity in view.

There are many reasons to change churches. Some of those reasons are praiseworthy; some aren’t. In any case, before you make your next move, don’t just consider the benefits of leaving. Consider the benefits of staying too.

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