I got to chat with a friend recently. I learned that she is planning on leaving the church where she has been an active, contributing part for over 20 years.
It made me sad but I could completely relate. I had done the exact same thing.
A couple of years ago, I stopped attending one church and started attending a new one. Well, it actually wasn’t that cut and dried. I was attending both for awhile until I eventually stopped attending the one I had been a part of for what seemed like forever.
If you’ve been a part of a congregation for 20 years and counting, what makes you decide to pack up and leave one day?
In that amount of time, you may have met and married your spouse there (I did), your children may have been born while attending there (mine were), you may have watched your friends get married and go on to start families there (I did), your closest friends may have been there (mine were).
In my case, the decision to leave came slowly. I didn’t want to leave. I want to say that again – I didn’t want to leave. I had been blessed so much to be a part of that local body and I wanted to stay and bless in any and all ways I could. I wanted so much to contribute to and be a part of the growth of that band of believers.
So, why did I leave?
In my case, I believe God used circumstances to get me to leave because of how I am wired.
You see, I am loyal to a fault. Usually, this is good character trait, right? Yeah… until it isn’t. In addition, I’m very sensitive. I spend a lot of mental and emotional energy choosing my words carefully and being respectful of others feelings. I’m a pretty good listener and I have a good memory – which can be a blessing or curse. I’m a team player and I don’t have to be the star.
I also have many, many sinful tendencies and weaknesses that aren’t particularly relevant to this issue. Ha!
Because of how I am, God was going to have to bring me to the point where I was convinced I had no other alternative than to leave. Looking back, I have no doubt God knew that for me it would take the pain of staying being significantly greater than the pain of leaving.
When I left, I couldn’t point to any one, solitary thing as the cause. God allowed and used several circumstances that kept making me increasingly discontent and uncomfortable until I finally had a major personal crisis.
Each thing by itself was a small thing. Put altogether, they became more than I could handle in a spiritually healthy way.
That major crisis forced me to seek out help. Unfortunately – or depending how you look at it – fortunately, part of getting help meant connecting with a completely different body of believers.
I still love the people I used to fellowship with on a more regular basis and hope they feel the same about me. They are still my brothers and sisters in Christ even if we don’t see each other every week.
But this is the thing. No Church is perfect. My ‘old’ one wasn’t and my ‘new’ one isn’t.
Churches are made of sinful people who have chosen to trust in Jesus. Each of us brings our unique perspective, our opinions, our personalities, our hangups, and our communication tools (or lack thereof) into our Churches.
We have to learn how to love each other and how to be okay with not always getting our own way. Just not liking this or that isn’t enough reason for Church-hopping as far as I understand from reading the scriptures.
Colossians 3:12-14 (NLT):
Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.
The Bible is full of “one another” passages. If you are actually reading the Bible, you cannot escape the truth that God wants us to care for and support each other.
Yes. Even those who aren’t like you and those you can’t stand. That’s why it is so important for us not to give up on each other just because of a little discomfort.
John 13:34-35 (NIV):
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
We are recognizable by how we love each other – not by how we tear each other down (especially on social media)! And definitely not by ignoring each other when we can plainly tell that something is wrong or someone is in pain.I dare say ‘The Good Samaritan’ has much to teach us about loving each other vs. just being religious on this score.
Another great scripture…
Ephesians 4:1-3 (NLT):
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
There are times when leaving a Church is expected and is a completely positive experience. Your Church supports your decision and sends you off wishing you all the best. Maybe you are moving for a job, school, or to be closer to family for example. God uses these good and happy circumstances to move us where we need to be and where He wants us.
Sometimes leaving is for negative reasons: The sermons are poor representations of sound Biblical doctrine. The leadership is self-consumed and power-hungry. The people are not serious about being imitators of Christ. You can’t build quality relationships. You can’t find your spiritual footing no matter how hard you try. The list could go on.
There are also times God uses hardship and painful events to the same end – to move someone into a new assignment or season of life. Sometimes people like me – who tend to want to focus on the silver lining a dark cloud might have – won’t budge unless God helps us to.
I am always going to want to see God do a miracle right where I am – which is a good thing, but just might not be a part of God’s larger plan at that particular time.
What has been your experience with changing congregations? Mostly positive? Mostly negative? Have you been in the same congregation your whole Christian life and have loved every minute of it? Is the idea of committing to a group of believers long-term daunting for you?