My husband is starting a new sermon series and all church small groups titled, “Quit Church”. It’s Quitting Time! We are all quitting church together! I was thinking, I don’t want to quit church! I enjoy going to church with my friends, serving in areas needed and creatively collaborating to find ways to reach people with the love of Jesus.
People Come & Go
We are in an amazing season at our church, in the last 8 months; we have seen an amazing number of people come to know Christ, tripled our baptisms and added over 20 new members. Being a part of these life transformations is so very exciting to me! I was smiling from ear to ear while thinking about it the other day – until I received one text, then two and then a third text – all of them letting me know they would be moving on from our church for one reason or another. It was a bit overwhelming that day and I felt hurt and disappointed. In a perfect world, I wish everyone who comes to our church would stay forever. The reality is people come and go, not just in church, but also everywhere.
Think about it, we switch gyms and supermarkets. We buy and sell cars and homes. We switch jobs. The church is not a commodity, but its obvious there is a certain percentage of people inevitably who will come and go.
Yet, now my husband is asking people to QUIT CHURCH!
Usually, when people leave a church, it’s because there’s a problem, a disagreement or a conflict of some kind. We don’t always think of this but some people leave churches when things are also going well. It’s pretty simple, the people who are at the church today are there because they like the way it is. Any kind of change may cause some to leave. It can be shocking, disappointing and it can leave us scratching our head. It’s unavoidable and we can’t let this paralyze us by focusing on who we want to keep, but instead focus on who we want to reach.
Church is Messy!
Church is messy! Church is like a hospital, full of wounded, sick and sinful people. One of the major sins that cause multiple problems and wounds is the lack of forgiveness. We have imperfect Christians, imperfect pastors, imperfect boards all attending churches and doing their very best. It’s inevitable that when you get all these imperfect people together, disagreements, hurt feeling and misunderstandings are going to happen. If our expectations of others are too high, disappointment is inevitable and can cause further feelings of hurt and resentment. Our response to one another should be to forgive one another in kindness, compassion and in Christian love, which covers a multitude of sins, followed by an increased commitment to serve one another.
We come with these wounds and sins and sometimes it creates an idea of what the local church should provide for us. If these ideas are not provided or are not met, or we feel they are not fulfilled, we leave. Sometimes these preconceived ideas we have come to be the reasons people leave a church they love very much. I included several below:
- “The worship leader refused to listen to me about the songs and music I wanted.”
- “The pastor did not feed me.”
- “No one from my church visited me.”
- “I didn’t want to support the building program they wanted.”
- “I was out two weeks and no one called me.”
- “I’m just not feeling connected.”
- “They moved the times of the worship services and it messed up my schedule.”
- “I told my pastor to go visit my cousin and he never did.”
Okay, please do not take this the wrong way. Please know that I know church members should expect a level of ministry and concern. As pastors, we want to reach people and help them feel loved and valued and many times there is just not enough hours in a day to do all that needs to be done. We cannot get caught up in certain “expectations” and if my church leadership does not fulfill them, we quit. Church is not a social club or country club where we pay our dues and then we are entitled to certain benefits and we expect them to be carried out.
Our churches play a significant role at in the lives of God’s people. God imprints some of our ministry when they leave that I hope will bless the next local church they join.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul describes church members not by what they should receive in a local church, but by the ministry they should give.
The bottom line is that it is hard when people leave a church. It’s hard to be the one leaving and its hard being left. Most who leave do not make the decision lightly and they may wrestle with the decision for some time before departing. It’s okay to be hurt or sad when people leave. We just can’t wallow in the disappointment too long because, there are others in the congregation who need us to care, equip, protect, and lead them.
It’s Quitting Time!
Reasons People Leave Church
- 10% die
- 12% job relocation
- 12% prefer another church
- 66% offended – bent out of shape
My husband and I have been pastoring for 27 years and we are more familiar with seeing good people leave the church. Each one hurts. Sometimes it seems like the people who are most likely to leave the church are the ones we have spent time with and maybe even helped them through tough times or seen the most progress in.
Sometimes people leave in silence and we never know why and it’s awkward when we run into each other. The other side is the “we need to talk” situation where every thing we have failed to do or something we did is verbalized to us from a long list. People we thought were doing well and were happy are listing all the offenses they feel they have endured over the last few years. Some are legit, some are completely not, and all of them are painful to hear.
More often than not we are hearing these problems when they have already made up their mind to leave and it’s too late now. It’s those moments when you are caught off guard and saying “I didn’t know there was a problem until now”, “The problem would have been fixable if I had been made known”, or “It was just a misunderstanding that we could have easily resolved.” Many times the problems are based on hearsay or inaccurate information that could have easily been discussed and understood.
How Do We Handle This Well?
Our relationship may have changed with those leaving but we are still members of the body of Christ and need to treat each other with love. How do we do that?
We have to all remembered that Christians will hurt our feelings. When others hurt us, our spiritual maturity will be revealed and we discover how real our relationship with Jesus Christ is. People have one of two reactions when their feelings get hurt: they deal with it before the Lord, or they destroy others.
Don’t Take the Bait!
Satan is the one setting up the trap and using people as bait, to get us caught in the trap of offense. When believers realize what an offense is, they will be more resistant against its design.
Satan is all about offenses and is very effective to bring hurt and resentment. He has been doing this for many years and does it well. He is swaying and influencing the wills of people to offend us or we may be perceive something wrongly and becoming offended.
Christians who have been around the block ignore gossip that put other believers in a bad light. In fact, in the eyes of the Christian believer, any statement that has a defamatory tone is discredited.
When believers are concerned about someone, they go straight to the person privately as Jesus taught us to do, asking questions rather than making allegations.
Some Christians, however, never think to do this. Instead, they readily believe slanderous allegations about another Christian without ever going to that person first.
The question “How would I want to be treated if someone were saying these things about me?” never seems to occur to them. The life of Jesus Christ always leads us to live that question. The flesh always leads us in the opposite direction.
Remember, Satan is the slanderer and he uses gossip to destroy relationships. That’s why the Bible says that believing gossip separates close friends and that one of the seven things the Lord hates is “sowing seeds of discord among the church.”
You can choose to be offended and make a friend out of your hurt, feed it, take it out for daily walks, cuddle it, and protect it until it destroys you and others. A root of bitterness, if allowed to live, will defile many and prove destructive to your own spirit.
You can also choose to be offended and retaliate actively or passively.
Or you can choose to live by Christ and bring your hurt to God. Sometimes the Lord will lead you to go to the person and talk to them in a gracious manner, seeking reconciliation.
God’s Grace is Sufficient
If I stop loving people because I’m afraid I’ll get hurt if (or when) they leave, I’ll stop living and leading. The life of a pastor and pastor’s wife is to love and feed God’s sheep. And sometimes sheep bite. Every wound is a reminder that God’s grace is sufficient.
I love Jesus and I love being a part of a church, focusing on reaching lost people, and helping people along their spiritual journey. So, yes, we need to quit church in the sense of thinking it is all about us and requiring our expectations to be fulfilled. If we choose to view church as a place for us to use our gifts and talents to reach people who need to know Jesus, we are able to set aside our own expectations and serve in the way God intended us to. Can you imagine what the local church would be able to accomplish if everyone attending used their gifts and talents to serve others? God would be able to change entire cities through us as we concentrate on what He instructs us to do rather than focusing on our own preferences and expectations. It would be incredible.
Rather than quitting church altogether, let’s just quit how we attend currently. Let’s quit focusing on ourselves and quit allowing offenses and expectations to keep us from being committed to what God wants to do through us.