by Lara Stafford
Someone once told me that there are basically only three good reasons for leaving a church. The first one is if the pastor is teaching false doctrine from the pulpit. The second is if you move (with the implied understanding that you become part of a local church in your new town). The third reason has been lost along with countless other memories that have vanished since I began having children. My husband would add that a good reason for leaving a church is if there is unrepentant, ongoing sin among the leadership. It doesn’t matter much what the third reason was, specifically. This wise person was basically telling me not to leave a church for frivolous reasons. I did try searching online to see if something would spark my memory about that elusive third reason. If you google “three reasons to leave a church”, you will see that there has been much written on this subject. You will also see that people don’t agree on the topic. I saw reasons as varied as, “The pastor’s sermons are too long,” “I don’t like the music,” “Our children want to go to another church,” and even this one, “There are too many sinners in the church.” I don’t think any of those are even close to the third reason my wise friend gave so many years ago. Suffice it to say, there are reasons for leaving a church, but there probably are fewer than you think.
The Bible compares the church to a family (1 Tim. 3:15, Eph. 1:5), a building (1 Pet. 2:4-5), and Jesus’ own body (Eph. 4:12; 5:22-23). One thing that a family, a building and a body all have in common is that, if you remove a member or part, the rest suffer. A person who has had a part of their body amputated will tell you that they miss that part very much. They would have had to learn to live without it through great pain and difficulty. A building that is missing bricks is not as stable as it once was. It is in need of repairs. If a brick is taken out of a building, the bricks around it suffer because they are now unsecure. And a family who is missing a family member want that person back. Ask any parent who has lost a child, or the parent of a prodigal, or someone who has just lost their mother to cancer…the loss of that family member is profound. It leaves a gaping void in the lives of the family.
I think one of the reasons the Bible uses these three things as illustrations of the church is to help us gain a better understanding of our part in our local church. When I see a picture of a building that is missing bricks and is in danger of collapsing as a result, I can remember that I am a brick in the building of my church. If I leave, there will be a hole where I once served and encouraged others. If I leave, others may follow, as well, leaving more holes and instability. When I see someone who has lost a part of their body, I am reminded that I am a body part in my church. If I leave, then the rest of the body will have to work harder to make up for the fact that I am missing. It is as if the church body had to have a finger amputated and is now learning how to function wit out that part. Can it be done? Of course. But it is much more difficult and not at all what God intended.
The picture of the church as a family is the picture that is the clearest to me. I love my family. I enjoy being with them and can’t imagine my life if even one of them were gone. That doesn’t mean that things are always easy in my family, though. We are 6 very different people with different opinions and priorities. Sometimes (read: often) those ideas collide making life uncomfortable for us. For instance, we have a two-story house. Most of the living space is upstairs (living room, kitchen and kid’s bedrooms). The only living spaces that are downstairs are the master bedroom and my husband’s office. Since our children have become teenagers, they have started staying up later. We have a toddler in the house along with the teenagers, so I’m pretty exhausted by 9pm. I like to go to bed and need pretty much complete silence to sleep. Add to that equation that our floors are REALLY creaky and you have a platform for some discomfort on someone’s part. There are nights when the result of all this is that “Angry Mom” storms upstairs to tell kids to get in bed. I’m sure our teenagers, who are getting ready to be adults, don’t appreciate the fact that they have so little control of their evenings. We have conversations, and discipline when needed. I will tell you, however, what DOES NOT happen ….I don’t leave my family because I prefer to sleep in the quiet and am pretty sure that is not going to happen for the next 16 years or so. I love my family and am committed to them. That means I’m going to stick with them through a few restless nights, no matter how uncomfortable that makes me.
It sounds ridiculous, right? I mean, who would leave their family because of some creaky floorboards? Yet that is equivalent to the reasons many people are giving as to why they are leaving their church family. You don’t like the style of worship? You have a preference issue with the decisions the leadership is making? The preaching is too long? The carpet is too dated? The kitchen isn’t run the way you would like? Those are all creaky floorboard issues.
Unless your church is teaching false doctrine or you have to move, consider thinking about your church more like you think of your own family, or a building you helped build, or the body of your Savior. Consider making a list of all the reasons you should stay instead of the reasons that make you want to leave. And then get involved. Serve in your church. Be a real part of helping to build something that is very important to God. So important that He died for her (Eph. 5:25). To borrow an idea from John F. Kennedy, ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church. Here is God’s view of what the church should look like, “…we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:15-16). You are a part of a local body, a joint that is designed to hold it together and grow up in love…so BE a part!