Why we should go to Church, when to leave a Church
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:22-23
Judges 6:1-3; Acts 2; Romans 12; Hebrews 10:24-25; 13:7, 17
Do you want to go to church, but feel lost there? Do you dread going to church? Do you wonder why or even if you should go to church?
I often hear from Christians that they do not have to go to church to worship God; this is a fallacy and a lie from our enemy. Yes, we do need to go to a good, healthy church so we can be recharged and refreshed to do the work of our Lord. Worship gives us the glimpse of Heaven-the rest and the future to which we can look. We need a place where we can grow and be encouraged and nurtured so we can be filled with the power to go out and do. Christians I have met who say they do not need to go to church are lethargic and do little to nothing for either the Lord or for their own personal growth. They just wallow through their self-pity, licking their hurts and wounds from the past. It is sad that they were "spiritually abused" by the diseases of the bad churches, but we need to reboot ourselves or else we will neither accomplish anything in our lives nor be of service to our Lord.
We need to take the words of Paul in Ephesians as a battle line for a stand and commitment to the call of our Lord. We must fight the urge to stay to ourselves in the hurried lifestyle that goes nowhere, where we try to escape the responsibilities and the promises of life both for the here and now and also in the world to come. Too many Christians and non-Christians try to escape His call and replace it with anything they can find. Extra sleep and jet skis become the urgent needs, then the yard must be taken care of, then we have to work on Sunday, or we must be entertained or take the kids to their sporting events-and the list goes on. Even the once-committed Christian who was damaged by some of the "diseases" will yield to these other things that need to be taken care of. Church becomes downgraded to a dreaded trip to visit grandma in the rest home, or a school trip to the museum. We may have the intention and desire to go, but other things just have a greater urgency and need. So, our grandma remains lonely and we miss the splendor of the wisdom and the relationship of family. When we miss out in church, we miss the luster of what Christ has to offer us.
If we are not committed to a church home, then there is no one to keep us accountable or to miss us when we do not attend worship. If no one is expecting us, we can come up with all those excuses of why we need not go. Then, a trickle-down effect will occur. When we neglect church, our spiritual disciplines will fall, one-by-one. Prayer will fall to the side. Perhaps, if we have time, we may pray. It will be the same with the reading of Scripture, and so forth. The growth we experienced in Christ will lose the stability and the routine that keeps us booted up, and we will fall to laziness and other commitments.
Being Committed to the Church
We need to be committed to the church because we need one another. The quality of our faith and church life is formed and exhibited by the quality of our spiritual preparations and our discipline of obedience to God and to one another! It is our mutual faith-building and encouragement, receiving and practicing His disciplines that become the entrance point to our spiritual formation which leads to our Christian maturity. And, it is this growth in Christ that spurs our church body into a phalanx of mutual support and cooperation so we spur on one another's commitment. Thus, when you are in a crisis or a troubling time, do not just ask for relief and divergence. Seek out community in Him and the help of others; as we look after one another, so we can collectively grow in Christ and not miss out on what Christ has for us.
When tough times do occur in our churches, we can use them as opportunities by asking what can I learn and take away to build me up further in faith and in maturity. God wants us to be squeezed so we produce wine and not whine. If we do not lean on Him, we will not learn and thus will not pass on helpful experiences to others. Our trials and hurts will become foolish wastes of real suffering. But, if we learn and grow through those trials, they become the great classroom of life and educate us better than any university degree. Taking on His strength is what helps us produce our joy, not our conditions or unfulfilled desires (Neh. 8:10; Isa. 40:29; Matt. 11:30; Heb. 12:12-29).
But, we must watch out for bitterness that rises from unfulfilled expectations when our focus is not on Christ. Esau traded his birthright for food; being foolish caused him to lose his blessing, and resulted in a life of bitterness. So, come to God, to Jesus Christ who gives us a new Covenant as Savior and Lord! Obey Him, live for Him, serve Him, and be grateful. Do not ignore Him; rather, embrace Him head on, fast and hard. We have a God who is Most Holy and He will not be thwarted or misrepresented or disrespected. Therefore, let us put our faith and hope in Him and not what people have or have not done to us at church. Remember, we experience His love and grace and feel His fellowship and empowerment as we are His people and He is our loving Lord. As Christians, let us all be appreciative for who we are in Christ and what He has done for us, so we can worship Him and live contented lives!
Being committed to the church is more than a gold star for attendance; it is a commitment to the work of our Lord. It requires submission to His authority, and active participation to be used and offered with the full abilities of our gifts and talents. It means giving of ourselves, and it means receiving the grace and love without the hindrance of our will.
Too many of us want to go it ourselves, but our desire to be independent becomes our focus in life. I felt this way when I was called to a wonderful church. The church exhibited an over-abundance of hospitality, so that my wife and I felt suspicious as well as grateful, because we were not used to it. After a considerable amount of prayer, we realized the call of the church was to be supportive and caring. We had just left a church that exhibited the opposite, and were hurt and confused when confronted with the true call of the church. Thus, my pride got in the way when this new position included a new house for my family and the generosity of the people provided our every need. We must not allow the past hurts or the self-directed will to get in the way of receiving gifts from others. We all have gifts to be used, but to use them, they need to be received.
Being committed means we are not to shop for months and years for a church home and become so picky not even the perfect church will satisfy us. We need to be discerning, and make sure it is grounded in correct theology and practices the art of caring, that it offers the ministry we may need, but does not have such high expectations that no person in a church could meet it. Remember, the church is an imperfect institution that is in the process of sanctification. So, do not expect perfection, but expect a willingness to grow to the goal of sanctification, that is, perfection in Christ. Our new, committed church home should compel us to be public about our faith and have commitment to others within the character of our Lord. We are to be supportive, not just financially, but wholeheartedly and passionately.
Do not give up on Church!
...we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:13
Too many Christians have given up on the church, and this is too bad. Yes, it is imperfect and full of problems; so, what relationship is not? But, we can overcome all that and grow to do what Christ has called us to do. It means we surrender to win, as we are not only to give of ourselves, but also freely receive gifts and love and care from others without our pride getting in the way.
Our living faith that God gives and builds on along with our efforts are hinged on each other--not in our salvation, but in our personal growth. Even the private aspects of faith building require mutual efforts and support, so we need church to keep us growing. We can't build an effectual faith on our own without a church family. Scripture warns us against negating our spiritual development or neglecting what God gives. If we refuse to allow His work, then our faith and the future He has for us will not be received. If we leave the Church, our salvation (if it was for real in the first place) is still intact, but we limit our sanctification and cut ourselves off from God's reward for being faithful. We will fall to bad or natural consequences for refusing His guidance or the fellowship of others (Psalm 137: 5-6; 147:2; Isa 62:5; Gal. 6:24; Heb. 10:10; 13:9-25; Rev. 21: 2-4, 9-27).
The challenge for us is to be committed to our purpose of presenting who we are in Christ, personally and mutually, telling what He has done for us, and responding to Him with passion and conviction, letting go of the fears that hinder us. We must be excited so when the alarm clock buzzes early on Sunday morning, we jump up, eager about what lies ahead. When adults are energized, it usually becomes contagious to the kids; then, the tyranny of the morning becomes a bounding and fun time looking toward the worship, learning, and relationships ahead. The early church gave us a map for what we can do even in the face of tremendous odds-like the three hundred Spartans heading off the attack of the two hundred thousand plus Persians or our American Alamo. We have the God-given ability to shake off our fear as Gideon did; then the mundane will give rise to excitement, boring will develop into fun, and dread will turn into service. Then, we can go beyond our pedestrian level of the Christian walk into a transformed, heavenly walk that infects those around us. Then, the disease that causes division and hurt will cease and the damage and fears that keep us from growing and serving are removed.
Why are we not to give up on the Church? Because, even though our local church may have betrayed us or hurt us or underutilized or overused us, it is only a tiny aspect of the great wonder of our Lord's Body and it is he, our Great Shepherd, whom we do not give up on! He is the One who leads, equips, and guides us-as we all desperately need it. Since He does not betray or hurt us, we can stay for the good fight or move on where He calls us to be encouraged and equipped. It is our call to hear His voice and obey as a good sheep does in order to be fed and not be eaten by predators. For us to be in the safety of faith, we not only need to be in Christ, we have to obey and be in a good communion. This results from our intimate relationship with Him. We know Him, He knows us, and we do what He says. We are concerned with what concerns Him, and we act accordingly. Like sheep, we can't lead ourselves or others without being forever lost and unfed (Psalm 23; Isa. 63:11; Jer. 23:1; 31:34; Ezek. 34:6-16, 31; Hos. 6:6; John 10:1-8; 16:13-15; Rom. 10:7).
Why We Should Go to Church
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Ephesians 1:17-18
It can be easy to just give it all up and fall back into the world. There is so much conflict and disillusionment there that sometimes I am surprised that more people do not drop out. Statistics from The Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development, as well as Barna Research reported recently that perhaps 50% of people who go to a church are not even Christians. I first heard of this statistic when I was in seminary, and even from my "hero," J. Vernon McGee, whom I would visit as often as possible. He often said he believed a strong percentage of people in the church were not Christians at all! At first, I did not believe it; but, after years of pastoral experience and looking at the research, I now know this to be very possible.
The early church (that is, the period in Christian history right after our Lord's ascension up until the 4th century when Christianity became legal) went through a period of wide growth and geographic expansion, even in the face of extreme persecution. The Bible describes many instances of spectacular growth, starting at Pentecost. But, most people came to faith through a slow process. Justin Martyr, a man who exhibited extraordinary faith and was persecuted and killed for it (and became the word we use for experiencing persecution-martyr) did not come to the Lord by a sudden, emotional experience, but a long, slow process as most people did at that time. He says he first heard about the faith from an elderly stranger who engaged him in a philosophical conversation, common in that day. But, this elderly man planted a seed that grew over time. In addition, Justin Martyr saw the faith by observing Christians and was stirred by what he saw.
Most of the early Christians went through a several-year process where they were discipled, instructed, and encouraged before they were even baptized or received the Lord's Supper. This was called "Catechumen," where we get our word catechism. Today, in most churches, we have a tamer process of confirmation, membership, and so forth. Others may receive Christ at an evangelistic event and just proceed through a short membership class. The difference is that without a process where a person new to the faith can be properly instructed and discipled, he or she may not take a deeper ownership of the faith and become totally transformed by it. By not taking total ownership, one would be unable to know about our Lord and how He can transform our minds as well as our emotions. In the face of persecution and even death, a deeper ownership of the faith enabled those early Christians to thrive and grow and worship Him more.
Our American society has spent 50 years planted in front of the television, including me. I can't miss "Star Trek" or the History Channel. We have created for ourselves a culture dependent on instant stimulation and gratification. Our temperament has been focused on the quick fix and instant results. A generation ago, the average person could spend his or her whole career at one job. Now we get offended if we do not get a promotion every year, and we change jobs every few years. We become restless; the TV generation has become shallow and "turned off" by church because it is boring to them.
We are a society that focuses on rejection and failure, and that focus paralyzes us from achieving our full potential. It is probably because the TV has replaced our spiritual life, shortened our attention span, and left us with questions and objections that turn to emptiness. A friend in the entertainment industry told me that the average TV program has over 20 different images every minute. So, when you watch a half-hour "sit-com," your eyes will receive over 600 images. When we read a book, we receive one image. We are addicted to stimulation; most people want more and thus, it is hard for us to settle down.
In our church life, we can have the same expectations in communities with dozens to hundreds of churches from which to choose. So, the average Christian may hop and shop around for months or even years, and never get fully involved or use his or her gifts as one is called to do. Then, the boredom may win out, and he/she gives up. We have lost the sense of adventure and wonder that we used to have. We may see the apostles as "amazed," "frightened," "overjoyed," "tired," and "saddened," but we never see the apostles or anyone else in the Bible as bored. God wants us filled with meaning and purpose; "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10). We are to go to church so we can participate meaningfully and purposefully with our gifts and abilities.
We need to be drawn to the church for a deeper reason than the promise of good child-care or entertainment or even eternal life-deeper than to find excitement and escape from our boredom. Events intended to attract people to the church are essential, but we must have discipleship and equipping methods too. We must have a passion that comes from the very core of who we are as human beings-Christian beings who have surrendered to the person, work, truth, and character of Christ. If not, we will be unable to survive the pressures of life and the persecution we may receive. Without this, the early Christians would never have grown or been able to show courage in the face of persecution. This tiny sect of Christianity would have never survived a generation, let alone two thousand years.
Five Main Reasons Why Going to Church is Important:
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25
1. First, church is a place to belong, as the church can and should be. We are in community with one another as we belong to Christ and sincerely act it out. When a person puts his or her trust in Christ as Lord and Savior, His Spirit makes him or her a member of God's family-His children in His Church. All Christians are born into this family and it is this community that will live forever; it is where we belong. So we need to be involved; if not, we should look for a group of other believers with whom we can meet regularly for worship, teaching, encouragement, and service. In other words, we need a good, local church (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12: 2 Cor. 5: 17).
2. Second, church is a place to serve, as God's Spirit gives each of us special spiritual gifts and abilities that we are to use in service to Him and for one another. In addition, these gifts are designed to work with another's gifts; thus as we serve, we do so as a community in Him. Christians need to be involved in the local church so we can discover our function and use our gifts. We live in a world of self-centered thinking, but we can be an example of something and point to Someone who is so much better. It is all about Christ's example and command to serve others and how each of us seeks to apply this. Each of us needs the church and the church also needs for us to function correctly and effectively. In the church, we can grow spiritually; we learn more so we can serve more. This will also cause us to experience the excitement and adventure of helping others grow. As we discover how God has gifted us, we can use those gifts in the opportunities He gives us to learn and grow more (Rom. 2: 6; 1 Cor. 14:26)!
3. Third, church is a place to be served. Just as the various parts of our bodies depend on one another, so, as it is described in Scripture, Christians are to be reliant upon one another. Your eye gives you vision; your ear gives you sound. All the while, your brain processes the images and sounds so you can respond to your environment. You cannot see or hear with your individual organs, nor just with your brain. When you are involved in the church, you will find that you are in a community where one another's needs are met as all work together in oneness and purpose for God's glory. God normally meets our needs by using others, and He uses you to meet the needs of others; this is the church's purpose with Christ as the head of it. Church members need to depend on one another just as the members of a human body do (1 Cor. 12; 14-27; James 5:13-16)!
4. Fourth, church is a place to grow. Just as our physical bodies need nourishment to function, so our spiritual lives need to be fed. This spiritual food is discipleship, which includes worship, prayer, good biblical instruction, and mentoring. As Christians praise God and pray, a special bond comes about. Gifted teachers and preachers who know and use God's Word and care about you can help you grow. So, plant yourself in a good church and grow (Acts 20:7; Col. 3: 16; Heb. 10:25)!
5. Fifth, church is a place to work together. Our Christian faith is personal but not private. Healthy Christians are not loners; rather, we are in relationship with one another. God uses our intimacy with one another to help us. In so doing, we are spurring one another on. As He is intimate with us, we are to be so with one another. Jesus said that the world would watch relationships among Christians: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) The church's role is to help us learn how to love and obey God and keep us accountable and involved (John 13:34-35).
Looking for a good church?
Is your church perhaps a little weak? If you are not involved in a good church or you need to reform the one you are in, these are the basics that Christ has set forth. Here's what to look for:
- Worship: Songs and hymns in praise to God that are reverent with adoration! Knowing who God is: we are the performers and He is the audience as we give Him praise!
- Prayer: Intimate words and thoughts expressed to God with care toward one another.
- Preaching: Inspired and biblical, challenging us to live for God, lifting Christ up, and showing us implications we need to apply!
· Teaching and Discipleship: Solid biblical instruction from the Word of God to spur us on to growth!
- Sharing: Joyful support for the work of God through missions, outreach, and the living of a life without compromise!
- Fellowship: Encouragement from the family of God!
- Discipline: Not allowing someone to distract or harm others through personal agendas and sin!
We need to go to a local church for the express reason that it is spiritually beneficial; and when we have benefited, so will others. Because of what Christ has done to give us saving grace and regeneration that we did not deserve, so we must respond with gratitude. The Reformation themes of "guilt," "grace," and "gratitude" show the progress of our walk. The process starts with our fall and our sinful nature, which is our "guilt." Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, saves us for His glory and purpose, which is "grace." Then, we respond by modeling the love and care of our Lord, which is "gratitude."
We need to see our responsibility to care for His church properly and faithfully. His message will be pronounced and proclaimed through us with power, conviction, and in clarity and truth. People will be challenged and revival will break out. We have the privilege to know and proclaim what was once a secret, things that the Patriarchs and Prophets could only dream of. Now we can boldly tell others-in lifestyle, in words, and with confidence. It is about His riches and His glory! For the ultimate secret, what is foolishness to those who are not in Him, is that the God of the universe is living in us, employing us, empowering us, and loving us. He is our assurance, so let us share this great joy and never let it be a secret! We are called to share His glory and Truth! Do this with warmth, kindness, and in truth. Give to others what we have been given (John 10:10; Eph. 1:17-18; Col. 1:24-29; Heb. 10:25)!
When to Leave a Church?
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:7-8
We are called to obey your leaders, to have respect for their authority and their call to care for and keep careful watch over the people as shepherds, because leaders will be held to account. We are called to submit to those in authority and to value and respect them, enjoy orderliness, and learn from them. In contrast, a person with a lack of faith will not respect others because the emptiness where faith is supposed to be is filled with pride and even self-destruction, worry, and stress that lead a person nowhere good. This does not mean we submit to dictatorial or dysfunctional leadership (Isa. 21:8; Jer, 23:4; Ezek. 3:17; 33:6; 35:7; Hab. 2:1; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:2-4; 3 John 9-10).
However, sometimes leaders and pastors are not following Christ, rather following their pride or misguided intentions and thus it may be time to go to another sheepfold. So, when do I leave? When it is dead and there is no life left and there is nothing you can do, you need to look seriously at the situation. Being a member of a church is like being partners in a marriage; when you leave, it is like experiencing a divorce and thus is to be taken sincerely and soberly, and with prayer. Seek what you can do to improve things and always make sure you are not the one causing the problems of division or discord, unless you are fighting for biblical truth. Even if that is the case, do so in love. Obviously, leaving a church is not a sin unless you are in disobedience. There are times when you need to take a stand, and if it fails, it may be necessary to move on to a healthier church. God gives us a green light to move on when:
· Heresy and false teaching are being proclaimed or a platform for that to take place is present and the leaders refuse to repent, or if there is just no teaching and you are not being fed (Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:7-9).
· The pastor and leaders do not reverence Christ or His Word (1 Corinthians 5:1-7; Colossians 1:15-17).
· The pastors or leaders are living in sin and refuse to repent (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
· The pastor or leaders are over-controlling and operate in the weakness of the flesh rather than in the power of the Fruit of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:33; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9).
· The diseases before mentioned, such as gossip and hypocrisy, are rampant and you are being hurt to the point you cannot function or worship, and there is no discipline for those who sin (2 Timothy 3:5).
· If you are the person who is sowing discord or division, you must leave right away. Run-do not walk-to the nearest exit and do not join another church until you repent and get some healing (Galatians 5:1-23)!
Besides that, it is hard to say; you need to think, seek wise counsel, and be in prayer. You should never leave a church for petty or superficial reasons. Examples might be that you do not like the speaking voice of the pastor, but he is teaching well, or you do not like the color of the carpet or the style of the music or how the kitchen is run, or that someone you do not like is elected or appointed to a leadership position. You need to stick to your commitment and responsibility. You need to be in prayer and ask our Lord how He can use you there. Are you growing? Is there a place where you are needed to serve? Is there anything you are doing wrong for which you need to repent? What about your attitude and motivations?
If you do leave a church, do not leave quietly or covertly. Meet with the pastor or leaders, dialog and give them clear reasons, remembering to be biblical and in the Fruit of the Spirit and in prayer. They have the need and right to know, so improvements and conviction by the Spirit can take place. Or, maybe you are in the wrong. So, make sure you listen. Then if you leave, you need to forgive and move on. Never, ever stay to spread bitterness and division (Prov. 6:19; John 13:34-35; 17:21-23; Rom. 16:17; Gal. 1:7-9; 1 Cor. 1:10; 5:1-11; 15:33; Eph. 4:11-14, 31-32; Col. 1:15-17; 3:13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:7-9; Heb. 13:7, 17)!
Let us gain our composure and confidence regardless of how many true believers are in the church, and live as His disciples for His glory!
© 2009, R.J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org/