I have been a member of my church for more than 30 years. And I can recall a couple of times when I thought about moving to another church. So what made me stay?
Based on what I’ve observed of people I know who have made that move – both from my church and into it – I believe these could be some of the reasons:
- Leadership: I don’t agree with the church direction or its beliefs
- Relationships: I have been hurt by people in the church
- Teaching: I don’t feel ministered to by the sermons
- Disunity: There are divisions within the church
- Spiritual health: I am not growing spiritually here
We are often told that no church is perfect – and even if there were one, when you join it, you’ll change your mind! The church I grew up in did experience divisions once – and survived; it has seen its worship service evolve; some of its programmes have tanked; there was growth in numbers during some years and stagnation in others.
I love my church, though I can see its warts and all that might be reasons for some people to feel like leaving.
When I contemplated such a move many years ago, I was attracted to a new church that was built next to where I lived. It seemed to make sense to me to move to a nearer church – it was attractive not just location wise, but also for its pulpit ministry, worship style… Its entire service, in fact!
I felt right at home there and could see myself growing and contributing in that church. I even reasoned to myself that joining a nearby church would mean I could participate in community work amongst my neighbours. Surely that was good reason enough?
It of course begged the question: Was I unhappy in my church? Not really, if I was being honest.
However, there were a few things I wish it had: More inspiring sermons and more freedom in worship. I was serving actively and sometimes, that means I got to “see” things, such as the imperfections in leadership. It left me struggling to submit when I disagreed with how things were done.
I believe my experience is not unique. So what made me stay?
First, I checked my inner motives. Deciding whether to change church or not should involve praying and waiting upon the Lord for a period of time. What does God say about it? Surely He wants to see me grow and be happy in His church, right?
Well, in our moments of quiet with Him, when we lay ourselves totally bare before our Father, the Holy Spirit and Scripture shine a light into our souls – to question the purity of our desires and motives.
I realised I wanted very much to belong to what I perceived then to be a “better” church – that I’d come to believe my own church was not good enough. I wanted to leave each service feeling spiritually well-fed, with renewed zeal for the Lord. This desire in itself was not wrong, but the way I wanted to achieve it was!
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11,12)
Someone preached a message on these verses many years ago and it still comes back to me occasionally: Receive first-hand from the Lord, not second-hand. Too many of us rely almost solely on well preached sermons to teach us or inspire us; that is, we deem it the preacher’s duty to study the word, chew on it and feed it to us in bite sizes.
On this side of eternity, probably every family has issues, yet we do not just “change family”.
However, ultimately, we may be like fledglings in the nest forever waiting with gaping mouths for regurgitated food from parent birds. So, if I consider myself to be a growing believer, am I able to read the Bible for myself and receive from the Lord directly? Or do I rely on a Sunday service to be a morale booster instead of having regular, intimate personal encounters with the Lord that change me?
Second, the Lord gave me a message about perseverance. On this side of eternity, probably every family has issues, yet we do not just “change family”. By His grace, we accept our families, love one another and are discipled at the same time. We learn to forgive one another.
Similarly, we should persevere in the spiritual family He has placed us in, serving together within that community of imperfect believers. Truly, after all these years of belonging in one church, I have seen how God has brought us through, discipled us and who is now challenging us to do an exciting new work.
It’s not my place to judge whether someone is right or wrong to change church. In each of the reasons I mentioned above why people change church, the Lord will grant wisdom if His counsel is sought, whether it’s time to make the move or stay on.
We need to be totally transparent with the Lord, letting Him search and reveal our inner motives, and ultimately allow Him to guide the final decision in humility and trust.