EXPOSE | It’s Me, Not You
“I’m a grown man. There is only one person responsible for me not eating and not growing. It’s not a family member. It’s not the church. It’s me… The role of a church is not to tell us what we want to hear or to offer all the programs we like. The role of the church is to make disciples of Jesus.” – Tyler Edwards
EXPLORE | Church: Who’s Failing Who?
Buffets have wrecked us. But we asked for it. Give us more to choose from! Enter in: the buffet. Who doesn’t want sushi with their spaghetti? The trouble comes when we begin to view other parts of our lives through these same ‘buffet-colored’ glasses.
When applied to church, it can leave us wanting and wandering. But is it the church’s fault? Sitting back and expecting it to satisfy us will usually result in one or both of the following: you never end up being satisfied, and/or, you get something that has no business calling itself a church.
It is an on-going battle that reveals the disparate positions of those who seek to get the most out of something, instead of putting the most into it.
Do you feel like church is letting you down? Or, could it be argued that you are letting down the church? You see, just as we have expectations of church, the church, and biblically so, has its expectations of us as well. When you get both sides of the story, who is failing who? A question I will admit I wrestle with most Sundays.
EXECUTE | Your “New” Church Plan
Church is strategically designed for a spiritual exchange like no other. It’s crucial, and therefore essential. Oh, and God requires it. How dare we waste this opportunity.
I’ve broken down the plan into 3 categories that helps take well-rounded assessment of our relationship with church.
Cleave – consider and connect
If it’s not supposed to meet our every need, what should it provide?
“You must seek God’s will and be led by the Holy Spirit in selecting a church. Also you need to evaluate how you and your family can contribute to that ministry so it is not just another church, but truly a church home… A church is a gathering of those who have been called by God to salvation, to redemption, to adoption, to conversion, to justification and ultimately to glorification.” – John MacArthur
And it starts with the right foundation.
“Whether you’re searching for a home to live in or a church to worship in, its foundation is crucial: A Proper View of Scripture. An Emphasis on Bible Teaching and Preaching. Doctrinal Soundness. Doctrinal Practice.” MacArthur further encourages that we examine the structure, see how it functions, and check the environment.
How do you know if it is the real thing?
“I suppose it could be summed up by the psalmist in Psalm 119:161 who said, “My heart stands in awe of Your Word.” The purest demonstration of a true church is that it is an assembly of people who are in awe of the Word of God.” – John MacArthur
“What if you joined the rebellion, and pledged your loyalty and engagement to a Bible-believing, gospel-cherishing local church?”
In his article “Why Join a Church?“, David Mathis provides six reasons to “put down roots”: for our own assurance, the good of others, our own good, the good of our leaders, the good of unbelievers, and our own perseverance in the faith.
Weave – commit and submit
It isn’t church without you.
“Membership in a local church involves commitment to worship the Lord corporately, edifying brothers and sisters through mutual exhortation and service, cooperating in mission, and holding each other accountable to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord as a witness to the truth of Christ in the world… The New Testament teaching about church government and church discipline would be meaningless if some form of commitment to mutual accountability in a body of believers were not expected. ” – Bethlehem Baptist Church
And you cannot be without the church.
A review by Gavin Ortland of Kelly Bean’s book (How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community), reveals what more and more people are feeling (or are building up an argument around): the possibility of no church. Kelly says: “The great news is that it is possible to be a Christian and not go to church but by being the church remain true to the call of Christ.”
However, Bean cites a quote from a pastor in her area of Portland that unwittingly undermines her argument and provides a perfect response to those thinking of going it alone: “To say, ‘I don’t need to be part of a local church because I AM the church’ is like a football player standing alone on the field saying I AM the team. It’s silly”… just as playing football requires being on a team, so “being the church” presupposes association with a particular group of believers. Mission is an outgrowth of, not an alternative to, our churchly identity.
Your an adult. Feed yourself.
“Along with practicing spiritual disciplines on our own, a well-balanced spiritual diet often includes embracing diversity and staying with a church family even when it doesn’t spoon feed you or meet all your expectations. Sometimes the best thing for us is to get offended, called out and told no. There’s not much left in our culture that will remind us that this life isn’t about us.” – Tyler Edwards
What are YOU doing with what IS provided by your church? Are you going to Sunday school? Should you instead be leading it?
Leave – decide and depart
How do you know when it’s time to leave a church?
John Piper provides general guidelines we can weigh when considering whether or not we should leave our local church. First, however, we need to know “what the church IS, in order to determine if your church is BEING the church or is it defective to the degree I should go to another one.”
His criteria for a church being a church is: the elders and pastors are “ministering the Word of God fully and faithfully”, they minster the Lord’s Supper and baptism, they exercise church discipline, and they love one another, the community and the lost. However, he quickly admits the decision never quite presents itself as that black and white.
So, he advises that: “When the weaknesses, or the errors, or the sins of the preacher or the preaching reach a combined extent that when you consult mature Christians they think your faith and obedience would be damaged if you stayed, and your usefulness there doesn’t outweigh the pitfalls, you are free to go.”
Okay, but if you must go.
“Leaving a local congregation should be one of the most difficult decisions we face. It should be filled with the recollection of our love for the saints, their love for us, our service together in the name of our Lord, and our sorrows and joys in the faith. A church is family and we ought never feel it easy to leave family–even an unhealthy family.”
Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and offers 5 things to do if you decide that leaving is necessary:
1. Share Your Thinking/Reasons with the Leaders
2. Resolve Any Outstanding Conflicts
3. Express Your Appreciation for the Church’s Ministry in Your Life
4. Say “Goodbye” to Friends and Family
5. Be Honest with Yourself about Your Own Efforts, Motives and Failings
While Jason Helopoulos gives two good handfuls of reasons for legitimately leaving your church in his article “Good Reasons for Moving On”, he also calls out the ways we try to justify a move with reasoning he describes as “insufficient”:
1. Children’s Ministry—The Children’s ministry at another church is better.
2. Buzz—Many people will flow to whatever church in town has the current “buzz.”
3. Youth Group—The unhappiness of our teenage children in the current Youth Group, because of activities, other youth, etc. is not a reason for leaving the church we have covenanted with… our children are not the spiritual directors of our home. They should not be choosing the church we attend based upon their social status and network.
4. Church has changed—Churches always change. Unless the changes are unbiblical then we don’t have a reason to move on.
5. New Pastor—A new pastor is not a sufficient reason to change churches. It doesn’t matter how stiff, impersonal, unfunny, etc. he is. He is the man God called to this church for this time. And this is your church.
6. I’m Not Being Ministered to—I tell every one of our new member classes, “If we all walked into church each week and had a list of people we were going to try and ‘touch,’ encourage, or minister to, do you know how dynamic this church would be? Start ministering to others and you will find that you are being ministered to.
7. Music—Not a reason—whether it is slow, fast, traditional, contemporary, Psalms, hymns, or gospel choruses. Stop using it as an excuse!
8. There are others…we haven’t even mentioned the service is too early, the coffee is terrible, the pastor doesn’t know how to shuck corn (Yep…those are all true ones I have heard).
God never wastes a moment. Ever. That is why we must not only take every moment captive, but take seriously His command to love and serve His church. It starts with a proper understanding of what being a part of the church really looks like, but necessarily follows with our commitment to it, fulfilling our role and responsibility. But, if the time should come for us to leave our local church, it too can be–must be–done with humility and wisdom.