When It’s Time to Leave a Church

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I detest church hopping. Yet I accept the fact that there are times when Christians transfer church membership. But there is a proper time and way to leave a church.

What are the legitimate reasons for leaving a church? When is the right time to leave a church? How should one leave a church to join another?

Red Lights: Wrong Reasons for Leaving a Church

Here are seven wrongs reasons for leaving a church. 

Sin. Someone has sinned. Maybe it was a leader. Is this a good reason to leave? No. It is not promote holiness to leave because of sin. There was gross sin in the church of Corinth. But Paul commanded the church to deal with the sinning member, not leave the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). When Paul bids the saints to “come out from among them,” he was talking about the world, not the church (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). We should respond to sinning brothers with restoration, not amputation (Galatians 6:1-5).

Disagreements over secondary doctrinal issues. Biblical convictions matter. But don’t be willing to die on every hill. Contend earnestly for the faith (Jude). But don’t break fellowship over every disagreement about scripture. Paul advised Timothy, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness…” (2 Timothy 2:14-16)

Disunity. God hates those who sow discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19). But evidence of salvation is love for your brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 3:14). And this love is demonstrated by preserving the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3). Don’t jump ship because you can’t get along with others. You will only have the same problem at the next church. “Do nothing from selfish ambition of conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself” (Philippians 2:3).

Personal offenses. There will be times when Christians sin against one another. What then? Leaving is not the answer. Moving every time you are (or feel) wronged will only lead multiple church transitions. Or you will remain at the fringes of the church, which is just as bad. Jesus gives the answer: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). These simple instructions could jumpstart revival in many churches. But what if he doesn’t listen? Turn up the pressure (18:16-20).

Unwillingness to submit to authority. Aaron was more spiritual than Moses. And Joshua was a better leader. But the rod was in Moses’ hand. Don’t fight those the Lord puts in leadership over you. Of course, you should not sit under unbiblical, immoral, or abusive leadership. But there is a way to deal with disqualified leaders (1 Timothy 5:19-20). Without a doubt, you should hold your pastors accountable. But don’t handcuff the spiritual leaders of the church to personal preferences, empty traditions, or unbiblical priorities. Let the leaders lead. And be willing to follow (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

A low view of the church. There is no chapter and verse that commands you to be a church member. But scripture teaches by what it assumes, just as much as it teaches by what is commands. There is no biblical category for an “unchurched Christian.” The apostles would have asked, “Why are you calling her a Christian if he is not a part of the church? Christ is the head of the church. And he does not have out-of-body experiences. You cannot be connected to the head and disconnected from the body. Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-27). And to love Christ is to love what he loves.

Disregard for truth. Paul charged Timothy to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). He then warned that faithfulness to the charge would cause some to flee: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) Faithful preaching will drive some away from the church. But they will not go home. They will find a church where the preacher will tickle their ears. Don’t let that be you. If you are under sound teaching and faithful preaching, for God’s sake, stay put!

Green Lights: When it’s Time to Leave a Church

Here are three basic and acceptable reasons for leaving a church.

A gospel reason. If the church you are a member of does not believe or teach the biblical gospel, you need to leave. Now. Sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ, plus or minus nothing. Nothing we do saves us. Salvation is God’s free gift to those who trust in the righteousness of Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification. Anyone who teaches any other “gospel” is accursed (Galatians 1:6-9). And any church that embraces a false gospel is not a Christian church. Run for your life!

A doctrinal reason. Here’s the bottom line: You must leave a church when a church requires you to deny what you believe or believe what you deny. You have three responsibilities when it comes to faith: (1) the duty to live by faith (Romans 14:23); (2) the guarding of your conscience against sin (James 4:17); and (3) the command to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21-21). Don’t treat doctrinal matters lightly. Truth and peace must be protected. But to ignore truth in the name of people only produces a pseudo-peace.

A personal reason. There are many personal reasons for leaving a church. The most common is relocation. If you have moved to a different city, you need put yourself under the authority of a local church where you live. That was Phoebe’s situation (Romans 16:1-2). Or your church can be so far from your where you live in the city that skipping church becomes a convenient excuse. These and other similar personal reasons are acceptable, sometimes necessary, reasons for leaving a church.

Yellow Lights: How to Leave a Church

How can you leave a local church in a Christ-honoring way?

Pray. Important decisions should only be made after diligent prayer. Leaving a church is one such decision. Pray about your motives, duty, and relationships. Pray to guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23). Pray for wisdom (James 1:5). Pray for submissiveness to God’s will (Colossians 1:9). Pray quietly. That is, pray about it. Don’t talk about it. Loose talk about your unprocessed thoughts and feelings can sow discord.

Examine your motives. Why do you want to leave? I am not talking about the politically correct reasons you tell others. I’m talking about the true motivations of your heart. Do you even know them? Ask God to search you (Psalms 139:23-24). Then be honest with yourself. And be honest with God. Be careful not to move for the wrong reasons.

Review the commitments you have made to serve. Do you serve in the church? Are you a leader? Will your move disrupt the ministry? Answer these questions prayerfully before you leave. If you have made commitments, do everything within your power to honor them. Put the honor of Christ ahead of yours. Push past unworthy quitting points (1 Corinthians 15:58). You do not want to be found AWOL from an assignment God has given you.

Make sure you have no unresolved interpersonal conflicts. Don’t leave a church because you are mad about something. Don’t leave because someone has offended you. Be ready to forgive and eager for reconciliation. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Broken fellowship suspends true worship.

Consider how your transfer will affect others. Christianity is not about you. It’s about Christ and others. If your heart is right, you will feel the weight of how your potential move will injure or influence others. If you can leave without affecting anyone, you were not a good member. If your presence matters, consider how your absence will move others. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests,” instructs Paul, “but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

Determine where you will transfer your membership before you leave. It’s not the Father’s will for his children to be spiritually homeless. Paul says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). The Lord typically leads to a place, not just away from a place. You should be able to leave a spiritual forwarding address when you leave a church. And you should be able to go to your new church with a recommendation from your old church.

Have an exit-interview with your pastor. It is right for you to talk to your pastor before you leave a church. Is he the reason you want to leave? That is all the more reason why you should schedule a conversation. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

What do you think? What is the right time to leave a church? What is the right way to leave a church? 

How the Pew Can Help the Pulpit

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It was the last day of the revival. I had just finished my ninth sermon of the meeting. I stood to give my lasting remarks. And I said what I was thinking. Usually, I am able to mind my business when I preach away home. But since I had no intention of ever returning to that church, I took a shot at them.

Thanks for putting up with my preaching this week. And for all of your kindness and encouragement. But all the glory goes to God. Any human credit goes to the church I serve. They give me time to think, read, and pray. They provide the resources I need to study. And they only demand that I be ready to teach and preach. If I am not a good preacher, shame on me. Any church can have good preaching if they take care of their pastor and encourage him.

I had been there for a week. And the pastor didn’t have time to host me. He worked part time to make ends meet. He did funerals and hospital visits every day I was there. He had one meeting after another. I was exhausted just watching him. In the process, he was discouraged, his marriage was in trouble, and his children resentful of the ministry.

Then it happened.

One of the deacons slyly criticized his preaching in front of me, suggesting his seasoned pastor should take preaching lessons from me, who was in my early 20s. old. I had preached for men that I wasn’t sure could read. But their members would tell me, “I enjoyed your preaching! But you can’t touch my pastor.” That’s love. This deacon’s remark, and his fellow deacons’ agreement, was just cruel.

The pastor was a good preacher. He was just in a bad situation, at a historic church that thought too highly of itself. I had to say something. And I did.

Sometimes pastors struggle in preaching because they don’t take their pulpit work seriously. Others struggle in preaching because they struggle alone. But good preaching is a partnership between pastor and congregation, pulpit and pew, the one who preaches and the one who listens. The pastor preaches to help those in the pew. But the congregation can and should help the one in the pulpit, as well.

There was a vocal old lady in my first church. When I was preaching good, she would say, “Help us, Lord.” But when I was flunking, she would say, “Help him, Lord.” But there are better ways the pew can help the pulpit and motivate the pastor to be a better preacher. Here are seven…

Pray for your pastor.

I mean, pray specifically for his preaching. Pray that he will have the time to study and will use it well. Pray the Lord will open his eyes and give him understanding (Ps. 119:18, 24). Pray that he will guard his life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16)  Pray that he will rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Pray that the Lord will keep his heart and mind free from sinful distractions. Pray that God will give his power in the pulpit.

I highly recommend you read the booklet by Mike Faberez, entitled, Praying for Sunday

Give him time to study.

Members love pastors who are always available. But it is not good if he is always available. He will be more help to you if he shuts himself up to pray and study. You want a pastor who has something to say, rather than someone who has to say something. This requires times to prepare. Give it to him.

Provide for him.

Bi-vocational pastors are the unsung heroes of the church, who work a job to care for their families as they do the work of ministry for little or no pay. Many churches are not able to adequately compensate their pastors. But others are just stingy. Being determined to deprive the preacher, they rob themselves. Do you best to care for the needs of your pastor and his family.

Be marked present.

A blind and deaf Christian was asked why he attended church, since he could not see or hear the service. He answered, “I just want people to know which side I’m on. Your regular church attendance is a statement to the world. It is an act of obedience that builds up other believers (Heb. 10:24-25). And it is a great encouragement to your pastor. You challenge him to prepare a better meal if you consistently show up with a good attitude and a big appetite.

Listen to the sermon.

Just because you are in the service does not mean you hear the sermon. And the pastor knows it. He stands on a raised platform in a room with people sitting in front of him. And he sees what’s happening in front of him. When you spend the sermon talking, walking, texting, or sleeping, it’s distracting and discouraging. But nothing makes a man want to preach harder than to have people actually listening, sitting up, following along, and taking notes. An occasional “Amen” doesn’t hurt either.

Encourage him.

Preaching can be discouraging work. If I stopped writing this article and didn’t get back to it for a week, I could pick up right where I left off. Preaching doesn’t work that way. We try to reach out people on Sunday mornings. The world tries to reach them all the rest of the week. The gravitational pull is against the things of God. And the pastor often feels he is not making a difference. Encourage him. Don’t stroke his ego. But give him specific ways you are learning and growing.

Be a doer of the word.

A church is not committed to the word, just because the pulpit preaches the truth. A church is committed to the world when biblical preaching together shapes its life. To hear the word without doing what it says is self-deception (James 1:22-25). Members often leave the service and rate the pastor’s sermon. But the real issue is what you do with what you hear. Be eager hear the word. But don’t stop there. Live it out by Christ’s power and for God’s glory!

What do you think? What would add to this list?  How do you think the pew can better supper the pulpit? 

A Proper Perspective on Transfer Growth

51AYWB8Q8FL._SL160_The McChurch has replaced the traditional church and its relational values. Fast-food Christians pull up to ecclesiastical drive-through windows, order the McGroups, consume the experience and then drive off, discarding relationships like burger wrappers on the highway of life. Savvy church growth pastors quickly learned that significant growth can occur if a church learns how to market it burgers to capture the appetite of this roving crowd. In some instances merely producing an interesting alternative to the status quo can lead to significant church disaffections. – William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep, p. 20

Transfer growth, by definition, creates no numerical growth in the kingdom of God. In fact the term is an oxymoron, and grossly misleading, for its net result is simply much ado about nothing. There are no new converts, no baptisms, no expansion of knowledge of God in the world, and no salvation fruit from this labor.  Arguably – and contrary to popular belief – there is no known purely positive kingdom benefit from a benefit change! – Chadwick, Sheep, p. 30

Conversion growth, in general, graphs poorly. Even with the investment of considerable resources in evangelistic programs, conversion growth is slow growth. By its nature it requires the decision of one person at a time. Each of them needs to have the gospel presented in a fashion that they can understand, and often this requires the building of relational bridges to their world. – Chadwick, Sheep, p. 95

We have attractive carpets, nicely arranged bulletins, cleanly painted walls and deep subculture norms. The unchurched do not fit into this world. When the middle age of life sets in, church people can become upset with the headaches of having newborns in the house; we are past that stage of life. We desire to plan our retirement and find ways of increasing our spiritual and physical comfort levels. The “not like us” gain the disfavor of an unwanted pregnancy and can, in many subtle ways, be aborted. – Chadwick, Sheep, p. 141

Healthy transfer growth is about rescuing sheep. In some cases they are rescued from a church where salvation is not articulated. In other cases they are rescued from a setting where false teaching and heresy occur. And some sheep need to be rescued from abusive church settings. – Chadwick, Sheep, p. 157

God or Goliath?

Ministers aren’t kidding when they talk of troubles. It’s the truth. Pick any ministry you want, and there will be enough problems in it to occasionally jerk the most optimistic person down off his toes. Ministries are few and far between that have no troublesome concerns stalking in the wings. More than likely, the best church you know about could be destroyed overnight if the right person made the wrong move. Even the best situation is fragile. Whether we know it or not, churches live on the brink. Something could go wrong at any time.

If you are going to survive in the ministry, you have to decide to see the good and give it a major portion of your time. Much of the spark of ministry is lost because we, being very human, focus too long on the problem and too little on the progress. It’s so easy to glance at God and gave at the Goliaths. Along comes a troublesome issue or a cantankerous person, and before we know it, we are zeroing in so intently on the problem that worry muscles in and closes off our view of the steady progress that is still passing us by on the other side.

- Joseph Seaborn, Jr., A Celebration of Ministry, p. 21

The Importance of Regular Church Attendance

 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25

Here are 25 reasons why you should regularly take part in the public and corporate worship assemblies of your local congregation:

1. The word of God teaches it (Heb. 10:24-25). A high and correct view of scripture demands regular church attendance.

2. Corporate worship is where the preaching and teaching of God’s word takes place (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

3. It follows the example set by the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 4:16).

4. It honors the best and brightest day of the week – Sunday, the Lord’s Day – the day on which the Lord Jesus rose from the dead.

5. It is a wise and proper use of the privilege we have to publicly and corporately worship God. There are Christians in other lands who do not have this freedom. The only way for us to express our gratitude for this liberty is to use it faithfully and thankfully.

6. Your neglect of corporate worship grieves the Holy Spirit who lives within the individual believer and the church as a whole (Eph. 4:30).

7. It brings joy to the spiritual leaders who watch over your soul and who must give account for you. Absenteeism grieves them and is unprofitably for you (Heb. 13:17).

8. It demonstrates that you share the mission and ministry of the particular church family of which you are a member.

9. Your absence from church services renders it difficult, and in some instances impossible, for you to participate in the church’s mutual ministry to itself, especially the “one another” commands of the New Testament.

10. You need the encouragement that comes from the assembling of the saints (Heb. 10:24-25). In fact, the more evil the days become, the more you need this encouragement.

11. God demands first place. We should give God the first part of our financial increase. We should have a daily quiet time to give God the first part of our day. And we should regularly attend church on Sunday to give God the first part of our week.

12. It reminds you that God has made you a part of a new community of people through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:5).

13. It is a way of preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

14. Public and corporate worship is one of the key places where you exercise your spiritual gifts. It is a strategic place to minister to other believers (1 Co. 14:12-14).

15. You regular attendance serves as a positive example and influence for others.

16. If you take part in some ministry of the church – and you should – your absence can hinder the overall effectiveness of the group and discourage other members.

17. Being involved in public and corporate worship services counteracts our self-centeredness.

18. You should take the time to stop and say “thank you” to God for bringing you through another week.

19. Absenteeism is a poor testimony to unbelievers who see your inconsistency (John 13:34-35).

20. True and saving faith will create love for that which Christ loves; namely, the church (Eph. 5:25). Regularly attending church services is a fundamental way to show your love for the bride of Christ.

21. It is the practice of good habits like regular church attendance that builds spiritual character.

22. The New Testament teaches us to recognize, to share all good things with, to submit to, and to honor the spiritual leaders who teach us the word. Attending worship is a way of doing that. (Remember, not only are we accountable to the word of God, we are also accountable to those who God uses to teach us his word.)

23. Attending public and corporate worship services renews and strengthens us for the days ahead (Heb. 10:24-25).

24. Corporate worship helps reinforce the truth that worship is not about getting from God. Fundamentally, Christian worship is about giving to God.

25. Public and corporate worship is the officially designated place to carry out the ordinances of the church – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. – Psalm 107:31-32

What are your thoughts about the importance of regular church attendance? Can you think of any other reasons why it is important to be marked present on the Lord’s Day? Join the conversation in the comments section. 

Help, I’m An Associate Minister!

Going directly from a call to preach to leading a church is extremely rare.

Good!

Preachers need the maturation that comes from serving with or under another pastor, before leading their own congregation.

Yet many associate ministers wish they could just skip this process.

Pastors treat associates as flunkies. Congregations neglect the vital role associate ministers play. Members view associates as step-parents, substitute teachers, or “garbage-time” bench riders.

It can be discouraging. But it doesn’t have to be. Your time as an associate minister can be an affirmation of your ministerial call, a time of spiritual development, and a fruitful season of Christian service.

Here are 10 ways you can maximize your role as an associate minister.

Seek clarity about your calling. Not every associate preacher is called to be a senior pastor. It may be to serve alongside another pastor. This is a noble calling. You ministry is not unimportant because your name is not on the bulletin. Seek the Lord about the calling on your life. Is it missionary work? Should you be in the classroom, rather than the pulpit? Is there an area of specialization, like youth of Christian education, the Lord has purposed for you? Or are you called to the pulpit of a local church? Get clarity about your calling and head in that direction.

Be ready to preach and teach. You may not have a scheduled time to preach. And you may have to share opportunities with other associates. So take advantage of every chance you get. Be ready. Don’t wait to get a date before you prepare. Study now. Write a sermon. Get your pastor’s input. Show him by your work that you are ready. And don’t wait for Sunday morning spots. Volunteer for a Sunday school class, prayer breakfast, or funeral. Teach whenever you can. Prepare for the pastorate by increasing your skill and experience in ministering the word.

Learn everything you can. Consider yourself an intern. Be marked present. Get involved. Participate in behind the scenes work, not just platform stuff. Follow your pastor around. Ask a lot of questions. Listen to the answers. Don’t talk too much. Process what you experience. Learn from successes and mistakes. Soak up all the knowledge and wisdom you can get.

Be proactive about your growth. Time doesn’t fix a flat tire. And it does not produce a skilled minister. You must be intentional about your development. Don’t be pulpit furniture. Don’t be guilty of ministerial sloth. And don’t wait for others to invest in you. Read. Study. Go to school. Attend of ongoing training events. Seek out your pastor’s counsel, guidance, and mentorship. Ask for assignments that will help you grow. Don’t be indifferent about your ministerial future. Determine to be the best you can be for God.

Be loyal to your pastor. The pastor was voted, called, or selected to lead the church. You were not. It is not your place to run ahead of the pastor or to work against him. You are there to assist him. Respect him, even if you are older. Support him, even if you have been there longer. Honor him, even if you have more training or experience. Pray for him. Do whatever you can to help him. Be trustworthy. Keep private information confidential. Do not speak against the pastor to members. Do not listen to members speak against the pastor. Remember the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).

Have a servant’s spirit. The paradox of Christian discipleship is that the one who would lead must be a servant. This is the Christian way to leadership. We are servant-leaders. Serving as an associate minister can help you develop a proper attitude toward Christian leadership. Be a servant. Imitate the one who washed his disciples feet (John 13). Make yourself available to serve. Serve as to the Lord, not for men. And don’t get offended when you are treated like a servant!

Keep your ego in check. Don’t let compliments, encouragements, and opportunities go to your head. You may be a better preacher or leader than your pastor. But it may just be your pride talking. Regardless, there is a reason the Lord has placed under his leadership. And it is not to compete with the pastor. Be humble. Be submissive. Be faithful. In due time, the Lord will exalt you. Don’t exalt yourself!

Do not usurp authority. If you are not the senior pastor, do not presume authority that is not yours. Do what you are asked to do. Don’t take liberties with the opportunities you are given. Don’t let leaders or members pressure you to act impetuously. Don’t make a golden calf for the people while the leader is away. If in doubt, ask. Or, better yet, don’t do it. Stay in your lane.

Wait your turn. You have a burden to pastor. It has been your heart’s desire for some time. You have done what you can to prepare yourself. But no doors have opened. You are stuck in God’s waiting room. Don’t get impatient. God knows who you are and where you are. God knows the place he has for you. God also knows how and when to get your there. Don’t be weary in well doing. Trust that God’s timing is perfect.

Leave when it’s time to leave. You are asking for trouble if you leave an assignment prematurely. God punishes AWOL soldiers. At the same time, don’t stay too long. Don’t sit in neutral unnecessarily. Don’t hide out from your true calling. Don’t be a source of confusion or disunity. If you do not respect your leader or cannot follow his leadership, leave. But make sure you leave in a way that leaves the door open.

Do you find this advice helpful? What advice would you give an associate minister? What advice would you give a senior pastor about his responsibility to his associate ministers? 

The Preacher’s Final Inspection

On the day of judgment preachers will not be asked where they went to seminary or whether they earned any advanced degrees. They will not need to present membership statistics or submit their annual budgets. It will not matter how popular they were or whether they could make people laugh. instead, when they stand before the heavenly tribunal they will be asked, “Did you preach the word?” Those who followed their own agenda – or even worse, the world’s agenda – will hang their heads in shame. But many humble preachers, who were held in little esteem, will shine in the brightness of their Father’s glory. For in their proclamation of God’s Word they were faithful to the very end. Their preaching was evangelical, doctrinal, and practical. Their Lord will say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness! (Matt. 25:23). – Philip Graham Ryken, City On A Hill, pp. 52-53

On Church Hopping

A certain woman who jumped from church to church decided that she was not at the right place. She informed her pastor, “Well, I believe it’s time for me to move again.” Mustering a rare forthrightness, he replied, “That’s okay. It does not matter that much when you change labels on an empty bottle.”

Of course, there are legitimate times and reasons to move your membership from one church to another. Conscience and conviction may require you to leave a church. In most instances, relocation results in the need to find a new church home. There is a list of other situations in which it is appropriate and acceptable to transfer your membership.

Let’s face it. We live in a mobile society. It is normal for people to change residences, jobs, cities, and churches. It is what it is. But it is wrong and irresponsible to accept this reality without scrutinizing it in light of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the church.

Our failure to diligently pursue New Testament Christianity in congregational life has resulted in a phenomenon that would have been totally foreign to the early church – church hopping.

You know what church hopping is, don’t you? It is when a person habitually jumps from one church to another.

Some do it in search of that elusive perfect church. Some do it to avoid accountability and responsibility. Some do it because they are bandwagon Christians, following whatever is considered new, exciting, or successful. Some do it because they view church to be like a buffet restaurant. In their selfishness, they design their own multi-site membership to satisfy their tastes. “I like the preaching here,” they say. “And I like the music over there. But I think that the other has a better youth program than all of them.” Still others do it because…

Well, I think some people do it without really knowing why they do it. It is like a disease. Let’s call it CHS – Church Hopping Syndrome.

For the record, I am not talking about people who attend events or participate in worship services at different churches. I actually think it is beneficial to be exposed to what God is doing in other Christ-exalting, Bible believing churches. As long as it does not interfere with your commitment to your church, there is nothing wrong with visiting other churches. But it is wrong to be a resident visitor at several churches.

For that matter, it is wrong to be a member of more than one congregation at a time. That is congregational polygamy.

It is wrong to jump from one church to another, just because you don’t like some things about our present church or you have found some things you like better at another church. This is serial monogamy. And it cheapens the bride of Christ.

How should we respond to the pervasive and spiritually counterproductive reality of church hopping?

The primacy of the pulpit. The number one reason people give for leaving a church is (insert drum roll): “I am just not being fed.” I could say the same thing about my wife’s cooking. But if I said that to Crystal, she would tell me, “I cooked a healthy meal. If you do not want what I cooked, you are on your own for dinner.”

This should be how we respond to those who give this spiritual sounding excuse for church hopping. I accept the fact that there will be people who leave my congregation. But with God’s help, I am determined that they will not be able to legitimately say they left because they were not being fed. They will have to come up with some other excuse… uh… I mean reason. A strong pulpit has a way of anchoring a church and holding a congregation together. So by all means, preach!

There is another side of this coin. While biblical preaching will draw and keep people, it also has a way of driving people away. In 2 Timothy 4:3, Paul warns, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (ESV). If you are committed to sound doctrine and biblical exposition, be prepared for some people to avoid or leave your church. They will find themselves a place where the preacher is saying what they want to hear, rather than what the word of God teaches. But play the man and stay the course. 2 Timothy 4:5 says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In short, be faithful. And the Lord will reward your faithfulness.

Pastoral ethics. There was a time when it was harder for a person to jump church from church to church, because there was a certain code of conduct among local pastors. If you left my church and went to a church across town, the pastor over there would call to inform me and ask some questions about you. You could not cause trouble in one church and then pop up somewhere else without the pastor asking why you left your previous church. In fact, when I was boy, it was customary to hear pastors say during the invitational period, “You can come as a candidate for baptism, by your Christian experience, or by letter.”

That’s right. If you were joining from another church, many churches would require that you have a letter of recommendation from the church you left. That may sound like some crazy tradition. But it was the practice of the New Testament church. But now pastors are so busy competing with one another that we do not care where people come from or why. We only care about whether people are coming down the aisles and the membership roster is increasing. But if we as pastors would be more intentional about how we receive new members and more careful about how our policies demonstrate respect for other churches, it would disassemble the launching pad for many church hoppers.

Membership matters. We can discourage unnecessary church hopping by striving to make membership more meaning in our local churches. It begins with the new members class. First of all, we should make sure that we have one. Then we should make sure it clearly presents the gospel, affirms a biblical statement of faith, explains the church’s mission, clarifies local church dynamics and distinctives, and clearly states what new members can expect from your church, as well as what your church expects of them.

We also need to make sure that our congregations are governed by a plurality of godly men. Call them what you will – elders, associate pastors, or whatever. But a healthy church needs a team of godly men who are keeping watch over the souls of the membership (Heb. 13:17).

This is not the biblical responsibility of deacons. And, with all due respect, trustees don’t actually have any biblical responsibilities. Churches have them to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Even when trustees are charged with the administration of church finances and facilities, they should not be considered the board that runs the church.

The gospel mission, disciple making work, and spiritual health of the church must be the unmolested priorities – not church business. Without a doubt, people are more prone to stay at a church where there is not political infighting over who is in charge.

Since I am wading into controversial waters, let me dive in and add that meaningful church membership also requires that we practice church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). I know that our natural inclination is to avoid joining a church that will try to hold us accountable for our actions. But you really shouldn’t be a part of a church that does not love you enough to kick you out if you are unrepentant and stubborn about your sinful lifestyle!

This is not religious legalism. It is New Testament fellowship. And church hoppers would have few places to hop to if more churches would strive to nurture biblical community where mutual submission to one another is expected and practiced.

Our churches also need to develop vital ministry programs that draw people closer to Christ and to another. No, I do not think we should facilitate the consumer mindset many people have by treating them as if the church exists for them. But we should be about meeting needs, not just doing church. More specifically, we should help people for Jesus’ sake. This means that the church should not be a charity, social club, political action group.

There are plenty of organizations that are not Christ-centered to do these things. Let the church be the church! We should be our exalting Christ, reaching the lost, and nurturing disciples. This is all the more true when it comes to our children, youth, and young adults. We are rapidly losing the next generation. So it is essential that we cultivate ministry in a way that is meaningful to young people and that assists families in bringing up their children in the training and admonition of the Lord.

Sheep Stealing. All statistics report that the Christian church is in decline in America. For the first time since the birth and early development of this nation, the trend is that more missionaries are being sent to American than from America. The condition of the contemporary church in the states can be best described as a falling away. But you would not get this indication by watching Christian TV or reading Christian magazines.

Just look at all the popular Christian performing artists, large conferences being convened, and so-called megachurches sprouting up all over the place. You would think that a true revival is sweeping across America. But the reality is a lot of churches are growing through transfer growth, rather than conversion growth. Many have abandoned the disciple making process and think they are fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) through the circulation of the saints. Sheep stealing has become our church growth strategy.

I sometimes hear pastors say, “If you are not growing where you are going, you should not be going there.” I agree, in principle. But I do not think the question of whether you are growing where you are going should be emphasized in our appeals for membership. It sends the wrong message and assumes that if a person is not growing where they are going, it must be the fault of the pastor or the church.

Could it be that you are not growing where you are going because of your own selfish and sinful behavior? 1 Peter 2:1-3 says: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Maybe you are not growing where you are going because there are some attitudes and habits you need to put away.

Get over it. People leave churches all the time. Some have legitimate understandable reasons for why the leave. Others leave for silly reasons. But don’t let it stress you out. You are not the only show in town. Praise God for that! We are not in this by ourselves. God has seven thousand knees that have not bowed to Baal and tongues that do not sing his praises. You are not in this thing alone. God raises up all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

The church I serve is surrounded by many other strong and stable churches in town that do ministry differently than my congregation. That’s a good thing. We have no reason to be jealous of any church. We should be very careful about criticizing other churches that the Lord is using to exalt Christ, teach scripture, and reach people. And we should learn to celebrate what God is doing in other congregations. After all, we are all on the same team. And the Lord Jesus Christ has already won the victory. Let us rejoice together whenever we are claiming territory for the kingdom, even if it is not my brigade that takes the hill.

Please join the conversation and share your comments. What do you think about church hopping? 

NOTE: This is a repost of a previously published article by HBC2

A Confession: I love C.M.E. Christians!

You have heard of C.M.E. Christians, haven’t you?

This has nothing to do with a particular denomination. C.M.E. Christians are in every church.

They are people who only come to church on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter Sunday. Get it?

Ironically, C.M.E. Christians are usually not true Christians. They are nominal Christians, at best. They have enough religion to come to church  on these special occasions on the Christian calendar. But you most likely will not see them again… until the day Christian holiday.

During weeks like this, we pastors are prone to complain about the many C.M.E. Christians who will attend our worship services on Easter Sunday.

I admit, I did for many years. I was irked by the apparent hypocrisy. I cannot wait until next, I thought, when things get back to normal and I can preach to the true Christians. (It would take me years to figure out that the level of hypocrisy did not decrease one bit the Sunday after Easter!)

One day, I changed my mind. I wish I could say when it happened or how it happened. I don’t remember. But at some point, my frustration toward C.M.E. Christians changed. Rather than dreading Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter, I really started to look forward to it.

All year, the church reaches out to unsaved and unchurched people. But on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter, we almost don’t have to do any outreach. The unsaved and unchurch just show up. At least, they are more open to an invitation to come to worship to hear the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

What a blessing!

I determined to stop complaining about C.M.E. Christians. I no longer made little snide comments about them from the pulpit. Instead, I fell in love with them. And I have made it my goal to make sure the church I serve puts its best foot forward to welcome them and to make sure the worship is prepared and the message is clear.

Without a doubt, there will be C.M.E. Christians at your church this coming Sunday.

Please, don’t view this as a negative thing. Pray that God would give you love for them and that he move through the worship and the word to introduce them to the love of God demonstrated in the bloody cross and the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Disciple-Making Is THE Priority

The longer a congregation exists, the more concerned it tends to become with self-preservation – and the less concerned with its original purpose. Time, money, staff, and even the prayers become increasingly inward-focused. The result, not surprisingly, is that the church stops growing. The foremost principle says that leaders must keep, or turn, the focus of their church away from themselves and back to their primary goal -and Christ’s primary goal – of making disciples. This happens through prayer, engaging the Bible, programming, budget, staffing, and evaluating all the church’s ministries on their contribution to increasing the number of Christian disciples. – A church can do many good things. A church should do a few important things. But there is only one essential thing a church must do: “… God out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life…” – (Matthew 28:19, The Message). – Charles Arn