“Lots of People Have Left Our Church” Part 1
I have been in one local church long enough (almost a combined ten years as a member and then pastor) to see for myself, and be reminded by well-meaning church members that: “Lots of people have left the church.”
Truthfully, it stings when people leave, and it should. It is healthy to hurt over the departure of brothers and sisters with whom you have been living life. I don’t want to become callous about it, and I want to guard against building up an unhealthy, defensive justification that goes something like: “Well, it happens at every church.”
So how should we, whether as a pastor or church member, evaluate the problem of leaving church members? What can we do to prevent it, and how do we know if we have done all we can when someone does leave?
Again, we should guard against cobbling together evidence for an excuse like: “That’s just the way it is.” However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t forces at work that make leaving common. Here are three observations with regard to current trends, the Bible and leaving church members:
- We live in a leaving culture. Consider the divorce rate. Despite the fact that almost every wedding I have ever been to includes the vows – “For better or worse, til death do us part” – divorce is still common. Additionally, in a capitalistic society we are conditioned by options and marketing to shop around when we aren’t happy, comfortable, satisfied, etc. Staying is counter-cultural and requires conviction and discipline.
- We live in a transient society. Because of the ease of mobility and forces like job instability, people move frequently. This is especially true for our city. Stillwater is relatively small and has a major university, which makes it feel like people are constantly coming and going – because they are.
- Leaving was a frequent problem in the Bible. Adam and Eve left God’s covenant protection and the paradise He graciously provided (Genesis 1-3). Thousands left Jesus when the miracles ended and the going got tough. Paul rebuked those who abandoned the faith and God’s people (1 Timothy 1:18-20). John Mark left Paul in Paphos (Acts 13:13). Hebrews was written to warn against abandoning faith in Jesus and His people (Hebrews 10:24-25). John judges those who left (1 John 2:19). Is leaving a church sinful? With some hesitation, I would say no, and I hesitate because I am confident somebodies sin is always a part of the reason people leave churches. If there was no sin, why would anyone ever need or want to leave?
Sadly, we should not be surprised that people leave churches, but is there anything we can do to prevent it? If staying committed to a local church is an uphill battle, then how can we help people be biblically committed to a local church for as long as God has them in a particular place? I will look at those questions and offer solutions in a second and third blog, later this week.