I’m wondering how you can know if a church isn’t right for you or not.
While I don’t want to paint this into a formula, I understand both extremes we swing to when it comes to our home-church. On one hand we want to loyally persevere through the rough seasons no matter what, but on the other hand there are legit reasons for moving on to a different church.
Please know this is a very, very, very serious decision. The body of Christ should never be full of church-hopping consumers that leave at the first sign of trouble. We shouldn’t upgrade to bigger-brighter-funnier-cooler just because our home church is not “modernizing.” There are all kinds of wrong motives to leave. We are called to endure in a community with uniquely diverse church members that will offend us, will go against the grain, and will not always meet our picky preferences.
At the same time, if you’ve been there for a decade and have really given it your all, there should be NO shame or guilt in moving on if you feel called.
Here are perhaps some guidelines to think through before making such a big decision.
1) Talk to your pastor about all your grievances.
Surely there are some issues you can bring to your pastor. It would be a disservice to withhold that information. His reaction can range from bewildered to depressed to punching walls to wailing, but it’s still a courtesy to let him know what’s happening.
Usually when a church member tells me that he or she wants to leave, we work through all the reasons to see if it’s not just a temporary phase. When I hear, “I’m not growing anymore,” that can be a cover for something else. More often than not, we come to agreements about what is fluff and what should change. Some of these conversations are the best I’ve ever had — we break through walls and sometimes find even deeper heart-issues that were never confronted. About 95% of the time, the church itself is NOT the issue.
If there’s a language barrier or your pastor is unwilling to meet, at least find a leader or elder or deacon in the church. Be honest with someone.
2) Don’t leave angry.
I understand that the church can hurt you. Whether on purpose or by accident, it happens. Inevitably, when a bunch of weird diverse sinners who would normally never hang out are brought together by Jesus, there will be friction. But that’s one of the main reasons for church: we grow by messy community. Yet the growth only happens when we’re honest and when we rip through to a resolution.
The worst way to go is to leave things unresolved. Because — you guessed it, it will happen again in your next church. There are people who come into my church with a whole bombload of info about how the last pastor was horrible, and I always think, “You’re going to say that about us pretty soon, too.” I’m reminded of those guys who quickly get a divorce, get remarried, and then say, “She reminds me so much of my first wife!” Right.
Check those motives like you’re patting down someone for weapons. Really dig deep. If there are grudges, attack them. If there is anger, do surgery. If there is conflict, see it through to the awkward end. There are legit reasons for being angry, so work that out. But never, ever let anger get a foothold in your heart.
3) You ARE the church, but you’re not your church.
Please hang with me on this point. I believe that church-identity is super crucial in our walk with Jesus. Our upbringing, denomination, traditions, rituals, ethnic backgrounds, and even certain symbols are much more important to us than we think. We are comfortable where we are comfortable. To leave all that behind is a huge deal, and you will certainly miss it.
So I suggest that you consider branching out without totally leaving your home-church. Every Tuesday I try to attend a college/young adult service here in Tampa — a very upscale megachurch with 10,000+ — plus I randomly attend other services when I can. Last year during my two month sabbatical, I attended fourteen different churches.
Does this make me a church-hopper? I don’t think so. As a follower of Jesus, I believe we can stick to our home-church commitments while being part of the larger church body. This will, in fact, possibly feed your soul for your home-church.
Of course, you don’t want to stretch yourself thin, nor should you deceive yourself in thinking, “I like this one better … no wait this one … no I’d like it here more.” If you’re doing the grading-evaluation-rating game, that’s when the consumer-mindset is taking over. But branching out is NOT blasphemy. It can be healthy.
4) If you decide to leave, have a plan.
If you’ve given it your best and absolutely nothing changes, start making a plan.
This might sound strange, but in the same way you find a job before giving your two-weeks notice, consider your options before moving on. Very carefully. If you can, talk to the new pastor about why you left the former church, what you expect (without being spoiled), and ask them what they expect.
It goes without saying: pray like crazy. Ask for God’s calling on this one. And if He calls you to a new place, don’t allow guilt or shame to overtake you. It will hurt, yes, but if you’re all prayed up and you made the right decision, then you shouldn’t walk into the next church with your head hanging. Ask for God’s protection that Satan wouldn’t twist your guts with guilt, but that you’d be free to joyfully worship.
I’m praying for you here. I know this is a hurtful decision no matter what kind of great church you find next. God bless your continuing journey.