Question: You Might Want To Change Your Church IF

heynikkie asked:

This is great!! (in reference to this post) But what if you’ve dropped out of church for several months now? … But i feel it’d be awkward to return after being away for so long? I think I had legit reasons to leave (questionable doctrine & unfair treatment to the point where I felt bullied and intimidated) but i was fueled by emotion and left quickly. Is it too late for me to go back to tell the youth pastor why and share what I think could be done to improve?

(Edited for length)

I’m really sorry this happened at your old church, and I got much love for you for even considering going back to speak with them. That’s hugely much more mature than myself.

I don’t believe it’s too late to go back to your former pastor to talk with him.  However, you might want to consider if the conversation is even worth having.  Is he teachable, humble, willing to learn?  There’s a difference between being scared to tell the truth and being uncomfortable with a person who might get violent, offensive, defensive, angry, or insulting.  There’s not a whole lot you can do with the latter. 

I’m reminded of Proverbs 9:8 and 12:15 — Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you …  The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

Personally, while I would certainly be hurt to hear the whole truth about my shortcomings as a pastor, I would also appreciate honest, gracious feedback.  It’s possible you could be doing him a favor.

To switch gears, I’ll list some criteria when it’s okay to consider moving onto a different church.

Please understand that I avoided doing this in the previous post  because I didn’t want to create a checklist/formula.  It’s not biblical nor godly to look for all kinds of flaws to support our false motives, and it can become a weekly “silent contest” as if your church has to constantly persuade you to stay.  Leaving a church can be as tough as a divorce, and just as likely to fall into non-legit reasons.

Almost any reason can sound reasonable when our brains are unreasonable; people have left a church over carpet color or bulletin formats or music styles.   No one in a third world country is nearly as picky as Americans when it comes to church-shopping.  It’s unhealthy to go into evaluation-mode, and our first move should always be to talk with the pastor or leaders first. 

Please hear me: The list assumes very extreme cases where absolutely nothing changes after you’ve tried everything.  Otherwise, we need to be rooted in and rooting for our home church.  Again: if these things happen, always always always be honest with pastoral leadership.  Also: be forgiving.  Give your church and your pastor a chance to straighten things out if they commit serious errors.

1) False teaching, missing Gospel, strange interpretations, cult theology, or straight-up heresy. 

There are bad teachers out there, but please know that I don’t agree with 100% of any pastor’s theology.  Even John Piper and Tim Keller say weird things.  We shouldn’t jump to accusing “heresy” every time.  One or two or even a handful of doctrinal differences does not make a false teacher.  We’re contending for true core doctrine, not secondary peripheral issues.

Also: boring preaching is not always bad preaching.  I’ve heard boring preachers give amazing content, and it became twice as good because I wasn’t being fooled by delivery.

2) Abuse of power, guilt-tripping you for time and money, inappropriate contact, and crossing of physical boundaries.  

To be honest, there are a couple times when I was rough with some church members to be playful, but they took it as hurtful.  I should’ve been more careful.  Another time, and I say this to my own shame, I pushed a church member out of total frustration.  He never came back.  I apologized like crazy, but from his side of things it was over.  I completely understood.  I bring these up only to say: there are some pastors who don’t mean to be offensive, while others are planning these things.  Please know the difference.

3) Your church sells out.

This can happen in several ways.  Your small church decides to grow using some shady tactics.  Your huge church starts to cater too much to the mainstream.  It all becomes a game, a frantic fun-filled party. Either way, you sense a sick feeling in your stomach about the direction of your leadership.  Again: be honest with them.

4) The head pastor has one or more “moral failures” and it’s not dealt with appropriately.

This is a tricky one.  If the pastor is caught with his secretary or embezzling funds or snorting coke or worse, there should be quick disciplinary measures (like firing the pastor).  If your church doesn’t handle this well and sort of lets it slide, then they’re not really taking the Bible seriously.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that a moral failure means immediate disqualification with NO possible return to pastoral duties.  There are too many “pastors” that fall into grievous sin, get “punished” for a year, then come back like nothing happened.  It’s basically like the pastor got rewarded with a one year vacation.  In legal jargon, we call that a loophole.  If I ever morally fall this way, I’ll fire myself.

Lastly: God calls you to pursue a different ministry.

This has nothing to do with problems at your own church, and it’s a very legit reason.  Missions, church-planting, urban ministry, or a church where your skill is needed.  God may call you to move on.  This one requires crazy prayer to ensure we’re not using the “God’s Will” card to leave the church behind.  But it does happen, and we should be open to it. 

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