Far too often lately, our counselors at BCC have found ourselves in counseling with those who are questioning the church. Some now consider their church or pastor a “fraud” after seeing him written up in the news or an internet blog. Others in smaller church contexts might have gotten the latest juicy gossip and it sound like their pastor has “serious issues.” Baptist, Pentecostals, Catholics, seeker-driven, and Methodists all seem to have their own versions of #metoo #churchtoo going on. It’s sad.
Those we counsel will often tell us they’re inspired by Jesus and believe the teachings contained in the Bible, but can’t stomach walking into church and seeing hypocritical leaders on stage. Some feel like they have been burned for the last time, giving hard-earned money only to find out that it was squandered. Others have found out that the private reputation and character of their pastoral staff doesn’t match the polished presentation on Sunday morning. Some feel used by the departure of a pastor to a more established ministry and the feeling that their church is simply a stepping stone, lacking real importance.
In the past five years in Chicago, multiple churches and pastors have been written up in the news and on internet sites where private scandals have become public. Church controversy knows no church size, denomination, or even gender. There have been falls from grace from churches of every size, doctrinal background, and sex—we are all prone to temptation. The larger churches are more likely to make the news, but know that church families of 50 hurt the same proportion of people as church families of 5000. If you attend church for long, you will be disappointed—but it doesn’t have to destroy you.
How do you know when it’s time to move on? Will you ever be able to trust another church? Are all churches and pastors like this?
How do you respond when you find yourself in a situation where you can no longer attend the church you were belong to? It’s a tough question and one that we often wrestle with as counselors. At BCC, our counselors are committed to helping churches care for people, but there are times when we can no longer in good conscience recommend someone stay at an unhealthy church. If you find yourself in this position, we would ask you to consider three things before you hit the door.
- Take your commitment seriously. A church is a family—perhaps not for life like your biological family, but we shouldn’t walk out easily on family. More than a health club or the Rotary, we are put in the body of Christ, by Christ, for a purpose (Romans 12:4–5). We shouldn’t walk away from a church before we have prayed, confronted, and sought wisdom about the decision.
- Take your doctrine seriously. While every church tradition looks different, the Bible does guide us as to what a local church looks like (Ephesians 4:11–13). A local church is not a bunch of buddies doing Bible study, sitting in the back of different churches as an anonymous attender, or the refreshing feeling you might get as you walk in solitude down a nature path of beauty. A church has doctrinal characteristics that define it . Don’t evaluate your church based upon the coffee, type of music, or leadership model. Too often, people bail on the church and create a church for themselves that is no church at all. Then, they don’t experience the joy of worshipping together, serving, and being served. The Bible paints a picture of a flawed church that is being redeemed by Christ. So, even if you leave one flawed church, find another flawed one to join. The point of church is to worship Christ together. Don’t let the people of the church distract you from the purpose of the church.
- Take your exit strategy seriously. Sometimes you may come to the conclusion you can no longer stay at a church. Sadly, there are times we have to counsel people to walk away. Make sure that you model what it means to “speak the truth in love” even as you exit (Ephesians 4:15). Revenge and destruction should never be goals of someone who trusts God. If God needs to expose hidden sin, He can even control the newspapers or change the mind of stubborn elders who have refused to examine credible charges. More is written in this follow-up post.
Church controversies have rocked the world of many in recent months. This has always been true (see I Corinthians 5–7). Your spiritual growth is greatly affected by this decision. Choose to honor God and you won’t regret it. https://www.9marks.org/article/what-is-a-local-church/
Tim – thanks for writing about this. Well written and never too late.
thank you! It’s always good to know we are not alone in our struggles!
Awesome! We place so much responsibility on man. Oh my goodness, no wonder our pastors fail. Our greatest love goes to the church family when it is a Christ like love. If and when it is time to leave a church God will advise those who walk with Him.
Good post! All too often feelings are hurt, people are accused of being judgmental, needs not being met, etc. What difference might be made if folks would maybe pray for their pastor and staff instead of leaving their church?
Good and godly people with servant hearts are greatly affected by change in leadership and the need to move in a different direction. The desire to be committed to one’s church family when others are hurting and caught in the change is difficult. Thank you for the great article.
I’m finding myself at a crossroads at a church I have attended for quite some time.
The main problem is the manner in which things are dealt with – stealth mode. I could give many instances, but even more than this, when anyone challenges the pastors/elders they are ‘gone’! The culture is toxic to my soul. I trust no one with my feelings there anymore. I feel shattered beyond healing. From looking at recent history, there is no way to share any concerns or questions without being labeled as a malcontent.