Did you know that when a pastor leaves a church, anecdotal evidence suggests that 25% of the congregation will also leave the church as a result? Not a guaranteed stat. It could be way less. Could be more. But it should be zero, of course depending on the situation. What I am referring to is a healthy pastoral transition. There are many bad scenarios that lead to a pastor leaving a church, and there are many very good ones. There will come a day when Michelle and I leave Faith Church. Our hearts’ desire is that it is one of those very good scenarios. God sometimes calls people to a new ministry. Or maybe they reach retirement. There are probably other good reasons as well.
Assuming one of those good scenarios for me leaving the church, my hope and prayer is that zero people move on. Of course the next pastor and their family will be different. That will likely be difficult in some ways. But stay committed your family, your church family.
Over the years we’ve had people leave the family of Faith Church. Some for good reasons. Some for bad ones. It has easily been one of the most difficult aspects to pastoral ministry. We contemporary American Christians are far too quick to leave a church family. It reminds me of this video:
While Crist’s video is hilarious, in real life, church-hopping is so damaging. Church worship as entertainment is so damaging. The mentality of “what can a church offer me and my family” is so damaging.
What we have clearly seen in the biblical passages in this week’s five-part series on church relationships, passages that have taught us about church family is that rather than focus on our own needs being met, a healthy approach to church family is to be filled with the Fruit of the Spirit, marked by self-giving love, pursuing the mission of Jesus to make disciples who practice unity in diversity.
It is very intentional on Paul’s part to talk about unity in diversity in the body of Christ in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, then to follow that up by talk about the central place of love in the very next chapter. We read 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, at weddings, and it certainly fits. But Paul was writing about love in the church family. I read it last week, and it is so important that I’m going to read it again. Just verses 4-8.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Let love rule your relationships in the church family. The church family in the city of Corinth was a mess. If you read through the letter of 1st Corinthians, you’ll see Paul address issue after issue, trying to correct their disunity and point them to loving unity in Christ. I preached through 1st Corinthians several years ago, and it seemed to me that Paul could have written that letter to the contemporary American church. What the Corinthian Christians were dealing with 2000 years ago, we are also dealing with. Celebrity preacher worship. Sexuality. Marriage. Worship wars. Theological disagreement. Ethical disagreement.
Paul says that we should let love rule us rather than the break apart and start a new church or go search for another one. In his day, there was no other church. The Christians had to work it out. In our culture, it is so easy to get stuck in the rut of bitterness and annoyance and selfishness, so rather than work it out, rather than the practice self-giving love like Jesus did, we leave. Or we stay but we disconnect.
Instead, I urge you to connect! Love! Invest! Choose to care for one another and let yourself be cared for. One of the best ways to do this is to get involved in a small group. If you are not already, talk with your church leaders to see what options you might have to join a small group or start one. Here’s a great article about small groups.
A loving church family is an astoundingly beautiful thing. I’m so thankful for the family of Faith Church. There have certainly been rough spots these past 20 years, and yet, from my vantage point, I have seen a church family who have been patient with my mistakes, a church family who is teachable, eager to learn what God has for us, and who are growing hearts to see and know God.
As we conclude this series on church relationships, please read this helpful reminder from the writer of Hebrews, a reminder that I think sums up the series quite well:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash
2 thoughts on “How not to leave a church – Relationships: In the Church, Part 5”
As I read this it prompted me to answer from a place of love and personal perspective. I grew up in a church that supported our family and I have family that still goes there. I loved my faith upbringing and the scripture has stuck in my heart. With that being said, you are right on the nose to say the church is NOT just a building. We are God’s hands, feet, and the people are the body. We put blame on Pastors when we really need to examine how we react. How can we love more, be patient, meet needs, etc. I left on good terms, but I was let down by people. I had a life changing situation happen to our family. We had one person from our former church reach out. In fact, most people turned their backs. I want to think like Jesus did and love. Crazy love. May we love one another and be committed. Good words Joel. May God bless you richly as you be the hands and feet.
Thanks for this, Deb. I really appreciate your graciousness. Faith Church should have done better. More people should have reached out to you. Given that reality, your response here is incredibly kind. I agree with you wholeheartedly. The church is the people, not a building.