Far too many people leave their church prematurely and without biblical warrant. The evangelical church today is infected with a disease called—church consumerism. People often choose a church based on what the particular congregation can do for them. In other cases, people are too quick to abandon their church on the basis of unbiblical or superficial rationale. This is not a new problem and it likely will remain a problem until genuine reform happens on a local church level in the area of biblical ecclesiology.
As a pastor, I see don’t like church hopping, skipping, or jumping (or whatever adjective best fits the situation). The average church today fosters such behavior by not guarding the front door of the church. We should be alarmed by people desiring to join our church from another church down the road based on superficial reasons. Albert Mohler, in his article titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” writes the following:
When members leave [the church] for insufficient reason, the fellowship of the church is broken, its witness is weakened, and the peace and unity of the congregation are sacrificed. Tragically, a superficial understanding of church membership undermines our witness to the gospel of Christ. 
How do you know if you should stay or go? What theological and practical guidelines should be considered before moving to another church? Below you will find a list of considerations, but remember, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Search the Scriptures and make wise, biblically informed decisions regarding church membership.
- Are your pastors heretics (Gal. 1:7-9)?
- Has your church embraced a false gospel (rejecting the Trinity, denying the deity of Christ, prosperity gospel, or some other false teaching)?
- Are your pastors living in unrepentant sin (1 Tim. 5:19)?
- Is your pastor a woman or does your pastor fail to meet the other qualifications of an elder (1 Tim. 3:1-7)?
- Is your church living in carnal sinful patterns without discipline (1 Cor. 3:1; 5:1-2; 2 Thess. 3:6-14; 2 Tim. 3:5)?
- Do your pastors have a low view of Scripture or do they disregard the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2)?
- Does your church have what’s known as the right preaching of the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5; Titus 1:9)?
- Does your church follow an unbiblical method of observing the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper)?
Not all churches are on the same level of health. Some are more healthy than others, and the same thing is true for individual believers. However, it’s never permissible to move out and go get yourself a new family just because you’re having some problems with your spouse and children at the moment. The same thing is true regarding church membership. When (not if) problems arise in your local church, you stay put and deal with it as a mature follower of Christ.
If a person in the church is experiencing sin problems, that’s not a valid reason to leave your church. You’re actually called to stay there and help the person in their walk with Christ. If you have a disagreement with a leader in the church, that’s not a valid cause to find a new church to join. The same thing is true regarding the new building, playground, or exciting ministry offered down the road at another church. You should never consider leaving a church because of something offered at another church. That’s the definition of church consumerism. It’s a cancer that’s eating away many churches today as spiritual immaturity continues to be passed down from generation to generation.
In rare cases, a person will come to faith in Christ as a member within a very unhealthy and unbiblical church setting and question his church membership. For instance, if Jim Smith is converted while he’s presently a member in a church where a woman is serving as the pastor, he doesn’t need to pray about leaving the church. The same thing is true for those who come to faith as members of gay affirming congregations. In such cases, it would be best for the spiritual wellbeing of the individual to move on to find a healthy church—and in such cases, a true church altogether.
In most circumstances, it’s not as cut and dry. In the overwhelming majority of the situations, leaving a church should be done with great caution, with love, with maturity, with clear communication to the leadership of the church, and with a desire to submit to God’s Word. Since we’re placed in a community of Christ followers by God and under spiritual authority, to leave a church outside of clear pastoral counsel is to avoid God’s will for your life. This will not only leave the church weak and confused—but it will also do harm to you and your family. When we make decisions regarding church membership, we must remember that the children are watching and listening. Don’t pass a superficial understanding of church membership on to the next generation.
As you pray and evaluate your present church membership, ask yourself three important questions:
- Do I have a biblical reason for leaving my church?
- Have I sought the needed change and reform in my church in a biblical manner, voicing my concerns to the pastors in private?
- Is my desire to part fellowship with my church based on theological or selfish reasons?
In most cases, if the desire to leave a church is not based on the fact that a church has violated the right preaching of the Word, the administration of the ordinances, or the proper use of church discipline—it should be heavily examined for unbiblical rationale. Be slow to move churches. Be wise in choosing a church. Be a healthy church member and you’ll reproduce other healthy church members too. Over time, your church will become more healthy.
Since God hates those who sow discord and create division, it would not only be wise but necessary for you to leave your church only if you have a biblical reason for doing so (Prov. 6:6-19; 1 Jn. 3:14). Even then, you should leave in a biblical and peaceful manner. We must remain under authority even in how we leave a church (Heb. 13:17). Alexander Strauch warns against division in the church by writing, “Behind most church fights and unresolved divisions is ugly human pride. And the worst kind of pride is religious pride, the Pharisaical pride of self-righteousness and superiority.”  Whatever your decision may be, in the end, never leave a church with unresolved division so much as it depends on you (Rom. 12:18).
In the end, there are times to leave a church and you shouldn’t feel undue guilt or shame for doing so. But, it’s highly probable that you should stay, pray, worship, work, submit, and serve within your church for the glory of Christ. You may need to stop searching for the exit sign and start serving Christ within your local church.
- Albert Mohler, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” (Tabletalk, September 2009), 19.
- Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 167.
Today marks the annual Thanksgiving Day celebration throughout the United States. Many people will cross all diet boundary restrictions, watch parades, visit family and friends, and watch football. As we engage in the annual traditions of our culture and remember the purpose of Thanksgiving Day – we should likewise take a moment to thank God for the church and the many blessings that come to us as members of a local church.
Thankful for Preaching
In an age of confusion regarding the voice of God, we must not forget that our God speaks today. Our God is the speaking God and He continues to speak to us through His Word. If we want to hear the voice of God, we do so clearly through His Word. It’s through the preaching of God’s Word that the gathered church hears the voice of God and submits to Him.
The right preaching of God’s Word that minimizes man’s opinions and elevates the Word of God line-by-line is the key to hearing God’s voice clearly. As we assemble in a long line of God’s people throughout church history, we continue to hear God’s voice spoken to us through His unadulterated Word. It’s not through mystical experiences and strange phenomenons that we come to hear God’s voice. It’s through the faithful preaching, (I believe expository preaching is the truest definition of faithful preaching), of His Word that we hear God speak.
Thankful for Prayer
Prayer is one of the great privileges of God’s people. God’s people have the privilege of prayer and can boldly access the throne of grace in private, but there is something unique and special about the gathered church coming together in prayer. Paul urged the church at Ephesus to be constantly praying for all the saints (Eph. 6:18). Colossians 4:2 speaks of being “steadfast” in prayer. Jesus instructed us on how to pray in Matthew 6:5-15. One of the great truths of the Christian life is that we as God’s children have access to the Father by the Spirit (Eph. 2:18). Alistair Begg has written:
Prayer is an acknowledgment that our need of God’s help is not partial but total… Yet many of our church prayer meetings have dwindled in size and influence. Ultimately, the explanation can be traced to spiritual warfare. If, as the hymn writer says, Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees,” then we may be sure that he and his minions will be working hard to discredit the value of united prayer. The Evil One has scored a great victory in getting sincere believers to waver in their conviction that prayer is necessary and powerful. 
Thankful for Singing
The true child of God has a reason to sing. Consider what happened immediately after the children of Israel were brought across the Red Sea. They sang a song (Ex. 15:1-18). Then Miriam sang, “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Ex. 15:21). The church is pictured as a singing church in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. The church assembled will sing – not based on preference and style – but based on truth and genuine desire to exalt Christ. One of the most important things a church does is sing the gospel. David penned these words in Psalm 9:11 – “Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” Something unique happens when the gathered church sings the words to Isaac Watts hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Thankful for the Ordinances
The ordinances of the church are intended for two purposes—praise and worship of our God. We praise Him through the waters of baptistry as we identify with Christ as our Savior and proclaim His resurrection to those who witness. We praise God through the Lord’s Supper as we remember the very body and blood of Christ that was given as a substitutionary atonement in order to satisfy the holy justice of God. These ordinances are designed to be observed with the assembled church – not as fragmented groups on the beach, in a dorm room, or with a single family in an empty room. We gather together as a church to worship God and He has designed the ordinances to serve that unique purpose of praise.
Thankful for Discipline
Any church that refuses to practice biblical church discipline as mandated by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20 forfeits the title of a biblical church. Contrary to popular opinions, biblical discipline is the loving thing to do. Jonathan Leeman writes, “Churches should practice discipline for love’s sake: love for the sinner, love for weaker sheep who can be led astray, love for non-Christian neighbors who need to see a holy Christian witness, and love for Christ and His reputation.”  The idea of discipline being a necessary mark of the church is rooted in Jesus’ words and historic confessions such as the Belgic Confession from 1561. Beware of any church that allows people to live loose lives of sin under the banner of “love” and a refusal to be judgmental. That’s not true love.
Thankful for Fellowship
God’s people need the church. For people to view the church as a burden, apparently they have no idea what it means to be a member of a local church. God never intends his people to be “lone ranger” believers who sail out on the high seas alone. God intends for His children to be identified with a group of people who live life together, worship together, engage in mission together, pray together, serve together, and fellowship together. God’s very best place on planet Earth is the church of Christ. It’s within the realm of the church that we should have our deepest relationships and it’s within these friendships that we laugh, weep, eat, and sharpen one another in the faith through biblical discipleship (Acts 2:42-47; Titus 2; Prov. 27:17; Heb. 10:24-25). Charles Spurgeon once said, “Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people.” 
As we spend our time thanking God for all of the blessings of this life, don’t forget the enormous blessings that God showers upon us as members of His church manifest through our membership in a local church. Thank God for the church!
- Alistair Begg, Made For His Pleasure, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 52.
- Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011), 188.
- Charles Spurgeon, Sermons, 30.597
Let’s face it, there are some good and necessary reasons to leave a church. If the church is preaching heresy (Gal. 1:7-9) or condoning worldliness (1 Cor. 5:9-11) — it might be time to part fellowship. However, before packing your bags and moving on, you might want to consider some of the really bad reasons people choose to leave their church. Don’t follow their example.
1. Job Opportunity: More Money
One of the most consistent reasons people give for leaving their church is based on a job transfer. When asked about their decision, the people often cite a job promotion that will offer their family more money as the main driving force. What if your pastor stood in the pulpit next week and said, “I’m resigning from my position as pastor today. I want the church to know that I was offered a better position in another city a couple of hours away that pays more money. Therefore, I believe it to be God’s will.” How would this make you feel as a member of the church? Is that a sufficient reason for your pastor to leave? Would you be disappointed in him as a spiritual leader? Would you find yourself making statements such as, “I thought being a pastor was a calling and not a job?”
2. Relationship Conflicts
Another popular reason people leave their church is based on unresolved relationship conflicts. It’s one thing for children to experience such conflicts, but when parents and grandparents get caught up in a drama cloud of conflict, it’s rather discouraging. In such cases, we must remember that when we leave a church based on relationship conflicts — we’re teaching our children to do the same thing when they become an adult.
What if your pastor stood in the pulpit next week and said, “I’m resigning from my position as pastor today. I have an unresolved relationship problem with someone in the church, and I believe it would be best for me to go elsewhere to pastor.” Is that a sufficient reason for a pastor to leave the church?
3. Doctrinal Differences (non-essentials)
There are reasons to leave a church based on doctrine, but not all doctrinal reasons are worthy of packing your bags. Sometimes members hear a non-heretical doctrine taught that they have never considered from the Scriptures, and their initial reaction is to become angry and to leave the church. However, we must first evaluate the doctrine and ask ourselves – is it worthy of parting fellowship? Is this heresy? Is this doctrine a perversion of the church or the faith? Albert Mohler has a good assessment that he has titled, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.” This is worth your attention if you’re considering leaving your church based on doctrinal differences.
What if your pastor stood in the pulpit next week and said, “I’m resigning from my position as pastor today. I have come to realize that some people in this church disagree with me on a specific doctrine, and I believe it would be best for me to go elsewhere to pastor.” Would you consider this an appropriate reason for leaving the church?
4. Pursuing a Specific Type of Music
One of the most controversial and unhealthy reasons that people leave their church (or choose their church) is based on music style. Many people are looking for the ultra traditional sound while others are looking for the ultra relevant style. Could music be a reason to leave your church? Sure, especially if it’s an unhealthy music style filled with carnal lyrics and unbiblical doctrines. But, let’s face it, that’s not the typical reason for people choosing to leave based on the music of the church.
What if your pastor stood in the pulpit next week and said, “I’m resigning from my position as pastor today. I have a certain style of music that I enjoy and it’s apparent that this church will never move in that direction. Therefore, I believe it would be best for me to go elsewhere to pastor.” Is that an appropriate cause for a pastor to leave the church?
5. More to Offer my Children
Sometimes people leave their church based on perceived needs for their children. It could be that other churches in the area seem to be more exciting or that their children need a larger peer group to associate with. That’s a really bad reason to leave a church. In fact, it will teach your children to repeat this decision in the future when they feel that another church has something more to offer (remember, we live in a church marketing culture).
What if your pastor stood in the pulpit next week and said, “I’m resigning from my position as pastor today. I have young children and feel that another church a few miles across town would be better suited to care for their needs.” Would you lose all respect for your pastor for making a decision to leave based on his children’s perceived needs?
6. Closer Church to my Family
The desire to be closer to parents, grandparents, or grandchildren is an understandable concern. However, is it best to pack your bags and move just to be closer in proximity to your children or your extended family? Probably not. In fact, such decisions are often made without any knowledge of a healthy church in the new location. It’s not wise to leave a church just to be closer to your family if this means moving across the state or merely transferring church membership while living in the same place. We should have a higher view of church membership.
What if your pastor stood in the pulpit next week and said, “I’m resigning from my position as pastor today. My family is all located a few hours away, and I believe it would be best for me to go elsewhere to pastor in order to be closer to them.” Is that a sufficient reason for a pastor to leave the church?
7. Desire More People in my Demographic
It’s true that our closest relationships should be within our local church. What happens if you feel that you don’t have as many homeschool families in your church, and as a dedicated homeschool family you feel lonely? Should you leave? What happens if you’re a newly married couple and you don’t have as many newly married couples in your church, should you leave? What happens if you’re skin color is the minority in the church? Should you leave?
What if your pastor stood in the pulpit next week and said, “I’m resigning from my position as pastor today. My wife and I have a heart for adoption and since this church doesn’t have a heart for adoption, we believe it would be best for us to find another church that’s closer to where we are on this issue.” Is that a sufficient reason for a pastor to leave the church?
8. Not my Preferred Church Size (too small or too big)
One of the more popular reasons for people leaving their church is based on the desire to find a more preferred church size. In their mind, a certain church size is best. They don’t want one too small, so they make their church smaller by leaving to find another one that’s bigger. Others don’t want to be involved as a member in a large church, so they search for one that’s a bit smaller. In doing so, they make their new church bigger in the process of joining and perhaps upset others who were quite happy with how small their church was last week.
What if your pastor stood in the pulpit next week and said, “I’m resigning from my position as pastor today. I have been offered a position as a pastor of a church that’s much larger than this one. Therefore, I believe it to be the Lord’s will for my life and the life of this church.” Is that a sufficient reason for a pastor to leave the church?
As you can see, there are some really poor reasons for leaving a church. But, do members hold their pastors to a different level of expectation when it comes to church membership? It’s quite evident that if pastors decided to leave their churches for the same reasons the membership often does, it would be catastrophic. Shouldn’t this cause us to pause and reconsider our reasons for leaving our local church? It would be bad enough if your pastor made an announcement about his resignation based on a really poor reason for leaving your church, but even worse would be for him to merely disappear without any announcement at all.
Are you too busy for the church? Are you too busy building your career while neglecting to build God’s kingdom? Are you finding time to invest in secular relationships while neglecting spiritual relationships among your fellow church members? Are you using your talents while neglecting to use your spiritual gifts? If this sounds familiar, I would encourage you to take time to evaluate what the Bible says about neglecting the church.
As a pastor, I’m extremely concerned for the distracted, over-worked, casual church member. I’m not merely concerned that they’re not occupying space in the sanctuary. I’m concerned for their soul. Consider the following warnings from the pages of Scripture.
#1 – Church Member: Neglecting to assemble for worship with the gathered church is a sin
Are you consistently absent from your church’s worship services? Online church is not church. It’s a filler for sick days or travel days, but it’s certainly not church. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we see that our calling should be to “stir up” one another to love and good works. How is this possible when you’re rarely gathered together with the church? Consider the words of Mark Dever:
Nonattendance, in the early years of our church, was considered one of the most sinister of sins, because it usually veiled all the other sins. When someone began to be in sin, you would expect them to stop attending. 
#2 – Church Member: Neglecting God’s Word is a sin
Our appetite reveals much about our spiritual condition. When you’re around sick people, they often have a very poor appetite. This often results in the use of IV therapy in order to force the person to receive the nutrients necessary to sustain life. What about the person who has time for their career, college football, recreation, vacation, and outdoor activities with the family but doesn’t desire the Word of God – specifically – the preaching of God’s Word? What does this reveal about the spiritual condition of the described person? The early church is pictured in Acts 2 as a people who desired the preaching and teaching of the Word. The people of God in the Old Testament came out of a lengthy period of rebellion and had a burning appetite for God’s Word (Neh. 8). If you find yourself in a state where you don’t have an appetite for God’s Word, you should search your heart for the reason.
#3 – Church Member: Neglecting the care of fellow church members is a sin
Membership in the local church involves responsibility. Did you know that the physical and spiritual wellbeing of your fellow church members is your business? This is one of the most important reasons to attend the weekly prayer meeting. Exactly how are you involved in the regular care of your church on a spiritual level? Consider what God’s Word says in Rom. 12:9-13, 1 Thess. 5:11, Phil. 2:4, and Gal. 6:2, 10. Kevin DeYoung writes, “The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart.” 
#4 – Church Member: Neglecting to use your spiritual gifts for God’s glory is a sin
Have you considered the purpose in God’s gift to you and to His church with spiritual gifts? Take time to consider what it would be like if tomorrow your right leg decided it wasn’t getting up for work. How would that change your daily routine? That’s why Paul used the body as an illustration about the importance of the entire church. Everyone is needed and each body part is important (1 Cor. 12:12-26).
1 Corinthians 12:26 – If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
#5 – Church Member: Neglecting the gospel is a sin
Do you believe the gospel? What are you doing to uphold the gospel and protect the church from a false gospel? Not only did we need the gospel at the point of salvation, but we need the gospel daily. Not only do we need the gospel daily, but so does the entire church family. We must praise God through the gospel on a daily basis and preserve the church from error (Gal. 1:6; Jude 1:3; 1 Pet. 3:15; Titus 1:9). Have you sought to correct anyone in your local church who has strayed away in the past 12 months?
#6 – Church Member: Neglecting to observe the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s supper) is a sin
We are commanded by Christ to observe baptism and the Lord’s supper together as a church (Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25). To neglect this responsibility and privilege is to neglect your own soul. This is not an optional or extra credit opportunity suggested for a select group in the church. This is ground zero, foundational, and essential for spiritual health. Consider the words of Mark Dever:
Broadly speaking, baptism tends the front door of the church, while the Lord’s Supper tends the back door. Properly administered baptism (i.e., baptism of believers only upon a credible profession of faith) helps to ensure that only genuine believers are admitted into the membership of the church. Properly administered communion (i.e., communion given only to members in good standing of evangelical churches) helps to ensure that those who are under church discipline for unrepented sin do not scandalize the church or eat and drink judgment to themselves by partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:29). 
#7 – Church Member: Neglecting to make disciples is a sin
We have been called to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). In the most logical manner, we begin in our neighborhood and move outward to the nations. Notice that the command is not to go and get conversions. We are to leave the converting up to God, and when that fruit comes, we are to baptize them and disciple them in the truth. This involves the hard and persistent work of evangelism and discipleship – both rooted and grounded in the work of the local church. That is not a command for “professionals” or pastors. It’s a command for all of the children of God.
#8 – Church Member: Neglecting to follow your pastors is a sin
God has given us pastors for a reason. That purpose involves leadership and spiritual care. That type of leadership and spiritual care rubs against the grain of the American independent mindset. We don’t want anyone getting into our business, so when someone unexpectedly applies Richard Baxter’s model of membership care, it seems odd, outdated, antiquated, and intrusive. According to Hebrews 13:17, church members are to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” Why is this command given? The writer to the Hebrew Christians follows up with these words in Hebrews 13:17 – “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” To resist pastoral leadership is to endanger your soul.
#9 – Church Member: Neglecting members’ meetings is a sin
How does the church make decisions? Are all decisions given over to the elders? Does your church operate with any measure of congregationalism? If so, you need to attend the church conferences (business meetings) and engage in the decision making of the church. What ministries are being organized? How are you helping to support and uphold the different ministries of the local church? How does your church accept members or release members to other churches? Are you involved with this process in the members’ meeting? Do you know what’s happening in the life of the church? What goals are the elders putting before the church? What financial needs are present? Do you know any specific need that you can pray for in the life of your church? Consider the words of Charles Spurgeon:
I know there are some who say, “Well, I’ve given myself to the Lord, but I don’t intend to give myself to any church.” I say, “Now why not?” And they answer, “Because I can be just as good a Christian without it.” I say, “Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? There’s a brick. What is the brick made for? It’s made to build a house. It is of no use for the brick to tell you that it’s just as good a brick while it’s kicking about on the ground by itself, as it would be as part of a house. Actually, it’s a good-for-nothing brick. So, you rolling stone Christians, I don’t believe that you’re answering the purpose for which Christ saved you. You’re living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live and you are much to blame for the injury you do.” 
As a pastor I desire the best for the members entrusted to my care. Pastoring is more than preaching, and the work of caring for the church is vitally important. When sheep come up missing, it’s essential to find out why and work to bring them back into the family of faith.
If you’re an absentee church member, I want to encourage you to consider the danger of remaining in that position. Don’t neglect the good gifts of God that come through the church. Don’t neglect your faith, your family, and your own soul. It’s time to stop saying that you’re too busy and start taking responsibility for your sin.
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 171.
- Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 132.
- Mark Dever, “Applying the Regulative Principle,” The Deliberate Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 90.
- Tom Carter, Charles Spurgeon at His Best, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1988), 34.
It happens to be one of the more popular traps along the journey of faith—the idea that somewhere along the path of righteousness we somehow outgrow our need for the church. Perhaps you’ve met someone who was too busy for the church. Maybe you’ve encouraged someone who thought they were too important for the church. What was once the central aspect of their life has now turned into an occasional hobby. We all need a healthy reminder from time-to-time that we need the church in all seasons and successes of life.
We Need the Church for Worship – Not Entertainment or Performance
When the early church is pictured in the early pages of Acts (Acts 2:42-47), we see the picture of a worshipping church. Centered around the Word of God, the people responded to God in a life that reverberated with the rhythm of worship. You don’t see people searching for their type of music. You don’t see people using the church for a performance outlet to satisfy their narcissistic appetite to be seen, heard, and to perform. You see a people who are gathered to worship the sovereign God who spoke the universe into existence from nothing and rescued them through the blood of Christ. Often times in my experience of church life and ministry I’ve found that less is more. More focus on God and less pragmatism is always a much more healthy diet for a church.
We Need the Church for Spiritual Development
In the first letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul explains the calling of the church to live holy and God exalting lives (1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:12). It requires the church laboring together in this effort to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17) and to hold one another accountable. Certainly it must be said that spiritual development in the church also requires a people who are committed to church discipline (see Matthew 18). The Word of God points out that God’s will is never for the Christian to develop spiritually in a vacuum or on a lonely island. Through the community of a local church, God’s people exercise their spiritual giftedness together and it results in spiritual development. Everyone in the church matters! The church is not a building, it’s a people who are called out for God’s glory. It’s impossible to be a part of God’s church without immersing yourself into a local body of Christ followers.
We Need the Church for Christ-Centered Friendship
As we read through Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, we see the need for companionship along the journey of faith. We are not intended to hike our way to the Celestial City alone. Christ has graciously given us fellow pilgrims and it would be a soul damaging decision to attempt life without Christ-centered friendship. This is true for all members of the church – including the pastors who lead the church. Christian friendship enables us to seek advice, receive accountability, stay grounded in the faith, and spur one another onward to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). If the people in your church don’t know you, you’re not really a member of the church.
We Need the Church for Biblical Leadership
The self-guided tour of Christianity doesn’t exist. It’s not an option for the true believer. God has sovereignly designed His church with leaders who are called to faithfully shepherd the church (see 1 Peter 5:1-11 and Hebrews 13:17). Just as it would be utterly foolish for the inexperienced data analyst to leave his cubicle in New York and set out on a self-guided summit of Mount Everest, so it is with those who think they can navigate through this harsh and fallen world without submitting to their pastors. In a day where YouTube and Google serve up whatever recipe or how-to video we can imagine, we must be reminded that God has not called Google or YouTube to serve as our pastors.
We Need the Church for Missions
As Christ was leaving the sod of this earth, He provided some extremely important words to His followers. He said:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
The Great Commission is not a great suggestion. It’s a command given to us by Christ, but we must likewise remember that it cannot be accomplished alone. Even a lone ranger Christian (which is an oxymoron) cannot accomplish the Great Commission by merely utilizing para-church organizations. If a single Christian is to engage properly in the Great Commission, it must be through the context of a local, tangible, New Testament church.
The church is not an option for some Christians, it’s a mandate for all Christians. To be a Christian involves participation in the local church. Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “Nobody can do as much damage to the church of God as the man who is within its walls, but not within its life.” As we pass through various seasons of life, we must avoid the arrogant and self-dependent ideology of spiritual autonomy. It doesn’t end well.
One of the most extraordinary patterns of Christian history has been the peaceful freedom given to gospel people in one prosperous nation called America. If you survey redemptive history, it’s normal to see Christians suffering hardship, oppression, and persecution for their faith. It seems that the days of peace and prosperity for the gospel in America are numbered. With the legalization of homosexual marriage and the debate upon restroom policies for transgender people and others who want to self-identify as the opposite sex all point to the obvious clash of world views that will likely continue to restrict religious freedom for Christians. The liberal trends have gained enormous momentum over the past eight years — in ways that even the most liberal historian would not have predicted.
As politicians fight over the recent vacancy in the Supreme Court, it’s apparent that the stakes are high. That point could not be any more clearly portrayed as we look at our choices for the highest seat of power in our nation and the leader of the free world – the presidency of the United States of America. We must admit that our days of religious peace seem to be fading off into the sunset. No matter who becomes president, the people of God are called to be people of perseverance. If we can learn anything from this radical cultural movement, we must certainly learn to live well under the rule of evil kings.
Learning Perseverance from Ancient Examples
The Hebrew people came to Egypt to seek refuge during a horrible famine (Gen. 43:1). They were received because of the faithful leadership of Joseph who had risen to great power beneath the Pharaoh. As the book of Genesis ends, Exodus begins with these somber words, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 2:8). That one sentence defined the horror the people of God would experience under the harsh slavery of a wicked king. However, there were faithful people among the Hebrew slaves who refused to doubt God. From those people who believed the Abrahamic covenant arose Moses after 400 years of slavery. The people of God obeyed their leaders, but they kept their focus on God who had promised them deliverance.
Through all of the Old Testament kings, we see Israel learning to live beneath the rule of radically different leaders. Saul served as king. He was the people’s choice. He looked good and seemed like a man fit for the job by outward appearance, but Israel soon learned to live beneath the rule of a poor leader. David was the successor to Saul’s throne, and he is described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). David was an imperfect man, but a good king. All through the kingly period of Israel’s history, the evil kings outnumbered the good kings. The line, “And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” is repeated at least twenty four times through 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament Scriptures. The true people of God among Israel were constantly forced to live well under evil kings.
Unfortunately, the people often walked in the footsteps of their evil kings and followed in their rebellion. Regarding King Manasseh, the Scripture says he “has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did” and “made Judah also to sin with his idols” (2 Kings 21:11). When Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law that had been lost, it was read to King Josiah. The result was that he “tore his clothes” for he understood the wrath of God was greatly kindled against them (2 Kings 22:8-13). Josiah was a rare king in Israel’s history, a reprieve from the tyranny of evil rulers.
Learning Perseverance from the New Testament
After Pompey conquered Jerusalem, the people of God found themselves under the dominion of Roman authority. Occupied by outsiders, Israel had to learn to live well under evil kings once again. The Herodian dynasty was marked by murder, arrogance, sin, and the crooked exploitation of the Jews through burdensome taxation. This is one reason why the tax collectors were so despised among the Jewish people. They were considered traitors and thieves. Herod the Great was a horrible man, a feared man, and a ruthless man. His ruthless character was put on display while murdering children in Bethlehem during his attempt to kill Jesus. When he died, he split up his land into distinct areas for three different Herods, specifically his three sons – Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Herod Agrippa. Their leadership was similar in nature to their father’s leadership. As the people of God lived under their rule, they had to learn to live faithfully under the rule of wicked men. This involved paying taxes and following the rules established by the Roman authorities. Although faithful men like John the Baptist lived in accordance with the laws, he was unwilling to allow the sin of unfaithful leaders to go without notice. John the Baptist called out Herod for his sexual sin, and it landed his head on a platter. There is always a high cost to perseverance during the rule of evil kings.
Following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension came the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the church. Eventually the church of Jesus Christ was pressed between the Roman authorities and the Jewish religious authorities – the Sanhedrin. After being accused of being troublemakers, threatened, and beaten, the apostles were told to stop spreading the gospel. They were forced to make a decision. Would they obey God or men? The apostles chose to obey God. They responded to the threatening Sanhedrin by stating, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They had learned to live faithfully under the rule of evil leaders as they stood on the shoulders of faithful men and women all throughout redemptive history. They made the right choice.
When evil leaders with sinful hearts rise to power, anything is possible. We are living in such times in our current political climate. It would do us well to learn to live faithfully under the rule of evil kings. It doesn’t matter if you’re more at home in the presence of elephants as opposed to donkeys, the end result will be the same for the church of Jesus in America. Eventually all political parties will fail to respect the church of Jesus Christ in our nation. In the next several years, unless God intervenes, the true church will be tested on the soil of America like never before. Will we obey God or men? We can learn much from people such as Jochebed, Peter, and John the Baptist. As Jesus stated with such great wisdom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
It would be wise to obey God rather than men, but as we consider our decisions today, we must remember that debates far more costly than restroom privileges will soon arise. True Christian character, courageous conviction, and God honoring perseverance will be necessary as the cultural pressures continue to reach a boiling point for Jesus followers. When faced with big decisions, it’s vital for Christians to remember our commitment to a greater throne occupied by the highest King.