If you are in a local church and you are considering leaving, take the time to think and pray about it. Be clear about why you want to leave.
In this post, I want to address those who want to leave their church because of conflict and disunity.
LESSONS FROM TWO NEW TESTAMENT CHURCHES
- The church in Jerusalem
In the book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem is pretty close to being a perfect church in my opinion. The first four chapters of Acts describe a church with:
- powerful preaching
- Spirit-filled believers
- persistent and powerful prayer
- a commitment to fellowship and worship
- boldness in evangelism
- power to perform miracles
- caring and sharing of resources so that none of the believers were in need
Wouldn’t you enjoy being a part of that church?
Yet, in spite of these strengths, jealousy and lying reared their ugly heads. Acts 5 tells the sobering story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who wanted to appear more generous than they were by selling a piece of land and giving the money to the church. However, they claimed that they were giving all the money from the sale, when in fact, they kept some of the money for themselves. God’s judgement came upon them harshly and immediately (Acts 5:5,10).
The church in Jerusalem reminds us that even the most dynamic, Spirit-filled church is not perfect. If sin could arise in that church, should we be surprised when unacceptable behavior is seen in our own church?
- The church in Corinth
This church was very different from the church in Jerusalem. You probably would not seek out a church like this one! Here are some of the issues faced by this church:
- immorality in the church
- arguments and infighting
- Christians suing each other
- chaotic worship services
- abuse of spiritual gifts
- greed and selfishness displayed even at the Communion table
Recently I was studying 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and I gained some insight into this church and its problems that I believe is relevant for today. In this chapter, conflict and division arose regarding church leadership. Some of the believers claimed to follow Paul, others followed Apollos, others claimed that Cephas (Peter) was their man, and the most spiritual among them claimed that they just followed Jesus (I Corinthians 1:12)!
Let’s consider the appeal of these human leaders. (Obviously, they weren’t all following Jesus or they wouldn’t have been in the mess they were!) Why didn’t they all follow Paul? He started the church (Acts 18:1–17). Perhaps many of the Gentiles were drawn to Paul who was called to minister to them. Some of the Jewish believers though questioned Paul’s authority for he was not one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, but Peter was. In fact, Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. His words likely carried more weight in the opinion of some of the Corinthian Jewish Christians. The third man in the leadership race was Apollos. He was well versed in the Old Testament and was an eloquent speaker and effective in debate (Acts 18:28). He perhaps appealed to the more cultured members of the church.
SUCCESS → PROBLEMS
I believe that one reason for this lack of unity regarding leadership was due to the SUCCESS of this church in Corinth. Through effective preaching, and witnessing through word and deed, this church attracted people who were diverse in at least two ways.
Diversity in Social Standing
Two men are mentioned in this chapter, Sosthenes (v.1) and Crispus (v.14) who had high standing in the Jewish community (see Acts 18:1-17) as leaders in the synagogue. However, it appears that most people in the church did not have such status, for Paul says to them and of them,
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26)
Diversity in Culture
This church consisted of both Jews and Gentiles with very different cultural beliefs, values and history. What these two cultures did have in common was their contempt for the other. Because of Christ, they were now brothers and sisters in the faith in the Corinthian church.
With these differences, it is easy to see why there might be conflict. Successful evangelism can lead to all kinds of problems even today. Growth can lead to misunderstandings and power struggles. Numerical growth will create new problems like lack of parking and seating space, lack of volunteers, and a strain on financial resources.
A successful church will not be a problem-free church.
Success is a positive factor that can lead to conflict and disunity. A negative factor in the case of the Corinthian church I believe, was the influence of PERSONAL PREFERENCE. I believe that different groups of people likely aligned themselves with a particular leader in the church who they were naturally drawn to – someone who understood their culture, someone from their own culture, or someone they just liked more than the other leaders.
In church conflict today, personal preferences often create or escalate problems. What I have observed, is that as long as people take a stand based on personal preferences, there will never be unity. There will always be a winner and a loser.
THINK ABOUT THE CONFLICT THAT IS TROUBLING YOU
Could it be, that some of the problems and disunity in your church are caused by your church doing the right things?
Is your perspective being clouded by your own personal preferences?
Do you really want to leave your church with its problems to join another church with a different set of problems? After all, no church is perfect.
In the next blog post, I want to talk about staying power – how to stay in a difficult church when you would rather walk away.
I have met many Christians who have been active in a local church for many years who have left their church and are attending another one or who have given up church altogether. Others have not made the decision yet to leave but are contemplating it.
If you fall into either of these categories I urge you to stop and give this more thought.
There are many reasons people give for leaving their local church, such as:
- Conflict in the church
- Hurt feelings
- Decline in attendance and few willing workers
- Burnout from doing too much with too little support
- Lack of interest in the congregation to reach those outside the church
- A worship style they cannot relate to
- Preaching that is not relevant
- Lack of relevant programs for them or their family members
- Too far to travel or too difficult to get to on foot or by public transportation
- Physical discomfort (uncomfortable seats, poor sound system, music that is too loud, poor accessibility for those with mobility issues, not scent free)
- Congregation is not welcoming
- Not enough opportunities to serve or use their spiritual gifts
- Doctrine, practices or future plans that they do not agree with
- Lack of good and godly leadership
Fortunately in Canada, if you are not happy with your church there are usually other churches in the area to choose from. Unfortunately, many people leave their church when it would be better for them and for the church if they stayed.
Sometimes it is right to leave your church but most of the time people leave for the wrong reasons.
In this and upcoming posts, I would like to explore reasons to stay and reasons to leave, starting with reasons to stay.
THE CHURCH – FAVORED BY GOD
I would urge you to consider how the church is different from all other organizations and institutions. Take schools and hospitals for example. We consider them essential for our wellbeing and for healthy communities. As important as they are, though, there is no scriptural mandate to build educational or medical facilities. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t build them. My point is, that of all the organizations and institutions that we consider essential, there is only one that the Bible tells us to establish, and that is the local church.
Jesus declared that He would build His Church and that nothing, not even the gates of hell will overcome it (Matthew 16:18 NLT). The Church will endure. It is favored by God. It is His idea. This is the universal Church made up of all believers.
It is in the local church that we are to experience what God intended in the Church. The local church is God’s chosen vehicle for nurturing believers and reaching the lost. It is His Plan A. He has no Plan B.
Jesus loves the church and has called the church into being for His glory and His purposes. It is unlike anything man has created.
Consider three analogies the Bible uses to describe the church:
I would like to explore these images of the church in future posts but take a moment to reflect on them. Can you think of any invention of man that can come even close to the beauty, wonder and uniqueness of the church? The church is truly amazing!
Perhaps you are thinking that the beauty and theology behind the church you understand. It is the reality of the church that you can’t stand!
THE CHURCH – FLAWED BY MAN
In spite of her calling, the local church is far from perfect because it is made up of people like you and me! Read the New Testament and you will read of churches that had serious flaws. However, the apostles never gave up on these flawed local churches, as frustrating as they were.
In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a parable that gives me hope and helps me to be more patient with the local church. He tells of a farmer who has a field of wheat. An enemy plants weeds in his wheat field. When the farmer’s servants ask if he wants them to pull up the weeds, the farmer replies,
No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” (vv.29,30)
Jesus knew the church would not be perfect. In spite of its flaws, His favor is upon it. If He has not given up, perhaps we should reconsider before walking away.
I’ve never been a neat person. In university when friends would ask what I was doing, I would often reply, “Getting organized”. Nearly 40 years later, I’m still getting organized!
I’ve followed much of the advice of organization “experts” but it has provided only temporary relief. However, I very recently stumbled upon a very different approach and I think the principles just might stick! It is called the KonMarie Method which is explained in the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.
This book is written by New York Times best-selling author, Marie Kono who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015. (Doesn’t that speak volumes when one of the world’s most influential people is teaching the mundane chore of tidying up?)
One reason Kono’s approach is different from others who help people organize their stuff is that her philosophy is based on Shintoism, the traditional religion of Japan. You don’t need to change your world view though to benefit from this method, just some of your habits and ways you look at your personal possessions!
Here are just three ways the KonMarie Method is different from common advice on dealing with clutter:
- Don’t store your stuff. Reduce.
- Don’t tidy up one room at a time. Do it all at once. Kono promises that when you follow her method, you will only have to do this once.
- The secret to finding more room for your clothes is to fold most of your clothes so that they stand upright rather than lie flat.
NOW I SEE
Just practicing this method of folding the clothes in my drawer has had an unexpected visual appeal for me. Now when I open my drawers:
- I see color – Because T-shirts, pajamas, underclothes, etc. are folded and standing upright, I don’t just see order. I see a variety of colors.
- I see abundance – Because clothing is not piled on top of each other I can easily see how much I have of any particular item. I have lots of socks so please…don’t give me any socks for gifts in 2017!
- I see what needs attention – By taking the time to fold much of my clothing, it is easy to see which items need to be washed, mended or replaced.
The goal of this approach is not primarily to acquire more space, or to reduce clutter but to experience joy. Kono urges us to surround ourselves with those things that bring us joy. This refreshing approach is a stark contrast to those of us who tend to be pragmatic (“I can’t throw it out. It still works!”) or those of us immobilized by guilt (“I can’t get rid of this. It was a birthday present!”).
THE FAITH CONNECTION
You might be wondering what this subject has to do with faith. I think it has much to do with faith. The Bible warns us about the danger of loving money and what money can buy. Christians in the developed world are constantly bombarded with the temptation of consumerism and the desire to hang on to stuff. (Perhaps the word “consumer” is less about what we consume and more about what consumes us!)
For instance, have you noticed the snowball effect often caused by the purchase of a single product? Take for example, the purchase of an iPad or tablet (I’m not against either. I get much use and enjoyment out of my iPad.). Once you buy the actual device, you need to protect it with a screen protector and a case. To increase your enjoyment of listening to music or podcasts, watching videos or playing games, earbuds or a headset would be useful. If you are like me and want to use it for creating content, it would be helpful to have a stand for it and an external keyboard. Then there are the apps and ebooks and other additions to consider to make your device more useful, more convenient and more comfortable to use. This is particularly true for digital devices but it is also true with other items we purchase.
Purchasing, maintaining and organizing our stuff takes energy, time and money that are in limited supply and can rob us of the desire, energy, time and money to invest instead in those activities that contribute to our spiritual growth and in building the kingdom of God. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to explore all the ways consumerism impacts us negatively so I will limit my observation to just one that I have noticed – visual distraction.
Over the past few years, I have become more acutely aware of how distracting clutter is to me. When I stay in a hotel room, sit on a train or wait in an airport I feel creative. I feel motivated to write, read and think. My mind is free to think deeply because I am not distracted by the stuff I see before me when I am at home. Visual distraction makes it difficult for me to concentrate and to stick to mental tasks. It affects not just my thinking and writing but also my Bible reading and prayer life. Anything that makes these spiritual practices more challenging than they are already, needs my attention.
I long for a simple life where I have what I need, I know what I have, I enjoy what I have and what I have contributes to me being a better follower of Jesus. I think that is a worthwhile pursuit!
Have you ever prayed for something for a long time? In this Prayer Helps video – “God’s Delays”, I share about a prayer request that took years to be answered.
If you watch the video to the very end you will see a much younger me in a group photo!
May you be encouraged to persevere in prayer!
In my first blog post of 2016, I shared my goals and declared that 2016 for me would be “The Year of the Book”. Many of my goals were about reading books, selling used books and writing books. (I did read 40+ books and sold several used books on Amazon. I didn’t write any books but I am close to finishing my first one.)
NOT WHAT I EXPECTED
What surprised me most about 2016 was not the goals I reached or did not reach, but how the focus of the year became something different from what I had planned.
The focus for the 12 months became my health. It started in January with four visits to emergency for cellulitis in my foot. (I have no idea what caused it.) Later in the year I developed heel pain (not related to the above problem) and needed orthotics.
Routine blood work revealed that both my fasting sugar and cholesterol were high, neither of which I had ever been treated for before. A request to have my blood pressure checked just to satisfy my curiosity revealed that it too was high and it increased significantly with every visit I made to the doctor’s office. I guess you could say I was “high” all year long!
GRATEFUL AND SMARTER
I knew little about these new health issues. I read a lot. I asked questions. I monitored my blood sugar frequently, adjusted my diet, exercised more and did what my doctor and dietician told me to do. As a result, I am much healthier starting off this new year than I was this time last year. I am aware of my numbers and what I need to do to stay healthy. I even lost a few pounds.
I am thankful for the past few months and I am grateful to the Lord for:
- the good health I have enjoyed for five decades and for this “tweaking” that I hope will keep me healthy for many more years.
- the health professionals who taught me so much about how to care for my health.
- this season in my life when I have the time to read, learn and experiment to see what contributes to or hinders my health.
MORE THAN SPIRITUAL BEINGS
This focus on my health has also caused me to think more about the connection between our spiritual and physical health.
In spite of the many references to the physical body in scripture, there is little teaching in our churches about the importance of maintaining good physical health. We often joke about our poor eating habits and lack of physical activity and our church events that feature food tend not to provide healthy alternatives to sugar. We give the impression that all God cares about is our soul and that it is okay to abuse our bodies with poor habits.
GOD’S HIGH PURPOSE FOR THE HUMAN BODY
Why do I think God expects us to take seriously the condition of our physical health?
Here are just three reasons:
- Spiritual longing is not just a spiritual expression but also a physical one.
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God. (Psalm 84:2)
2. God wants us to offer more than our money, time and talent.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)
3. God views our bodies as holy instruments.
13 b The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? …19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:13b-15, 19,20)
We know that God does not consider the human body negatively. After all, Jesus took on human flesh and accomplished salvation for mankind by suffering physically for us (1 Peter 3:18, Colossians 1:22). He took on a resurrected body and we too will have new bodies in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:35-49, Philippians 3:20,21).
GOOD HEALTH IS NOT REQUIRED FOR SPIRITUAL HEALTH
Some of you who are reading this struggle with health issues. You are in good company. Many scholars believe that the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7) was a physical ailment. His disciple, Pastor Timothy, had stomach and other health problems (1 Timothy 5:23). Many theologians, hymn writers, preachers and missionaries in the past have had physical limitations. We need to work with what we have and offer to the Lord our best, whether it be a strong, healthy body or one that is weak and frail. My concern is not that we all must be healthy and strong. My concern is the lack of interest in and commitment to treating our bodies with respect and honoring God with the bodies He has given to us for His purposes and glory.
This year I want to explore more for myself the connection between physical and spiritual health that is missing in much of our theology. The Apostle John expressed his concern for both when he wrote,
Dear friend, I am praying that all is well with you and that your body is as healthy as I know your soul is. (3 John 3-The Living Bible)
Nothing encourages me more than experiencing answers to prayer or hearing how God has answered the prayers of others. However, we often act as if “Yes” is the only answer we can receive from God, but “No”, or “Not now” are answers that should be acknowledged and celebrated as well.
This is the first of several videos where I share personal answers to prayer. In this one I share how a “No’ from God greatly impacted my life.
I hope you will be encouraged to accept “No” from God as much as you are willing to accept “Yes”. I’ll share more about other answers to prayer I have received in upcoming videos.
I would be interested in hearing from you any questions or experiences about prayer that you would like to share!
A “Happy New Year” to all of you!
Thank you for your support and encouragement during 2016, particularly regarding my YouTube videos.
You may be wondering why I started making videos. There are three reasons for me venturing out into this new field:
- I heard from one person who regularly produces videos that he could create a video faster than he could write a blog post so I wanted to try it. Blog writing takes a lot of time even after the content is written. Formatting, checking spelling and making sure all the links work, takes more time than one would think. Less time with the mechanics of blogging leaves me with more time to write and create material.
- Videos are growing increasingly popular and people are spending more time than ever watching videos, even on their phones. I want to get my message out so the most popular medium is the one I want to use.
- Videos are a great way to communicate. Watching a speaker is so different from reading their words. Hearing their voice, watching their expressions and seeing what they look like help people connect to a communicator. I want my subscribers to not just hear my message but to also connect with me.
After producing my first YouTube video, I was amazed at how easily and how quickly it was shared. Feedback was almost instant. Many more people saw that first video than ever read any of my blog posts and I connected with friends I had lost touch with.
But…I miss the discipline of writing and agonizing over words! Also, there are many topics I want to address that are not related to prayer.
So…in the new year I plan to be more consistent in communicating with you by producing two videos and two written blog posts each month on alternate weeks. That will enable me to continue the theme of prayer which I feel so strongly about, and also allow me the opportunity to explore other topics as well.
I hope you have grown spiritually in 2016 and look forward to more growth in 2017. May the Lord fill you with His peace as you face a new year with all its possibilities!