Monday, January 21, 2008

leaving the church

Today I learned that someone is considering leaving the church. It's OK because last week someone decided to join the church, so at least the ying-jang karma is balanced. [I'm kidding]But, it always hurts. A sense of failure always accompanies such choices, and I usually lose part of the day thinking about what I have done wrong. As such it is good, because it keeps me close to Christ in looking for the error of my ways, and it keeps me close to him when i need emotional support in the midst of my fears. Taking-the hits is always a part of being a pastor no matter what size the church. And most hits are imagined or unintended as such anyways.

But leaving a church is a hard thing. For everybody. For the friends close to them it gives them two questions. 1 is a great question, the other is not so great.

The great question is to look hard and ask "Is this the sort of Church that Jesus wants. Is this church on page with God. And finally is this the church that God wants me at no matter if I like it or this the church where he wants me to serve others with my gifts at this God launching me out to give my gifts and experiences to another body of believers." When we find that God wants to launch us out we should be able to find confirmations from accountability groups, small groups, and the church elders. And when this happens, it is bittersweet but it is missional and closure is possible for everyone. Paul was himself launched out, and this is normal and is a good indication of church maturity.

The bad question is to look around and say "do I like this, am i offended, is this meeting my needs, do i enjoy this." The danger with this perspective has a lot of problems in it.

1. The church for a believer is a place to serve more than enjoy. When taking supplants the desire to serve either the believer is simply immature or is headed backwards in terms of maturity.
2. Finding faults and offenses in any church is easy, and when it is dabbled with it takes root as a habit. Judgment is like crack will always need more if it; it will always get mor expensive; and you will always delude yourself that it is ok...even holy in some twisted way.
3. Rationalizing the decisions means looking for more offences [instead of giving grace and forgiveness] and often leads people to gossip to buttress their self argument. This is how church splits happen. Yes, yes it always looks like God is all-over such things.
4. The decision rarely is made with confirmations from other mature believers and spiritual authorities. And it usually has some wound, anger, or offense on the front end of the decision.
5. The decision often lacks a clear direction from Christ, and isn't a launching towards a mission, but treats church as a disposable non-profit club of preference...where the preaching, worship, and programs are judged and evaluated as 'good-enough to stay' or not.
6. The removal of the tithe, relationships and spiritual gifts effects others and yet a sense of responsibility and ownership of that reality is often ignored. Or we figure out a way to rationalise it in a way to satisfy our conscience.
7. and finally it causes others to ask the same question...the same way.

The hallmarks of a great church are always found in the DNA of the membership and their relationship to Christ. Issues of character, loyalty, compassion, grace, commitment, deference, passion, hope, collaboration, etc. A great church has a core that has matured to the place where these values and attributes of Christ form the backbone of personal and public decisions. As a young church, it will take some time for us to get there. And that's ok.

As we grow-up as a church people will come and go. I actually look forward to launching people forward, hard though that will always be. But sometimes others will leave through side-doors and back-doors without deference or dialogue. That's fine unless it is you. You should desire to be more mature than that, more responsible, more communal. The fact that you are reading this may very well mean that someday God will corner you with it. [I know he has with me...more than once. Because believe it or not, some pastors make decisions the exact same way. And I'm just barely mature enough to understand how wrong this is]

This week in 1st Corinthians 3 Paul is talking about this some more. The church could have split into 4 camps...4 preferences...4 divisions. He warns them that this should never happen...that unity in Christ is FAR SUPERIOR to divisions of preference [or judgment]. And one of the reasons the world doesn't take us seriously is the fact that there are so many splits, so many denominations, so many perspectives firing rockets and missiles at each other. And yet Jesus says that the world will see us as true disciples of his if we love one another.

and loving one another is hard, hard work.

and it is my hard work tonight as i pray for them...even as it is my hard work to pray for the ones that have joined with us recently. and i pray for those that will read this, not knowing how it will effect them. I pray for myself...and you...and our church...and the other churches in God's kingdom.

may grace, and long-suffering love cover and saturate all of us as we look to Christ and ask him what to do. And as we listen for the answer may we all be mindful of the answers he has already given us in his word...knowing that he will never say anything fresh that doesn't align with that. And that knowing his word, is to know his will about many things if not everything.

and remember

Jesus isn't calling any of us to speculate, gossip, or judge...he has those quotas filled to overflowing. What he asks of us is to look inside ourselves, our motivations...our character...and to choose to love each other as he did [and does]. That is plenty of work for all of us. For love and self sacrifice are what we are called to walk in and work out[ward] with our lives. Just as He did.




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