This week, I've had three conversations with/about people who have changed churches--either leaving their church to come to PBC or leaving PBC to go elsewhere. In a consumer culture, it's not surprising that any of us would so easily jettison one experience for another. But, in community culture--the Christian should think otherwise. Several years ago, I was asked to write an article about Christians switching churches. I came to three biblical conclusions:
Preserve Community. Healthy churches are formed around community relationships where people invest in one another.When people leave a church, the greatest sadness is experienced most often by those they leave behind--people who suddenly feel expendable. In a community culture, people think about others and seek to preserve relationships rather than sacrifice them on the altar of preference. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul encourages the church, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." I confess, this commitment to the many, rather than the one, is a constant struggle in the spiritual life.
Seek Harmony. Most people change churches because of interpersonal conflict. They are misunderstood, misinformed, mishandled. This doesn't surprise most people who understand that the church is an imperfect community, learning to do life with one another. When we operate from a consumer culture instead of a community culture, we fallaciously think the next church will be better [not realizing that we were part of the problem in our previous place and we will be in the new place, making our next church as imperfect as the former one].
Community-oriented people courageously strive to reconcile differences within the Body of Christ. They run to conflict instead of from it. Remarkably, when we apply the principles of peacemaking from the Scriptures, we not only discover better, deeper, richer relationships, but prevent another church from welcoming wounded, unreconciled people into their midst. God has given His church the supernatural ability to work through differences and grow through difficulty.
Affirm Diversity. It might surprise some readers to learn that there are things I don't prefer in my present church. There were also things I didn't prefer in my previous church...and the church before that...and every church before those. On the one hand, I think God designed it this way to remind me that church isn't simply about what I come to get, but what I come to give. At the end of the day, it's not about me.
On the other hand, I think God is ever-challenging His people to live beyond their preferences and to accept the wide diversity within the church. For every person who wishes the Worship Center was lighter, there is someone who wishes we'd make it darker. For every person who wishes we had life-stage home groups, there's another who treasures intergenerational community. So many opinions, dreams, desires. Stay long enough at this church or the next and you'll discover something or someone you wish were different. Perhaps the reason that the New Testament doesn't give us much detail on how to do church, but instead, how to be the church, is because God is more concerned about our personal unity [heart connection] than our protocols.
On more than one occasion, I have talked with someone at their departure and they have assured me that "God was calling them" to move on. However, my study of Scripture has yet to yield instances where God called someone away from His church. Instead, He places a high premium on relationships, reconciliation and diversity. I do find a covert strategy of the Devil to discourage, divide and destroy. The Christian must discern one from the other. Something to think about the next time we feel that we're good to go.