Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Doing the Church Hop (part 2)

It's my opinion and experience that most people change churches for reasons that hold no biblical water. I think having so many choices only serves to dilute commitment and circumvent healthy communication and reconciliation. In other words, if Sister Flapjaws offended me by something she said I'll just leave and find another church.

In my first post on this subject I suggested that one legitimate reason for changing churches is unchecked immorality in the congregation. Immoral behavior, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 not only silences a church's voice to the world, but creates something very un-Christlike in a body created to reflect His moral excellence. And Paul instructs the church to deal with it. Don't sweep it under the carpet or turn your head and pretend it isn't there. So if there is real (not simply suspected or rumored) immorality among the congregation and no one - including leadership - initiates steps to confront it, that church has ceased to function as a church.

A second reason would be a church enabling or accepting doctrinal heresy. Every church/denomination has a set of doctrines - a statement of faith - that says "Here's what we believe". A church's beliefs are it's foundation. We do according to what we believe. Beliefs precede purpose and vision.

Change is often good, especially if it enables a church to better accomplish her mission and purposes. Our church has changed radically over the past 17 years that I've been a part of it. How we "do church" looks very different, and as a result our congregation looks very different and has grown exponentially. Heck, we even changed our name, then built a new building and tore down the old. We've changed to reach our changing culture and community.

But what has not changed is our belief system. It's our anchor because it spells out who we believe God is and how He has entered our world and communicated with us. and to a large extent how we're to live. However, some churches change their beliefs. Perhaps a new pastor comes in who has a different take on some particular doctrine and begins teaching something very different. Maybe it's not a pastor but a church member who has been combing over the internet (!) and has found some kind of new revelation. Who knows. But churches are known to move from one belief to another.

The Bible gives plenty of warning to the church about guarding our beliefs. False teachers are to be noted and refused. Why? Because they divide. So what do you do if your church has changed something in its core beliefs? Well, if you think the change is wrong, you leave and find a church with beliefs that line up with what you believe to be true.

That means that before you ever join a church you should ask the right questions about its beliefs. Don't assume anything. Ask the leadership. Even churches within the same denomination can have variances. And if the church you're considering is "non-denominational/inter-denominational" that is even more important. Request their beliefs in writing. Once things are written down they're not as easily changed. Ours are found in our church's constitution. Every prospective member is given a copy and an explanation of what we believe.

And I also strongly believe that a church's doctrine is more important than its methods or worship style. In other words, choose a church on what it believes first. Then consider its other distinctives. I'm flabbergasted when people tell me they chose a church because it was "close to our home". Hello. In our culture most of us can travel beyond our own neighborhoods without problem.

But before you exit a church for any reason sit down with its leadership and be sure what you are concerned with is what actually is happening. Sometimes perceptions aren't accurate.

And one more thing (and this is a no-brainer). Know what you believe. Be able to articulate your beliefs. Yeah, you. Don't leave it up to the clergy to tell you what you believe. But that requires study and discipline in God's Word doesn't it?

Later I'll talk about other changes that might prompt you to consider staying or leaving.


Dirkey said...

We got married about a year ago and have since been going to my home church. Its about 30-40 minutes away and have found that is a real difficulty as far as getting involved in ministries as well as reaching the community we are in. There are kids we are ministering to on our street that we feel we can't invite to church cause its too far away. We're currently looking for something within 10-15 minutes away that is maybe a compromise between what my husband is used to (more traditional) and what I'm used to (contemporary). We don't hold anything against my current church, doctrinally they are amazing and I love the people.
We feel that God has placed us in the town we are in for a reason and we should invest in that town while we are there. So I do believe that there are times that you should choose a church that is "closer" to you.

Barb said...

I absolutely agree w/ Dirkey. We changed churches (but within the same denomination/theology) for that very reason. Our children weren't attending school w/ their church pals, it was a struggle to get them back for youth group, etc. We've been in our "closer" church for 15 years and yes, it's easier to worship, serve and invite others. Tho' I doubt this was exactly Rick's point, it is a factor for families.
p.s. Rick, please check out your use of its and it's. Just picky! ha.

Unknown said...

About 18 months ago, we left a church which had "merged" with another church, after staying at the "new" entity for more than two years. It was a very difficult decision, but the theology had changed radically from what it had when we joined the church - pre-merge (all but one elder who were around when the merge happened, and approved the calling of the new pastor, have since been removed from the elder board). We left behind people that we loved dearly, but theologically, we could not line up with what was happening openly. We view church membership a lot like marriage - it deserves that level of commitment from us. We give, we serve and we are invested in our membership. We consider ourselves wildly blessed to have an amazing church to now call home.

Rick Lawrenson said...

Your situation is certainly the exception to what I was describing. My inference was about people who simply join a church because it's in the neighborhood with no thought of what it believes or it's mission.

And I'm all about being "local". You're absolutely right - you can't invite your neighbors to go with you 30-40 minutes away.

Lee said...

My husband and I recently changed churches after 14 years in the same one. It was emotionally, physically and spiritually one fo the toughest things we've ever done.
I agree that you MUST ask the right questions about its beliefs. We were very new to the faith, and didn't KNOW the questions to ask. As we grew in our walk with the Lord it became increasingly clear that the church we belonged to was not lining up with Scripture. We also didn't know what we believed until, again, we studied, prayed, and learned more about the God we serve. Before deciding on a new church, we absolutely knew what we believed, what questions to ask and knew what would be the deal breaker in their answers.
Our kids were totally entrenched in this church. Unlike *dirkey* it was actually a plus that our kids attended church with kids they didn't go to school with. There were literally 14 schools represented at our church on a high school and elementary school level. What a great way to meet otehr kids in the community!
My husband was ready to go long before I was. He is a patient man and continud to pray for God to reveal to me that we needed to move on. We did the things that you suggest...speaking to church leadership about our concerns, which just solidified our decision.
I agree that *style* of church is no way to choose a church. Doctrine is absolutely the numero uno dciding factor. We left a VERY traditional church in terms of style, which our family loved, and are now a part of a growing awesome very very contemporary church. And I walk away every time I am there challenged to be more like Jesus, encouraged, motivated to share my faith, convicted, and totally loved. The style of church is polar opposite from what we are used to but the substance is soooo good that the style feels just right.
One thing we as a family WILL NOT do is "bad mouth" our former church. Doing so would not edify the church. When people ask us why we left (we were completely and totally involved, very visible family there) we simply let them know that the church is moving in a direction that we feel doesn't line up with what we believe scripture says.
It wasn't an easy move....I grieve for my former church family, but we know we made the best move. God is confirming it with blessings abound!
Thank you Rick! This subject matter is one that plauges many families. You are presenting it in such a biblically sound way. THANK YOU!

Dirkey said...

I realized I went a little off topic and you were getting conversation going, so that was just my two cents. No harm no foul. It is interesting to hear from a pastoral perspective correct reasons to leave a church.

Maya Resnikoff said...

I'm finding this set of posts fascinating, because it is so different from the considerations I would give to changing synagogues. First off, location is terribly important- traditionally observant Jews do not drive on our Sabbath, nor carry objects without the construction of a formal boundary around an area. So a shul that is close to home is very important- especially if you have younger children. Secondly, belief is much less stressed as the variations are somewhat smaller in that regard, while style of worship can vary drastically (and generally does line up with communal practice, which is a major concern), and is often a major factor in choosing a congregation.

So I'm looking forward to further material from your perspective with bated breath...

Rick Lawrenson said...

Those are interesting insights, Debra.

One primary reason for the differences might be that evangelical Christianity is less of a cultural communion than is Judaism. And there are likely more "choices" of churches in a given community than there are synagogues.

In those two respects Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Catholic groups even more would more closely relate to the "cultural" aspects of Judaism and the synagogue.