Does God Want You to Leave Your Church?
- Monday, December 10, 2007
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Brian Sanders' new book, Life After Church: God's Call to Disillusioned Christians, (InterVarsity Press, 2007).
You show up at church every week, sing the songs, hear the sermon, and place money in the offering plate. But the whole time, you feel as if you’re just going through the motions out of habit and obligation. You’re not connecting to God or other people there, and you’re not motivated to participate in the mission.
So you think about leaving, but then you feel guilty. After all, you love God. And He must want you to stay at your church, right?
Maybe not. In fact, He might actually be calling you to leave. Here’s how you can respond to the frustration you feel:
Pay attention to your yearnings. Acknowledge the reality of what’s making you feel frustrated at your church, and listen to your longings for something more. Don’t dismiss your yearning for a better church experience; realize that your concerns may very well be valid.
Differentiate between leaving church and leaving God. Understand that it’s one thing to abandon your relationship with God, and an entirely different thing to leave a particular church. Know that leaving a church for the right reasons should strengthen your faith instead of weakening it. Make sure you’re dealing with issues of how well your current church is or isn’t functioning as it should, rather than a personal crisis of faith. Consider leaving only when doing so will free you to find a better way to grow spiritually.
Differentiate between looking for more and nursing wounds. Check your motives to honestly determine if you’re thinking of leaving because you want more spiritually, or because you’re upset about some way you’ve been hurt at your current church. Are you angry about something someone said or did there? If so, have you pursued healing and extended forgiveness with God’s help? Do you feel unnoticed? If so, have you made an effort to build relationships there? Make sure you’re not holding grudges, but truly looking for ways to grow spiritually that you can’t in your current congregation.
Consider whether or not you’ve grown out of the church’s message. Is your church geared primarily to seekers? Does it fail to help believers mature throughout their spiritual journeys? Have you tried to go deeper in your relationship with God there, but not found the encouragement and support you need?
Consider whether or not you’re able to ask questions. Do the people at your church welcome honest inquiry? Have you been able to express your doubts and struggles there without being ignored or criticized for doing so? Do you feel pressure to keep quiet about the deep spiritual questions you have stirring around inside your soul? Can you talk openly with others in your congregation about your questions, and participate in respectful and thoughtful conversations?
Consider whether or not your church is relevant to your real life. Can you relate your experiences in church to what you’re going through in the rest of your life? Does what is being taught and said and done in church help you at home with your family, on the job, and elsewhere?
Consider whether or not you have something meaningful to do. Do church leaders encourage you to use your spiritual gifts and natural talents? Is your time and energy taken up in activities that don’t relate to the church’s mission? Are you given the opportunities you need to contribute in meaningful ways?
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