Before You Leave Your Church…

Christian Living, The Church

(By: Nick Kennicott)

ExitOne of the realities of life in a local church is that people leave and go elsewhere. Sometimes, the reasons for leaving are obvious like the relocation of a family because of a job or simply wanting to live somewhere new. There’s no way for me to be the pastor of someone living in Texas when I’m in Georgia. They need to find a new church. Other times, the issues may be because to not leave would be a sinful compromise. There are numerous denominations today adopting various positions that are in direct contradiction to Scripture with regard to God’s law and morality, and to stick around is not healthy. If a Christian finds themselves in an unbiblical church (i.e. openly promoting or accepting sinful practices, authoritarianism, innovation in worship, etc.), it’s time to leave.

Sometimes there are issues which are less clear in terms of deciding whether or not to continue with the local body when there are differences. How significant are those differences, and would a change in one area necessarily mean all other areas would still be as biblical as they were in the church one is leaving? Sometimes there are bad reasons for leaving a church like an unwillingness to reconcile differences with another member or a pastor, or wanting to escape accountability. Of course, there are always people who are willing to leave because they like another church’s music or sanctuary design or children’s program better. To many, churches are like making a decision between shopping for religious goods and services at Wal-Mart or Target; if one shop doesn’t have what I need, I’ll find it at the other.

A lot is written about whether or not Christians should leave a local church for another one, but very little is often said about how to work through that decision. In his helpful little book What is a Healthy Church? pastor Mark Dever offers a few short, practical steps to help think through this important issue. If more Christians followed these steps, there would be far more unity in the body of Christ, and far more conflicts would be worked out to bring greater glory to God.

QUICK TIPS: IF YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT LEAVING A CHURCH …

Before You Decide to Leave

1.Pray.

2.Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.

3.Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?

4.Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships.

5.Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matt. 7:3–5).

6.Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).

7.Don’t divide the body.

8.Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).

9.Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically.

10.If there has been hurt, then forgive—even as you have been forgiven.

Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church?, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 56–57.

Healthy Truth, Exercising Love

Christian Living, The Church

(By: Nick Kennicott)

truth-and-loveFood is one of the greatest gifts from God. I love food. I love to smell it, I love when it’s put together in a way that is visually beautiful, I love to cook it and prepare it and try new things with it. Think of all the colors and textures and tastes, and the wonderful creativity that God has inspired in the hearts of mankind to come up with new and different ways to use everything so that we can have an ever-changing variety of edible options.

One of the difficulties with food is that not everything that we want to eat is particularly healthy. Cheesecake and bacon double cheeseburgers may be delicious gifts from God, but you won’t be doing much for the Kingdom after a few days if that’s all you eat! God gives us food to teach us self-control just as much as He gives it to delight and sustain us. Oftentimes, (ok, let’s be honest, most of the time) the healthiest options aren’t always the most delicious. For some reason, eating 46 loaves of bread is not the same as eating raw cauliflower or a bag of kale chips (mainly because Kale Chips aren’t actually made for human consumption). If you’re like me, it takes work to consistently eat healthily. And every medical professional will tell you not only to eat healthily but to also have a regular routine of exercise. Because what gets you out of bed more quickly in the morning than tofu and sit-ups?

Several times throughout his letters, the Apostle Paul uses the human body as an illustration of what a local church should be, and every Christian should be concerned about keeping the body healthy. If a local church is going to persevere, a healthy diet and calculated exercise are necessary, and in Ephesians 4:15-16 Paul tells us what that should look like: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15–16).

The healthy diet of a local church is truth

Paul isn’t just admonishing the church to tell the truth, but is addressing the importance of holding to the truth. Quite literally the text implies that we ought to be “truthing in love.” The truth of God’s Word must be held to in every local church that strives to be healthy, and the corollary is that everything unhealthy must be rejected. This is a corrective to the ecumenical spirit of only affirming the things agreeable to those who call themselves Christian. There are false teachers who are deceitful and crafty, and an open-ended spirit that invites anything and everyone to join hands without any standards is exactly what Paul writes to protect the church from. Without discernment and understanding of what the Bible actually teaches, and the fortitude to hold to it unflinchingly, the body will break down. In most instances, it won’t be obvious right away, but little-by-little the body will take on a new shape as it makes its way to the grave, and eventually, a mere glance at an old snapshot of what the body used to be will be evidence of an unhealthy diet.

A church’s diet is greatly assisted by the historic creeds and confessions of the church. One of the greatest benefits of confessionalism is being able to hold to something that has been meticulously written, worked through, studied, and proven to be biblical throughout the centuries. A church can claim to “believe the Bible” all day long, but the real question that needs to be asked is, “What do you believe about the Bible and what it teaches?” That’s where the true diet is found. Is it all sugar and fat, or is it healthy and nutritious?

The exercise of a local church is love

Many Christians seem to think we can say whatever we want in the way we want, as long as it’s true. But truthing isn’t entirely true apart from love; Our motives matter. We can puff our chests in pride and say, “I’m telling it how it is,” but truth and love are a unit that cannot be divided. In other words, we can eat a healthy diet, but if we aren’t exercising to use that diet in a way that strengthens the body, it’s not helpful. We need exercise, and the exercise of the local church is fulfilling the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

Truthing in love means we are humble in all we proclaim, acknowledging our own fallibility and susceptibility to mistakes and errors. “Sometimes the truth hurts” isn’t always a biblical concept in how it’s applied. Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 18:21 that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Undoubtedly, our words hold tremendous power and we have a great need to be instructed to “let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). The truth is powerful enough on its own that it does not need an unloving delivery to strengthen it.

The Spirit of God will strengthen and unify any church body that is dieting on truth and exercising in love, and they will grow up in every way in Christ so that the gates of Hell will not prevail against them. Trim the fat by dieting and exercising well. The Lord will bless the obedience of His Church, preparing us for that great feast with the Son.

Longing to Belong (Christ Shaped Church Part 1)

The Church

Have you ever been in a place and among a people where you truly felt that you belonged? Can think back to a precious family memory, maybe a Christmas morning or a Thanksgiving meal? Have you experienced that deep sense of belonging through sports, finding it in the camaraderie of mutual victory (or common defeat)? Has there been a particular groups of friends that know you inside out, that laugh at all the same jokes and cry at all the same stories?

On the flipside, have you ever felt deeply and desperately alone? I think we often miss the point of loneliness. Real loneliness isn’t utter solitude. It’s not found on a two-week hike in a remote mountain range. It’s not hidden on the dark side of the moon. It’s not even a rainy afternoon without reliable wifi. The loneliest place in the world is actually a crowded room, when you believe you don’t belong. There is no isolation deeper than having community all around you and still feeling like you’re on the outside looking in.

The Inconsolable Secret

The Christian Philosopher C. S. Lewis captured something universal in his essay The Weight of Glory:

The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality is part of our inconsolable secret.[1]

Lewis touches upon a common reality, what he calls our inconsolable secret, the shared fact we all desperately want to have a place we fit in and belong. Communally, we long for community. The human heart is like a puzzle piece that will never be complete on it’s own, one that can be quite easily damaged by trying to force itself where it doesn’t really belong. The phenomena we call nostalgia testifies to the truth that we all, deep down, just want to go home.

There are millions of false or halfway answers to our longing to belong. There are crowds upon crowds that we can join to try and quench our inconsolable secret, but they never work because what we are really seeking is not a crowd, but a community. There’s a very important difference between those two things.

A crowd is a place to get lost in; a community is a place to be found.

A crowd is a place to visit; a community is a place to come home.

A crowd a place to be a stranger; a community is a place to be family

Christ Shaped Church  

The only full solution to our longing to belong is found in the Christ-shaped community of the church. That is an audacious claim, but a congregation is called to be a community that believes it and lives it out. When it does, even this audacious claim can come marvelously true, but only insofar as the unity and core of the local church is Christ himself. That is what sets the church apart from any other gathering on earth – only the church has the personal promise of Christ that he will be with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)

God’s mission for the world is bound up in his people, and he binds his people together in the church. In articles to come, we will explore the ways that Jesus’ presence reshapes his people into his own image on earth. In so doing, we will encounter the answer to our inconsolable secret, and finally fulfill our longing to belong.

(by: Nicolas Alford)

[1] Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory, available for free online at http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf