Under the rubric “For the Church” in this month’s Tabletalk, Trevin Wax penned a very direct and helpful article on Christians leaving one church to find “greener” pastures in another. Usually this happens, as we also know, when the church of which one is a part experiences trouble, or one has been hurt by fellow members, or claims he/she is not being fed, etc. When Wax says “not so fast”, he means, “stop and carefully consider what you are doing”. Maybe Christ would have you “tough it out” in the church with problems, so that you may grow spiritually more where you are rather than where you think you might grow .
As one who has witnessed this “church hopping” with dismay (especially in areas where one has lots of church options!), I find that what Wax has to say is important and needful. I trust you will too. Here is a part of what he wrote; find the rest at the Ligonier link above.
Whether your church situation is terrific or terrible right now, it’s the gospel that should direct and shape your decision to leave or stay in a church. Circumstances aren’t what matter most. Covenantal commitment to the body of Christ is what counts. And our commitments must be grounded in God’s unflagging commitment to us because of Jesus Christ’s work in our behalf.
“But you don’t understand. The people in my church are really messed up.” True. But so are you. So am I. We are all sinners, saved only by the grace of a merciful God. We are all being slowly transformed into the image of Christ, and one way that God forms us into the image of His Son is to place us in hard situations where “loving one another” seems unnatural and costly.
If Christ remains committed to us, in spite of our continual failings, why should we not remain committed to Christ’s bride? In a difficult church situation, what looks more like Jesus: to hop to an easier church situation or to stick with a local congregation through the dark days?
Many people think their church’s problems are an obstacle standing in the way of their spiritual development. Usually, the opposite is true. It’s their commitment to their church, in spite of its problems, that is making them more like Jesus.
“I’m not being fed here.” Perhaps God is challenging you about your tastes and preferences.
“I’m not on the same page with the leadership right now.” Perhaps God is teaching you the virtue of willing submission, even when it doesn’t come naturally.
“I’m not being useful here.” Perhaps God is removing certain activities from your life, so that your focus turns from what you are doing for God to a greater emphasis on the relationship you should be cultivating with God.
The grace of God is transformative. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. The heartbeat of every Christian should be to look more like Jesus. Just as the facial expressions and physical characteristics of two spouses begin to reflect one another after many years of marriage, we should look more like Jesus every day. But this transformation will not occur unless we stay committed to Christ’s people, challenging and encouraging others as they challenge and encourage us.
Discipleship is like a rock in a rock tumbler. The rock is shined the more it bumps up against all the other rocks and water. Over time, the process turns a rock into a gem. It’s easy to want out of a “rocky” church situation. The process of refinement is never pleasant, after all. But it is in our bumping up against the difficult trials in a church body that we are refined into beautiful gems that reflect the glory of our King.
Trevin Wax is editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources and author of Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope and Holy Subversion.