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Why should someone join a church?
Here are seven factors I believe every Christian should consider when determining where they are going to plant roots. These are listed in random order.
1) Discipleship: Is this a body of believers committed to making disciples? How does that look? Are you and your family going to be discipled as a part of this church?
2) Mission: What is the mission of the church body? Is the mission of this church something you can get behind and contribute to?
3) Preaching: Is this a church that values biblical preaching? Is the Bible exposited in the pulpit every week? Is the Bible exposited in all ministries (youth, kids, etc.)?
4) Theology: Is the theology orthodox and biblical? Is there a commitment to guarding and teaching sound doctrine?
5) Community: Is authentic Christian community valued at this church? Is it fostered? Is it redemptive?
6) Service: Is this a church that you can get involved in? More importantly, is this a body where Ephesians 4:11-16 is being practiced by the leadership and pastoral staff? Will you be equipped and empowered to serve through this body?
7) Leadership: Is the leadership structured biblically? Is the leadership focused on equipping the body? Can and will you submit to the leadership in this local body?
If these are valid reasons to join a specific church, I think it can be argued that these are also legitimate reasons one may leave a specific church.
Hold on a second. Even as I typed that last sentence I cringed a little bit. I’m conflicted as I write this blog. My hesitancy in addressing the “return policy” issue is that many Christians in America (and perhaps elsewhere) don’t need more reasons to be unfaithful to the local church. Many don’t even “take the tags off,” because they want to leave their options open. It’s like a constant day-after-Christmas setting, where traffic is thick and the customer service desks of every store sprout lines that make Disneyland jealous. In our culture many expect to be handed a gift-receipt along with the welcome packet when they visit a new church.
My goal here is not to encourage anyone to leave their local church without some serious prayer, fasting, and counsel.
That being said, I believe these seven factors (and perhaps others) can be valid reasons for praying about leaving a specific church. Let me address them in order.
1) Discipleship: Has the church stopped baptizing and preaching (Matthew 28:18-20 says that this is how disciples are made)? Or are you simply looking to disconnect because you’re being discipled?
2) Mission: Has the mission of the church shifted from making disciples (the biblical mission of the body of Christ) to self-preservation or inward-focused maintenance? Are you looking to connect to God’s mission through the church, or has your personal mission shifted to a search for comfort or enablement?
3) Preaching: Has the church become one where they “value the Bible” or “stand on the Bible” without every preaching the Bible? Please don’t use the “I’m not being fed” excuse for leaving your church, unless it’s actually true. “I’m not being fed” is usually code for “I want to be more entertained by a more charismatic presentation of a topic, whether or not the Bible is actually being taught.” In my experience people who are actually not being fed usually don’t realize it.
4) Theology: Has the theology of the leadership, preaching, or local body shifted from orthodoxy? This one isn’t thought about enough. Sadly, theology is usually the last thing people think about when joining or leaving a church.
5) Community: This is a dangerous one. A church hasn’t lost its focus or ability to foster redemptive community simply because your friend moved away. Perhaps your friend moving is God telling you to take the blinders off and initiate redemptive community with people you sit near but whose names you don’t know. Be careful not to confuse “community” with “comfort zone.”
6) Service: Have you tried every single way possible and you can’t get connected to serving in the church? Make sure that you’ve exhausted all avenues. Many times people find it difficult to get involved or to stay involved when a church is large or growing rapidly. Don’t leave your church because it’s growing. And don’t let a missed call or an email that didn’t get returned quickly dictate your decision to divorce the local body God has placed you in. Sometimes church leaders hog ministry and refuse to give it away. If this is the case at your church, pray and then talk to your leaders before rushing to judgment.
7) Leadership: This should be more about structure and equipping than personality. Sometimes God calls pastors elsewhere. Other times pastors leave for other reasons. Regardless, if the leadership of the local body you are a part of is biblical and focused on teaching and equipping the body, this shouldn’t be a reason to disconnect.