Earlier this week, Andrew and I had a conversation about leaving a church, when it’s necessary, and how to do it. We discussed a couple of instances where leaving might be needed, but it really got me thinking. In reality, there are very few scenarios that warrant you packing your bags in search of a new church family. In fact, I’d argue that when we do hop from church to church, we are making it almost impossible to be the church that we are called to be.
One of the main ways that we can feed the consumerism that is so prevalent in the church today is by leaving and finding a new church community every couple years. I know that at any given moment, you can come up with an excuse to switch churches, but I truly believe that God is most glorified when we are fully committed to a local church that preaches the Bible.
So many people leave churches because of preferences. They don’t like the music or the preaching is too long or there’s not enough stimulation for their kids. But if we’re truly acting as the (365 days a year) church, it would seem inconceivable to jump ship based on something that we dislike about the once a week, 90-minute church gathering.
In Romans 12:4, Paul tells us that “we (who make up the church) do not all have the same function.” That means that you have something to offer your church community. Whether you’re a 54 year old electrician or a 28 year old stay at home mom, a middle schooler or an empty-nester, a world-class drummer or someone who can’t clap on beat, a Rhodes scholar or a high-school dropout, we are all members of the body, and individually members of each other. And this means that we all have a purpose. In his letter to Titus, Paul gives this instruction to the church:
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.
Over the last decade or so, there has been somewhat of a Domino effect in the Western church. I know I’m speaking in generalities here, but please humor me. First, we began viewing our church like a place we attend instead of a living organism that we are a part of. Because of this, we began projecting a consumer mentality onto our church communities. When church is just a place where you go to get what you want, it totally makes sense to maximize your time and find the place where you feel most fed, where the music gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling you’re longing for, and where the people don’t confront you with uncomfortable things (because they don’t know you). When our cost/benefit analysis told us that the church across town would offer us more, we began leaving where we were planted for the comfort of the biggest, newest thing. (Or, in many cases, for the comfort of an expression reminds us of the good ‘ol days).
Church leadership has responded to this by abandoning who they really are in an attempt to keep us from leaving. As people are filing out of their doors, they’ve panicked and began to offer corporate worship gatherings that offer the hottest new thing or a throwback to the glory days. The result is a segregation in our churches based on age, style, culture, and expression.
I have a rich family history. My great grandfather, Constantine Mavraganis, grew up on the outskirts of Corinth, Greece. At the age of 16, he came to know Jesus and put his trust in Christ. Being that his family was a part of the Greek Orthodox Church, his father told him that he must renounce his newfound faith or leave the family. Constantine chose to follow Christ, and so while he was still a teenager, his father brought him to America, and left him here.
My great-grandfather passed away before I was born, but I hear stories of him often; how he made up our current last name, Clarensau, so he could find a job during wartime; how he lavished affection on my grandfather and father for carrying on the family name. I’ve been hearing these stories my entire life, even as recent as this past Christmas.
My grandfather, Ted, has two kids. My dad and mom have two kids, and my aunt has four. I have two kids. There are 16 of us on the Clarensau family tree, and we were all under the same roof this past holiday season. It was a beautiful time. Grandpa has been battling cancer this year, and I’m getting tears in my eyes remembering the look on his face as he met Lennon, my youngest daughter, for the first time.
We spent our days catching up as a family, scarfing down way more gyros and snickerdoodles than is recommended, and continuing our family tradition of wearing six layers of clothes, sitting in traffic for two hours, walking another hour through a parking lot of drunk people at 11am, and then standing in sub-freezing temperatures for three hours, all to watch a football game that we could’ve watched in our living room.
I can still see the joy in my granddad’s eyes as he watched these four generations of Clarensau’s be a family. We are all very different people. We live in five different cities in four states and have very different careers, ambitions, and ideas of a good time. But we’re a family. The older have wisdom and knowledge and experience for the younger, and the younger have passion and excitement and drive that energizes the older. And because we are a family, we spend our days enjoying each other and celebrating our differences.
This is what our churches should look like. I’m sick of seeing church leadership abandon who they really are in the name of trying to draw a crowd. And I’m sick of church leadership throwing all of their older folks into a different time slot or auditorium in order to pacify them (while making sure that their money stays in the church), and feed the consumerism that has no place in our discipleship.
When someone walks into our building longing for community, how beautiful would it be to be greeted by a family; by those whose experience shows in their wrinkles and gray hair, by those with the wide-eyed optimism of youth, by children whose joy represents new life? Paul knew that this mattered so much more than style or expression or age when he told the church to encourage one another and not neglect meeting together.
So church, be the church… be a family. Grow where you’re planted. If necessary, set aside your personal preferences for the good of the body, and in all things, glorify God.