Over the next few weeks, I will re-visit articles that drew the most feedback in 2010. Here is one…
In America today, a significant number of people are switching churches, or leaving altogether. I’ve found that judging “rightly,” as well as unwarranted criticism, both play significant roles. Here are some points to consider:
1. Do the leaders, and the pastors, view the Scriptures as inerrant—the final authority? This is stating the obvious, but it’s worth stating: If a pastor, teacher, preacher, or minister challenges the authority, or authenticity, of the Word of God, they should step away from leadership. I’m not referring to differences over non-essential issues; I’m referring to those who disregard the clear commands of Scripture. Read Jeremiah 23 to gain a sense of God’s thoughts toward leaders who lead the people astray. If the leadership, and/or the pastor, is not solid in this area, there are biblical grounds to fellowship elsewhere.
Some may ask, but what if the pastor is no longer studying, and his teaching reflects it? Or, what if the church is leaning toward legalism, or compromise? These are clearly points of prayer. Pray specifically that hearts are changed. Spirit-led teaching is vital to spiritual growth, and legalism and compromise drain spiritual life from the church. But be careful not to confuse legalism with wisdom, and compromise with change. Legalism reflects a self-righteous attitude; wisdom reflects a humble attitude that is committed to God’s Word. Compromise often reflects turning from the truth, whereas some change is often necessary. Never under estimate the influence of faithful leaders who value and uphold the Word of God.
2. Is God’s Spirit truly leading? If God seems distant, and church irrelevant, or if legalism, and dead formalism are setting in, it may be that the work of the Holy Spirit is being suppressed. Brokenness, humility, and full surrender provide fertile ground for the Spirit. But don’t confuse a Spirit-filled life with sheer emotionalism. For instance, we shouldn’t make decisions, such as leaving a church, based on emotions alone. Emotions aren’t necessarily a reflection of a right decision, but a right decision can affect emotions. We should thank God for our emotions, but they are the caboose, not the engine of the train, so to speak. They follow, but rarely should they lead.
3. Ask, “Am I seeking to be used or recognized?” Another reason people leave is because they feel that they are not being “used.” Unfortunately, this can be the catalyst for resentment, bitterness, and gossip. They are, in fact, being used; that’s often not the problem. The problem is that they’re not being “recognized,” “esteemed,” or “promoted.” They’re not being given center-stage attention. Their name is not on the PowerPoint, or printed in the bulletin. For them, it’s not about being used; it’s about being recognized. God desires humility and servitude, not arrogance and pride. Oswald Chambers said, “God buries His men [and women] in the midst of paltry things, no monuments are erected to them; they are ignored, not because they are unworthy, but because they are in the place where they cannot be seen.” It’s often more desirable to teach, lead, or sing than to pick-up trash, clean the restrooms, or change diapers, yet our goal should be to serve, not to be served.
Maybe the Lord is teaching humility, patience, contentment, and servitude. Don’t rush when God may be saying wait. When God develops character, He does so to meet the challenges ahead, to prepare us for life, and to mold us in to Christ’s image. Trying times are not intended to break us down, but to build us up. The only way to build into our lives such qualities as love, joy, peace, humility, and patience is to be confronted with situations that require love, joy, peace, humility, and patience. How do we develop patience if we’re not tested? How do we develop forgiveness if we are never wronged? How do we develop humility if we’re never humbled? How do we develop character if we are never challenged? Seek to be used, not recognized, and focus on character develop, not comfort.
4. Do you have a critical spirit? This could also translate into a cynical, or negative, attitude. If you do, you’ve already turned a deaf ear; it will be difficult to discern God’s leading. Of all the books I’ve read, the sermons I’ve heard, and the devastation I’ve seen firsthand, one common denominator was present: Divisive, cynical, and judgmental people never experience true freedom, contentment, or joy. We must avoid being a “divisive man” who is proud, unteachable, and eager to dispute. Paul has harsh words for this type of person. (Refer to Titus 3:10-11.) Unwarranted criticism and judgmentalism, though skillfully masked, can, and will lead you in the wrong direction.
I’m not suggesting that God doesn’t lead people to leave their church, because He does. That’s why it’s important to first ask, “Is God truly guiding me?” before making an important decision. Remember: One of the best ways to know if God is truly guiding you is to stay, pray, and obey—stay in His Word; pray for guidance; obey His principles.