Thursday, May 7, 2015

Five legitimate reasons why people leave churches and how to stop them from leaving

Reason One: Favoritism

Favoritism can come in many ways. It could mean that people are treated better because of an elite status. Perhaps there is a congregant who is rich or donated time, services, or resources to the church more than anyone else. Another reason could be racism. For some reason, a church may have favoritism for one race or culture other over another or may discriminate against one group. Then there is family history. Let's face it: nearly every church is going to have that pair or half dozen families that have been there for generation after generation, and therefore are given much influence. Or, this could be the family of the pastor. For whatever reason, favoritism is wrong! James 2 says this specifically. Favoritism gives the church a bad name and threatens the harmony of the church.

If you see favoritism going on, the best thing to do is to not contribute to it, for starters, but also call it out as it is. If you notice that it's going on then, have the courage to confront the offenders and call them out on it, but in a gentle and loving way. If they still will not budge or will be offended, then take bring along a witness or take it to the rest of the church as outlined in Matthew 18. If after the church, aka the pastor, is involved and still nothing is done about the favoritism, then that person needs to be isolated in one way or the other according to 1 Corinthians 5,  for the sake of harmony sanctity of the church grounds and the church proper. If, for some reason, the church will do nothing about this, then it may be time for you to consider greener pastures. After all, at church is not truly a church unless it includes everyone and notes each person's contributions to be equally important and to value each person equally. This reminds me of an old African American joke: an African American man just moved to a town, and as soon as he settles, he starts looking for churches. He found a church that was huge and very beautiful. It has a spectacular choir which was much disciplined and used the best music, and they had a very educated and gifted pastor. When the man reached the top of the steps at the church and was about to enter the door, a group of ushers stopped him. They said, “You cannot enter.” Perplexed, the man asked, “Why?”  The ushers then said, “This church is for Whites only.” And they told him to leave. The next week, he tried again to enter the church, but different ushers told him to leave again. He tried to enter the church for about 2 more weeks. Finally, the last time he was asked to leave, he asked to speak to the pastor. The pastor then came outside to meet him. And the pastor said to him, “What is the problem?” The man said, “I just don't understand. I am a Christian a very devoted Christian, and all I wanted to do was worship here at your church. I just don't understand why I am not allowed to enter just because I am African American.” The pastor said simply, “Well, maybe you should go home and pray, asking Jesus why.” He then turned and went back to the church. And that was the last time he chose to try to visit that church. A few weeks later, the pastor was in town, and he saw the man leaving the grocery store. He remembered the man, and he was surprised that the man stopped trying to get into his church. So he walked over, and asked the man, “I'm just wondering, why did you stop trying to get into my church?” The man said, “Well, pastor, sir, I did what you said and I went home and prayed to Jesus about it” The pastor was intrigued. “Really?” The man said, “Yes, pastor, and Jesus answered me”. “Is that so? What did Jesus say?” The man smiled at the pastor and said “Well, the Lord told me, I have been having the same problems with you. I have been trying to get into that church since it first opened, and I haven't made it yet!” This story, while humorous, is a sad truth. The church that expects the Lord to enter should be welcoming. If reject a poor man, you are rejecting Jesus. If you reject a newcomer, you are rejecting Jesus. If you reject a person of color or a person of a specific disability, you are rejecting Jesus! 

Reason Two: Lack of Discipline

The second reason why people leave a church is because there is not enough discipline going on. I have seen way too much of this. We see it when the pastor's children are allowed to run wild because, since they are the pastor's children, they can do no wrong. We see it when a rich benefactor is allowed to mistreat people because of his contributions to the church. And, we see it when a pastor is allowed to do or say things that are against Scripture and that go against the body of Christ simply because he is the pastor. And a lot of this leads back to the first reason. Favoritism is a reason why a rich benefactor is allowed to get away with mistreating people is simply because he is used his resources for the betterment of the church building, or to fund certain programs. Also, it is the reason why a person is allowed to do as they please with or in the church--because of their influence because they belong to a specific family. And of course, there is racism, in which wrongs done against congregants of a racial minority are ignored. Just like that favoritism, not enough discipline in the church is wrong. 

Again, when you see this happening, you need to follow Matthew 18 if you see someone doing something wrong. They really need to be rebuked but in a friendly and gentle way. Well, you don't know that person's situation. You know they must be going through something very difficult. The thing is, Jesus called sin by its name when the prostitute was just about to be stoned by temple and synagogue leaders. He did not say that the prostitute had to sell her body because she was poor and had no husband. No, he said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. And when she was not stoned, Jesus told her, “Go and sin no more.” He did not say, “Oh, they were being intolerant or maybe they don't really understand you, or maybe they understand that even though you're rough around the edges you are a good person. No! He said to go and sin no more. That means, he was not excusing her sin but was instructing her on how to lead a moral life and to sin no more. Therefore, we should do the same. So, what if someone is rebuked with Christian love, but they refused to repent or make retribution? In that case, it is time to get the witnesses involved so that they could know that their sin has been noticed by more than one person and that there are others in the Christian community who want this person to come to repentance. If there were no witnesses, or if the person will not even listen to the witnesses, then again, it is time to get the church involved as Matthew 18 says. In most cases, in contemporary times, by church we mean the pastor. Meaning, the pastor must meet with this person and say what their sin is and encourage them to make retribution. Now, I know this is not an easy task, but it is the pastor’s job to do this! It is his job to make sure that those who are living in sin come to repentance and that both parties receive resolution and absolution so that there is Christian harmony. Therefore, a pastor's job is with the help of other church leaders, to keep the peace in the church. 

If the person after speaking to the pastor still refuses to repent, then as Matthew 18 says, it is time to treat this person as you would a tax collector. In other words, it is time to isolate the person from the rest of the community. And not in a cruel way but in a way to let them know that they are not living as a Christian should live, and this means they need some time apart to reflect and to realize what it truly means to be a Christian. In most cases, this means they will receive no communion lest they bring condemnation on themselves by defiling the elements. In other cases, it can also mean that this person will not be allowed to worship at the church in order to not disturb the other members. In either case, a person who openly refuses to repent needs to be shown discipline, and if they refuse to accept that discipline, they must be isolated from the community and not even be treated as a Christian. 

If for some reason a person is not by the pastor or the congregation if for some reason a person is not rebuked but the pastor or by the congregation but is allowed to continue to live in sin and to not and to not repent to the person they sinned against, then the pastor and maybe even the congregation shares in the sin that the person committed, and in fact, they are even more even more guilty of the sin because they refused to bring Christian harmony they refused to bring and they refused to fulfill James 2. 

Reason Three: Too Much Discipline

Then, there is too much discipline. Unfortunately, too much discipline can also go back to the first reason: favoritism. You see this when people who are poor,  people who are the racial or ethnic minority at the church, or people who are newcomers are given harsher discipline for smaller issues, yet those who are mainstream are not given get as harsher discipline than the situation warrants. For instance, if a person violates the commitment about bearing false witness against your neighbor, aka gossiping, is African American, poor, or  unconventional in lifestyle or hairstyle in a way that is not catastrophic,  yet the pastor of a congregation throws the proverbial book at them, then that's too much discipline. If a person who is a minority of the church—a political minority, if you will,  if you add class, race, and family history--has confessed and has made retribution, and yet they are still marked, meaning people refuse to forgive them and their sin is always thrown in their face, then that is too much discipline. 

Again, when you see this happening, be aware that this is also a threat to Christian harmony and an affront to the body of Christ. The way to handle this is to remind the offending parties (and when I say offending parties, I do not mean the person who is not being forgiven; I mean the person who will not forgive but judges) of Matthew 18 and which it says its a person repents then you then you are to forgive and you have won the brother over. Therefore, if a Christian confesses, repents, and tries to make resolution, yet you will not grand them true repentance, you are guilty of sinning against your brother (or sister) and Christ Himself.. Shame on those who do this! When you do this, you have to ask yourself, are you truly a Christian? Because a Christian truly understands what forgiveness means. The Scripture says, if you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven. Think about that one parable. To apply it to more modern terms, a peasant owed his king $1,000,000. The king brought him before him and said “You owe me a million dollars; pay up now!” The peasant said, “Please forgive me your highness, but I but I don't have the money now. Be patient with me, and I will pay you back. The king then felt pity on this man and decided to forgive the debt,  meaning he would no longer owe the  $1,000,000. Then one day, as the peasant is walking down the street, he ran into a fellow peasant who owed him $100. He then grabbed that fellow peasant by the throat and said, “You still owe me $100; pay me!” That second peasant said, “I don’t have the money now. Please be patient with me, and I'll pay you back.” But the first present would not listen. He had the second peasant arrested and thrown into prison until he could pay back the $100. When the other peasants heard this, they become very distressed, and they reported this to the king. The king summoned the first peasant and said, "You are ungrateful!" If I was so gracious enough to forgive you rather a large debt you owed me, why did didn't you forgive your servant for that he owed you? And then he said to his guards, “Take this worthless servant, and throw him into prison until he can pay back what he owes me!” This, then, is what will happen to those who will not forgive. These are not my words, friends! These are the words of our Savior, Jesus Christ! Therefore, if you have the audacity to throw a person's sins into his face, how can you expect Jesus to accept you as a brother or sister? How can you expect God to welcome you into His kingdom? How can you expect your sins to be forgiven?! Therefore, if you see someone getting too much discipline or is not being forgiven, then it is your duty as a Christian to go to that judgmental condemner, and warn them that it is their duty to forgive and to encourage forgiveness from others. 

However, if that church then becomes an environment of judgmentalism and lack of forgiveness, then you know you're no longer in a church. And then it is time to leave unfortunately. 

Reason Four: Change in Liturgy 

A very common reason why people leave a church would be the change in liturgy. This reason is both legitimate and illegitimate. Here's an example: a group of people goes to a church that has traditional, High-Church liturgy. They enjoy it, they are used to it, and they look forward to it every Sunday. And then, church leaders decide to satisfy the needs and requests of others--to do away with the traditional worship and bring a more contemporary worship such as gospel, heavy metal, or just praise music. They would be affected by this and want to keep traditional worship. They try to get their voice heard, but no one seems to listen. Leaving for this reason is kind of legitimate because it's something that someone is used to, especially if they have used it for the majority of their lives and find it difficult to change all the sudden. This change is even more difficult when they did not ask for it and when their input was not invited or appreciated. Some will leave a church over this. It's sad and sometimes unnecessary. 

To this I would say two things: one, go to those who want to make the changes, and suggest having two services so that both groups of people are satisfied. Usually those who want to make these changes are not trying to hurt anyone. They are doing this to satisfy the changing demographics of the church, or to satisfy the needs of those they're trying to bring into the church. While both of them are good reasons, the latter can be dangerous if not done properly. Yes, it is important to try to get in new people, but it should never be at the expense of those who already there. Therefore many churches thought they would get more members, only to receive fewer members or the same. This is because for every new member they receive they lose one or two old numbers. Therefore, it would be necessary to encourage leaders to have two services: one traditional, and one more contemporary. Another possibility would be to go to the unsatisfied members who are losing their favor their preferred service, and encourage them to be patient yet more vocal. It would also be necessary to encourage them to maybe learn more about the proposed liturgy that’s to take place. However, for something like this, there needs to be some sort of resolution between both parties. 

Reason Five: Unappreciated Talents. 

This reason means that a person feels that their gifts offered to the church are unappreciated. We see this in a few typical ways: one may come up with a gift or a set of ideas that are considered unusual for a small or more traditional church, or  if there's too much red tape for a large church. Let's start with the second one. When you are in a large church, you tend to have a lot of people with professional degrees for everything that they do. For instance, those who are on the board for church planning may  run businesses or are executives. Those who are in charge of music often have music degrees. Regardless we must remember that there is no such thing as a music degree in the Bible. Also, an MBA is not needed to present ideas or suggestions for running the church building or organizing a group. Remember that sometimes the best ideas do not come from formal education but by experience or the desire to learn. Then there are small church ideas. Sometimes the church culture makes it very difficult for change to happen. For instance, it its funny, but one of the most common sayings in the Lutheran Church is “We've always done it that way.” Even though it has always been done that way, as long as ideas that are affordable and the biblical are presented, it's a good idea to allow those to be suggested. Therefore, if you feel that your gifts are unappreciated, the best thing to do would be to continue to campaign your ideas and your heart. Also, if you see that there's someone in the church who is the political minority and has not been getting the attention they need with their ideas, make sure that this gets known. Try to campaign for them. Also, if something seems funny or new, just remember that it may not necessarily be bad. Try it out, and if it doesn't work at least you were open minded enough to try new things. 

But what if you still need to leave?

Even when you follow these techniques and  ideas, there unfortunately are still times when a person must leave the church for reasons other than moving. In my experience, you should follow 4 steps so that you can leave your church with dignity and in the love of God. 

If you have any positions at the church, resign immediately or as soon as you can. 
Start looking for new churches; spend time away from your current church in order to get to know these new churches so that you can find a prospective congregation. By this time, it should probably be at least a month since you stopped going to that stopped attending that original church. By this time, church leaders in a church that's not too large may begin to recognize your absence and become concerned, and they may reach out. If they do not reach out, or if their efforts are unsatisfactory to you, 
Start giving your tithes and offerings to your church of choice. Usually for the large churches, they may not always recognize you resigning your position or that you have not been coming to church, but ironically, they will notice when they're doing the books that you have not been giving money for a while. Unfortunately, as King Solomon once said, “Money answereth all things,” so churches are no exception. 
Finally, after a month or two of not giving any tithes or offerings, and no one seems to notice, or something too severe happened where you cannot stay, or reparations for any offenses against you have not been made, it's time for you to officially transfer your membership and send them a detailed letter. In this letter, you should state what happened, when it happened, who was involved, how it made you feel, what you expected to see, and how nothing satisfactory was done about it. This way you can show that you're not just making a rash decision, but it's been thought out at great length. For this, unless it's hard to find a church that fits your needs, I would say from the time you stopped attending church to the time you try to transfer your membership, it should be about 3 to 4 months. Hopefully, it should not come to this, but if enough people or at least if enough people of a certain demographic should stop coming to church, it send a message out to the community. 

Naturally, it is pointless and dangerous to even try looking for the perfect church, but there are still times when staying in a church is a danger to your soul because it is either lawless or legalistic, and the leadership is often too corrupt or weak to truly lead. Hopefully, before choosing that new church, you will remember the reasons why you left the old one. This will serve as a blueprint for what you need or will not tolerate from wherever you go. 

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