Tonight I had a beautiful conversation with a church member who fell under conviction during a small group discipleship class. They were concerned that, although they were flourishing, growing, and serving at Graefenburg Baptist Church, they may have left their previous church too quickly and fell into the trap of “church hopping.” After listening carefully to their story, I was able to comfortably and confidently assure them that they had made the right decision.
Which got me thinking – what are the appropriate reasons for a church member to relocate to a new church? The issue is difficult because church members are heavily influenced by an age of consumerism. Church membership, however, is a covenantal relationship, not a consumer relationship. A covenant involves a binding agreement built on commitment and service to the one(s) with whom the covenant is made. Consumerism digests the current offering from a vendor until something better is found. A covenant is otherly focused. A consumer is self-focused. Thus, when church members are more concerned about their own needs, desires, fulfillment, and feelings, they are operating out of consumer minded standards. This will inevitably lead to dissatisfaction with the current vendor (church) and in time, a new one will be sought out. Much of the church hopping found in our communities is based on this model and is a pattern in need of correction.
That is not to say, however, that there are not legitimate reasons why a person or family might leave a church to find a new one. Here are a few reasons why I believe a person not only can, but should find a new church.
1. If the entire counsel of Scripture is not believed, preached, and taught. Any church that attempts to avoid certain biblical texts in order to skirt around controversial but critical issues is guilty of undermining the very spoken revelation of God. Since all of Scripture is profitable, it must all be dealt with. To “cut out” certain pieces is to say to God, “we know better than you what should be your revelation to us.”
2. If the leadership teaches or allows the teaching of heresy. This one requires great care because a teaching is not necessarily heretical simply because we disagree with it! Yet, if a church is teaching truths contrary to biblical principles and the church’s statement of faith, then it is time to move on.
3. If the pastoral staff creates division. Sometimes a certain kind of division is necessary. It will sometimes be that the faithful preaching and teaching of the word will not sit well with certain folks. Other times people might not be open to sound, biblical change in a church. This is not an issue with spiritual ineptitude on the part of the leadership. Yet, when a staff plays favorites, undermines the giftedness of each member, and creates a divisive atmosphere when it is unnecessary, then there is cause for action. (Titus 3:10).
4. If the church refuses to practice church discipline. Discipline is one of the marks of the local church. If it is not happening in any way, shape, or form, then it is time to begin the search process.
5. If the church is anti-mission. By that I mean a church whose primary and perhaps only concern is their own four walls. When a church becomes so self-obsessed that there is no regard to the world of suffering and lostness, then the church has neglected a significant aspect of their purpose.
6. If the church is moral-centered and not gospel-centered. This is pretty obvious. A church that is performance based and not grace based is not teaching Jesus Christ.
There are others that could be added to the list. I think you get the idea. The issue here is not simply getting your feelings hurt, or how long the preacher preaches, or the design of the children’s department, or the temperature of the church building. Removing yourself from membership in a church is a serious thing – you are removing yourself from a covenant you have made with a family of believers and with God. Although there are times when it should be done, great care, examination, prayer, and counsel are needed.