The following is a version of a letter I sent to a good friend who was thinking about leaving a good church and beginining to attend another church for less than biblical reasons. I decided to incude this letter on our blogsite because this practice of church hopping and shopping is so common among professing Christians and because it is harmful to the individual Christian and the work of Christ in this world.
I received some disappointing news that you are thinking about leaving the church. Carol and I love you and your family and are sorry that you are even thinking about moving churches. We are sorry for a number of reasons. One is for your sake and the sake of your children. When a person joins a church there are commitments that are made that should not be easily broken. It is legitimate to leave a church if the church has become apostate and no longer is faithful to the Word.
Church is not just an organization where you go to get; it is an organism where you go to give as well as get, to minister as well as be ministered to. I would encourage you to read my book To Be Or Not to Be A Church Member: That Is the Question. That books lays out the basis for church membership and also discusses the responsibilities of church members. Consider what you are teaching your children about commitment and service.
It may also be legitimate to move to another church if the church to which you presently belong is teaching erroneous doctrine or practicing a philosophy of minstry that is seriously in contradiction to what God’s Word teaches or majoring on what may be considerered as minor, secondary issues. In keeping with and included in what I have just mentioned would be a church where either the leaders or congregation are allowed to live ungodly lives without appropriate church discipline being administered.
Unless I misunderstand your reasons for considering a move, none of the things I’ve mentioned apply in your situation. I’m not getting the impression you think your present church has become apostate; nor from what I understand are you saying your present church is majoring on certain issues to the neglect of other important issues. Nor do I hear you saying that they are overlooking obvious and flagrant ungodliness on the part of the leaders or congregation.
It may also be legitimate to change church membership because you are being called to fulfill a ministry there that no one else is fulfilling and that you could not fullfiill at your present church. In reference to your situation, I know the area pretty well and I am convinced that there is not another church in the area that more faithfully and practically and relevantly and accurately preaches the Word and ministers to people. Does your present church need to improve? Absolutely, as is true with the best of churches.
I know of some men who, after much thought, research and counsel with godly, humble, seasoned and mature men (especially involving the elders/shepherds of present church to which they belonged) decided to accept the call to to another area of ministry because there was no one else that was doing or was even equipped to do what they were being asked to do. When they made the decision to move to another ministry they did it after discussing the move with other elders of their present church and they made the decision because they fully expected that gifted, committed, devoted men like you would step up and make sure their present church would continue and expand its ministry in the area where they were located and through their present church to the ends of the earth after they had gone. If it were just a matter of personal preference I guarantee that these men and their families would not have even considered leaving their churches. Their going had nothing to do with what they would personally preferred. It was all about Him – For these men to live is Christ (Philippians 1:20 – 23; Matthew 6:33). It would have been easier and much more comfortable for them to live out the rest of their days at their present church and in their familiar circumstances, but they decided to deny themselves the easy path and move for the sake of unique ministry opportunities and needs. Have you considered these issues and have you consulted carefully with and listened to the elders/ shepherds under whose care you have placed yourself? (Hebrews 13:17; I Thessalonians 5:12,13)
Another reason why the news that you are thinking about moving to another church is disappointing to us is related to the impact that this will have on the people of your present church. My friend, have you considered the impact that leaving may have on the work of Christ at your present church? You and others like you are needed where you are. This is the time for devoted, unselfish, committed, energetic, zealous men to step up to the plate and be a part of expanding the ministry of your present church rather than hindering that work by leaving. Please I beg you to think carefully about the impact on the other people and on the total ministry of the church. And remember, my friend, the truth of a the statement that someone passed on to me. The statement was that if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it’s probably because it’s artificial turf. I encourage you, therefore, to stay and make your present church more fruitful and useful to the Kingdom than it ever has been.
Please also consider what kind of an impact this will have on your unsaved relatives (parents for example) and friends. What kind of a message will you be sending about Christ and about the church to them and to others who know about your participation in your present church? You must realize that as a Christian whatever you do will be either positive or negative in its apologetic and evangelistic value. Is it any wonder that unsaved people have a low opinion of the importance of the church and commitment to the church when many Christians have a very low view of the church and commitment to it?
And when you think about apologetics and evangelism to an unsaved world, consider these words from Ravi Zacharias. Ravi Zacharias is quoted as saying, “If the church of Jesus Christ rises to the challenge of HIV/AIDS it will be the greatest apologetic the world has ever seen.” Jesus tells us that one of the ways we are to seek His fame is by doing good works. “Let your shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” We believe that we as Christians have a unique opportunity to do just that by demonstrating the grace of God through sacrificial love for HIV/AIDS affected orphans.
I agree with Ravi. I know that your present church is very concerned about meeting the needs of the hurting and helpless and disadvantaged people of the world. They demonstrate that through their giving and praying for missionaries who minister to perople like that. They also demonstrate their concern and compassion through what they do for each other and hurting people in the area where the church is located. Well, I believe that being part of a church like this that is concerned about meeting the needs of the hurting and helpless and disadvantaged people has more apologetic and evangelistic value than all the words in the world.
Many today think very lightly of church membership. In fact, there are many who seem to be involved in the rolling stone or should I say switching churches phenomena. There are, as I have noted, legitimate reasons for moving your church membership, but the reasons that impell most people to move from one church to another are usually quite different from the ones I have mentioned. And, to me, this is serious.
And just how serious is it? Well, listen to what John Calvin said in his widely read and treasured work The Institutes of Christian Religion. Calvin wrote,”The Lord esteems the communion of his Church so highly that he counts as traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of the Word and sacraments.” ((page 1024) Could Calvin have stated the seriousness of church hopping more strongly than he did in this statement? If he could, I don’t know how. And while, I may think that the words he used were a bit over the top and perthaps stated too strongly, I do agree with his conviction that switching churches for less than biblical reasons is a serious matter.
So my friend, I ask you to please think on these things. Don’t leap before you look. Remember Romans 14:23, “Whatever is not from faith is sin” meaning, of course, that if we do anything without a conviction that it is supported by God’s Word we are sinning. The point being that I am encouraging you to make sure that what you are doing is according to God’s law and testimony (Isaiah 8:19, 20). I’m not saying that it is always wrong to change churches, but what I am saying is that if we do, we need to make sure we’re doing it with the approval of our God.
Be assured that we love you and will always do so regardless of what you decide. Carol joins with me in extending our warmest regards.
Your friend and brother in Christ,
Romans 14:7, 8