This past Sunday I preached on the purpose of the church. You can read what I said here, I won’t repeat it all in this post. This week I was talking to a close friend and she revealed that her and her husband have stopped attending the church they’ve gone to for twenty years. When I asked if they found a new church, she responded that they aren’t going to church right now. It’s not that they don’t want to go to church but they haven’t found a church that they feel comfortable in.
As a pastor I am of two minds on this. Part of me is saddened that my friend is not attending church even though I know they are still good Christians. (And this isn’t my only friend who is going through the same thing.) But another part of me completely understands. Many Christians are frustrated that the church is not what it is supposed to be. There are petty squabbles over stupid issues and somebody offended someone else when they said something completely innocuous and unintentional. Many Christians I know just want to attend church to worship, hear a good sermon, and go home. The last thing they want is to return home feeling worse than when they left because of frustrating things going on at church that have nothing to do with the worship of our Lord.
I get frustrated by the things that go on in the church as much as anybody else. Really, it’s probably more because I know about more of the petty problems going on than the average church member. As a pastor it is part of my job to try to get the church to rise above all of the nonsense and make the church what it needs to be. I don’t have the option of simply not attending church. (Actually I suppose I do but that involves not getting paid and I’m rather against that.)
So I believe that the average Christian has one of two options when dealing with a church that isn’t to their liking. They can work to change the culture of the church and make it into what God wants it to be. Or they can look for another church that is already doing that. I’m not a big fan of changing churches just because of not liking how things are going but there are times when it is appropriate. When a church becomes more liberal than you believe the Bible says it should be, that is a big one. Odds are that you won’t be able to change the direction of the church, especially if it’s a denomination wide policy that has been implemented.
What I don’t consider an option is to stop attending church. People leave churches all of the time because they are mad at pastor or aren’t happy with something that is going on. It doesn’t make me happy when it happens in my church but it is a fact of life that there are going to be people who leave because we can’t please everyone all of the time. What I don’t accept is when people leave for these reasons but then don’t make an attempt to find a church where these things won’t be an issue. What it comes across as is an excuse. “I’m unhappy about problem x so I won’t be attending any longer.” But when a person doesn’t look for a church where problem x isn’t happening, it really says that the problem is an internal one.
Finally, there is no perfect church. As a pastor I will never find one and never be able to create one, even if I start my own church without the baggage and years of history that an established church has. Someone once said, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it because you’ll ruin it.” No church is without its problems. Sometimes those problems become so great that a Christian should part ways and find a church that will encourage their growth in Christ. Most of the time though it is better to stick it out and work to make the church a better place for you and for others.