Leaving a Church Well (Post #3)

Earl Blackburn’s little workbook Jesus Loves the Church and So Should You is worthy of every church member reading and working through.  I could see great benefit to small groups studying this material together, as well as incorporating some of it into a membership class.

For the last two posts, we have been reviewing highlights of the Chapter on “When it is Right to Leave a Church and How It Should be Done.”  Having covered the “when is it right,” let’s move on now to “how it should be done.”

If you are convinced you have biblical warrant to leave a local church, Blackburn says this is how you should do it:

  • With the Word of Christ dwelling in your heart and directing all your actions (Colossians 3:15-17);
  • With love to God and your brothers and sisters in Christ characterizing your exodus (1 Corinthians 13:1-8);
  • With the fruit of the Holy Spirit exuding from your person (Galatians 5:22-23);
  • With the mind of Christ governing your attitude (Philippians 2:3-4, especially see the context of vv. 1-12);
  • With the wisdom that is from above controlling your conduct (James 3:13-18);
  • With a forgiving spirit, void of bitterness, attending your exit (Ephesians 4:32; Hebrews 12:14-16);
  • With a sacrificial heart beating within you towards your brethren who remain (1 John 3:16-18);
  • With a face-to-face farewell (3 John 13-14).

Well, again, this makes me happy and sad.  I have almost never seen a church member leave this way.  I especially think the final point is important.  I have requested members leave this way, only to be ignored.  I can only believe that the reason a person would refuse to give a face-to-face farewell to their forever family in Christ is because he or she is leaving for wrong reasons!  

Blackburn then leaves us with these few practical suggestions:

  1. Seek counsel before deciding to leave, especially from your pastors and elders (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6);
  2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; in other words, leave as you would like to be left (Matthew 7:12);
  3. Clean up any unresolved matters before you leave (Ephesians 4:1-3);
  4. Leave in a way that does not cause confusion or division after you leave (1 Corinthians 14:33);
  5. Leave in such a way that you can be heartily commended to another church (Philemon 12 and all the verses that deal with commendation);
  6. Leave in such a way that your attitude and conduct will not hinder your coming back;
  7. Upon leaving, do not think or speak evilly of those who remain (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, especially v. 5);
  8. Make sure you know where you are going.  Do not leave without a plan as to which church you will go.  Many leave and stop going to church altogether.  Again, I remind you that the NT knows nothing of a churchless Christianity!

I am resisting the urge to write a 500 page book on #’s 1, 3, 4, 5, and 8!  In our church we have seen some seek counsel from pastors before leaving, only to completely ignore their counsel!  Rarely have we seen messes cleaned up and resolved prior to departure.  And usually pastors are left holding a bag of rottenness to try and explain to the congregation because the departing member is unwilling to give a face-to-face explanation to the congregation himself or herself.  This almost forces pastors to gossip!  And when it comes to #8, knowing where you are going, well, that just doesn’t fit with our church-shopping consumer mentality now does it?

As you can tell, this is definitely a sore spot with me.  I yearn for Christians to return to a biblical vision of church.  I pray often for God to make Corydon Baptist Church a radically different body of believers from the “typical” churches in our society.  And I believe He is doing just that, for His glory alone in the Gospel.  But for those who sometimes continue to treat the Church poorly and view her in more secular ways, we mourn.

I sometimes wonder what it will take to force American Christians to once again love the Church like Jesus does.  That thought scares me a little.  The Bible does say “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17).  And that is within the context of suffering and persecution.  This is how God has always purified His people on earth.

May we be a church ready to “suffer according to God’s will entrusting their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).

Our Lord and Savior suffered for the Church.  Why should we expect any different?

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Leaving a Church Well (Post #2)

Last post, we heard good reasons someone might leave a local church. These were taken from Earl Blackburn’s book Jesus Loves the Church and So Should You.  

In this second post, I want to share Blackburn’s reasons you should not leave a church, and I am quoting him at length from pp. 133-34:

  • Because you reject hard sayings and teachings of the Holy Bible and their implications . . . Other examples include biblical doctrines that are not palatable, instruction on church discipline, penetrating sermons, Sunday School lessons that seek to address today’s lawless practices, pastoral counsel that people do not want to hear.
  • Because you do not get your way about non-salvific matters (Philippians 2:3).  People often make idols of their own ideas or desires.  The church vote did go the way you wanted.  The pastors/elders or deacons did not do what you thought was best.  “I don’t like they way they did it …”  However, you must remember that the church in not about “you.”  The church is all about Christ! (emphasis in original)
  • Because you are unwilling to deal with personal sin when confronted (Matthew 18:15-17).
  • Because you will not work out personal differences with another brother or sister in a biblical manner (Philippians 4:2).  NOTE: Learn to work through difficulties with brethren in a biblical manner.  Do not run away to another church.  You will only carry your “dirty laundry” with you, see your problems resurface or worsen, and pollute the new church you attend.
  • Because you are under church discipline and you refuse to repent of flagrant sins or doctrines or teachings that caused scandal, division and offenses (see Romans 16:17-19).
  • Because you fail to live the way you should live within the covenant church community and before a watching world (Colossians 3:12-16).
  • Because you love the world more than Christ (2 Timothy 4:9-10) and you wish to return to the things that temporarily gratify the flesh.
  • Because you get angry and reject exhortations.  This often happens when fellow church members carry out exhortations and admonitions through mutual ministry (1 Thessalonians 5:14) or when pastors caution members of carelessness they observe.
  • Because the church does not have all the “programs” you want.  Activities and programs, which can create “busyness” to entertain or occupy children or teens, can easily deter people from the authentic purpose of the church.
  • Because the worship or preaching does not meet your “felt” needs.  Society today is so sensory-oriented and emotionally driven that objective truth is often overrun by subjective feelings.  NOTE: The full-orbed exposition and declaration of the whole counsel of God’s Word is more important than people’s desire for programs or their “felt” needs!  A consistent expository ministry will eventually meet all “felt” needs.
  • Because you are not a true Christian (1 John 2:19).  If you are a church member and come to believe you are not a true Christian, the thing to do is not leave the church, but repent and believe the gospel.  Let the pastor(s) know of your conversion, be baptized as a believer, and then truly join the church.

Well, this list makes me both happy and sad.

Happy because I am in such agreement with it and have been for many years.  This is a truly biblical vision of church cast by the New Testament itself!

Sad because of how few pastors and church members I see and know who embrace this full-orbed New Testament view of the church.  And even sadder by how many people and friends I have known who have left churches for these very reasons.  These very poor reasons.  These very shallow reasons.  These very reasons that mock the Doctrine of the Church as it has been given to us by Jesus Christ and His Apostles.

May God forgive them and us.  May God enlarge our vision of church. May we be given grace to do church in the way that makes Jesus look best and biggest.  Whatever man may say.  Make it so here at Corydon Baptist Church, O Lord.  And begin the work in my own heart!

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Leaving a Church Well (Post #1)

While it might seem odd for a Pastor to write a blog titled “Leaving a Church Well,” I for one think the subject has been ignored long enough!  Sadly, I have seen too many members (now former members) of the church I pastor leave poorly.  Even those who have said they were trying to leave the right way seemed to have butchered it somehow.  It’s saddening and sometimes maddening.

Last month I read a little book study by Earl Blackburn titled Jesus Loves the Church And So Should You.  I really wish every member of every evangelical church would read it.  The book is a treasure trove of practical biblical instruction on all things church.  To say this book is sorely needed, even among the members of the church I pastor, is an understatement.  Chapter 17 is titled “When is it Right to Leave a Church and How Should it be Done?”

Practical to the core.

Blackburn writes, “To leave a church in a godly manner means to depart correctly (for the right reasons) through proper resignation of membership.”

Lots in that one sentence.  Over the next few blog entries, I plan to present some of Blackburn’s points for us to ponder.  For starters, he asserts there are only a few biblical grounds for a person to leave a church.  I have argued this for years, only to be ignored by people refusing to engage with the biblical texts I have asked them to submit themselves to while considering whether they have good warrant to leave.

For Blackburn, here are the biblical reasons to leave a church:

  1. when a church departs from the gospel and the preaching thereof;
  2. when a church embraces and teaches heresy;
  3. when a church tolerates open and scandalous sin in the church leadership or membership and refuses to deal with it via biblical church discipline;
  4. when a church changes doctrinal positions not consistent with the church’s original Confession of Faith, doctrines, or practices (e.g., becoming paedobaptistic or charismatic);
  5. when a member (who is not under discipline) changes his major doctrinal position from that of his church;
  6. when a member is providentially moved to another location far away from his or her present church.

And there you have it.  I think he nailed it.  I have frequently told people that there are only about five reasons I would leave a church family.  Blackburn’s list closely mirrors my own.  And yet, the vast majority of members leaving churches in our culture do so for reasons other than those listed above.

Our view of the church matters greatly, friends!  And whether we stay or leave, and how we leave if we do leave, speaks volumes about our relationship to Christ and His people.  And those two things are always connected at the hip!

Next week, we’ll chew on some reasons NOT to leave a church.

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A decade or more ago, I swore I would never read another book on leadership.  As an undergraduate I readsomany I thought my head would explode.  Then, as an Officer in the Marine Corps I read even more to the point of insanity!  I was sick of reading about it.  I just wanted to do it.  So I swore off leadership books.

Never say never.

To graduate seminary I had to take a Course on Leadership.  Poetic justice, I guess.  So after the course, I swore again to never read another book on leadership.

Never say never.

For many months now, a book has just been sitting on a table in my living room.  I have no idea where it came from, and my wife says she doesn’t know either!  I finally got tired of looking at it and cracked it open.

Manna from heaven!

Leadership as an Identity by Crawford Loritts, Jr. is the best book on leadership (from a spiritual perspective) that I have ever read.  And I’ve read tons of ’em.  Let me share some of his words of wisdom with you from the final chapter of the book.  The Chapter is titled “The Legacy of Faithfulness.

Intelligence and ability will only get you so far.  Faithfulness will carry you across the finish line . . . A faithful person is one who steadily follows God and obeys Him consistently.  Faithfulness is the stuff of stability, the evidence of purpose, the signature of commitment.  Faithfulness demonstrates that we take responsibility and accountability seriously.  Faithfulness says that we believe that God’s assignments are important.

If you desire to serve God long term . . . if you want your life to count . . . if you want to leave a legacy with your children and with the people you serve as a leader . . . you will pursue faithfulness in your life.

One day out of curiosity my friend asked his dad why he never needed an alarm, and the father’s response was priceless: ‘Responsibility woke me up every morning!’  He had a mortgage to pay, mouths to feed, and a future to secure.  Responsibility told laziness, ‘Take your hands off him.  It’s time for him to get up and get after it!’

It is what you decide to do when the daily alarm clock of responsibility goes off that makes the difference.  Will you shut if off and roll over and go back to sleep?  Or will you get up and greet it with gratitude and holy ambition?

Here’s what I have learned: Distractions can cause you to be faithful about the wrong stuff.

God’s leaders who are faithful can’t help but bring a sense of holy gravitas [weight and substance] to their environment.  ‘Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord’ (Colossians 1:10).  When we do God’s will, our lives are characterized by a worthy ‘walk.’  Our faithful obedience to His will . . . ensures that God’s unique presence will be with us.

So, where are you being tempted to be faithless or unfaithful?  Marriage?  Family? Parenting?  Work?  School?  Friendships?  Small groups?  Bible study and memorization?  Worship attendance?  Evangelism and discipleship?  Accountability for your life?  

God give us courage to be faithful.  Make us faithful servants of Christ, O Holy Spirit God!  May we be those who are not just counted as church members, but those who can be counted on.        

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Before Posting to Social Media . . .

I’ve been listening every week for a few months now to podcasts from 9Marks and Capitol Hill Baptist Church.  They are a real blessing, especially in helping Pastors and Leaders think biblically about all things “church.”  The most recent episode, for example, was titled “How to Leave Your Church Well.”  Boy, is that ever needed in the church of America!  I’ll probably have more to write on that topic in weeks ahead, but for now, I want to share some lessons from the podcast of several weeks ago.

Pastor Mark Dever, in a recent sermon, made application of a text by giving his listeners Twelve Questions to Ask Before Posting to Social Media.

  1. Will it edify?
  2. Will it be easily misunderstood?
  3. Will it reach the right audience?
  4. Will it help my evangelism?
  5. Will it bring about unnecessary controversy?
  6. Will it embarrass or offend?
  7. Will it convey care?
  8. Will it make people better appreciate someone else?
  9. Is it boasting or boastful?
  10. Is its tone appropriate?
  11. Is it wrong on this particular topic to say nothing?
  12. What do other spiritually mature people say or advise?
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