Have you heard about this church that recently opened up? The pastor preaches exciting sermons from scripture that also relate to real-life. If you haven’t been invited to at least three people’s houses for lunch by the end of your first day visiting, then you went to the wrong church. The Holy Spirit moves every worship service led by a team of heartfelt Christians who meet at 5:00am every morning to practice. Each service, you are guaranteed to hear at least three sentences from God. The children’s program is amazing, the youth and college age groups are spectacular and heavily involved in outreaches, and the singles group guarantees a godly match within two years of attendance. No one has been unfaithful, lied, stolen or had a baby out of wedlock, and everyone knows how to talk charismatically and educationally about abortion, homosexuality and Obama. And no one says bad words.
Sound like a good place? Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t exist. Sure, many churches strive to be many of the things mentioned above, but the reality is a church will never be perfect, so how do we know when to forgive and when to pick up and leave? Let’s unpack that answer with a story.
For the past four years I have not been a consistent member of any church as I have been hurt, dissatisfied, bored, unchallenged and to be honest, jaded. As soon as I began to feel restless, I packed up my Bible and pile of church bulletins and left to find the next place with a fresh crop of potential friends. After a while, I was prepared for disappointment and adept at avoiding something very important: the opportunity to forgive, or better yet, be forgiven. I’ve been afraid to set down roots because I know that the honeymoon phase of my new church will eventually fade as I learn no one is perfect (including myself) and everyone needs to be forgiven even when they don’t ask for it (including myself). So what do we do when the church throws us lemons? Do we come up with a metaphor to make ourselves feel better even though it doesn’t really make any sense? No. Fruit is not the answer to life’s problems.
Instead, I will offer a couple of tips relating to three types of scenarios.
1. Personality: You are the type of person who likes to hike in the open air, race down a river at night (very fun, by the way), and go to the gym. However, the people attending your church do activities like winetasting, classical ballet recitals, and gathering together to watch the next episode of The Bachelor. Consider looking for a church where you find at least a couple people who share your passions. The secret: You can find a kindred spirit at most churches, but you will have to talk to people. Also, bring up those topics on your own because people will most likely just talk about the sermon, the past week, and the coffee. If you can’t find anyone, make someone go with you on your adventures or try something new. Ballet recitals are actually quite enjoyable.
2. Doctrine: This is tricky for people who have deeply held beliefs about how church should be done. There will always be disagreements about how to interpret scripture and expectations for Christians. Just remember: forgive, forgive, forgive. If God told you to come to a church where you disagree with some of the pastor’s messages, forgive that person even though they are going to say the same thing again next week and the week after (it’s a five-week series after all). Many things are little and have no real impact on the heart of God’s message. Other things are huge and totally erroneous. If that is the case, you may be involved in a cult, and I would say get out as soon as you can. I have friends who can testify.
3. People: Ideally, people should not be the reason you leave a church. They should be the reason you stay because people are the Church. This is where forgiveness comes in. The secret: you may have to be the only one asking for forgiveness, but seriously. . . people love it when you ask forgiveness. It shows humility and strength. It means you can face a wrong and make it right.
In the end, it all comes down to the individual. Are we dissatisfied because of the worship and the use of an overhead projector when all other churches have upgraded to power point? If that is the case, think about your priorities. Besides the obvious point that God is the core of our spiritual life, people are a necessity. We need human interaction. The service lasts one hour and a half. Church could last all week as you make connections with people. Unfortunately, people aren’t perfect. If your decision to leave a church is based on the imperfections of others, ask yourself if you are being unreasonable or unforgiving. If we cannot forgive the church, then we will always be searching. And we will always be very, very hungry.