“Contra Church-Hopping”… or “Church Membership and Community as a Means of Grace (i.e., a Means of Transformation)”

I’m sorry I haven’t maintain this blog too well of late. Over a month since my last post!

It’s not for lack of things to write… and feelings to engage. In fact, it’s the strength of feelings that has held me back — making me wonder if I really want to put myself out there. Will folks be able to take it… and accept that I can have such feelings?

Still, I seek transparency. I seek to be a “disciple out of control.” And that, plus the acknowledgement that this blog has limited circulation, has me willing to journal here, now.

At the heart of my feelings (that is, at the heart of my heart) is a strong sense of sadness about and disappointment in Church members who have packed up (and here, I must say, it spans the years… and is not just a Strawbridge thing!) and left. And, more specifically, it’s their stated reasons for leaving.

It’s not that leaving a Church is unforgivable… or that there might not be reasons for so leaving and connecting with another fellowship. (I suggested such in a letter to the congregation in December — announcing an adjustment in our Sunday morning schedule: “ponder just what are the Biblical grounds for separating one’s self from a community or congregation… [Tolerated immorality {especially among shepherds/leaders}: yes, that just cause! The preaching or teaching of heresies: yes, that’s just cause!] Without wanting to put a false guilt trip on anyone(which would be spiritually abusive), I feel that the question needs to be raised nonetheless: “would/will your reason(s) for leaving the congregation on the basis of an adjusted Sunday morning schedule stand up in the presence of Jesus and eternity?”) Yes, very legitimate reasons exist for leaving one community and joining another! And, yes, very legitimate reasons exist for staying with a community — even when they don’t do things your way!

My frustration, as I’ve already shared, is with the stated reasons for leaving which I have heard from too many across time… and the reasons I still hear for leaving community. (Please, be advised: these lines cut across my years in ministry. Anyone reading this should be warned against assigning any of these lines to a given place, time, or person!)

  • “11:00 is the Traditional Worship hour in America!” (where traditional here means “traditional” worship)
  • “I can’t get up at 8:30!” (understandable from many elderly souls… the problem with this line was that it came from a soul who was able to go on a 2-week overseas tour [shortly after saying this] — a tour that had a rigorous morning schedule for those 14 days!)
  • “the youth make too much noise in their classes and disturb us… and don’t dress up for church… and don’t seem to respect my ways or the things I think they should!” (sounds like something Jesus sure would have spit out of his mouth!)
  • “I never thought it would mean this!” (the words of one soul who told me, “something needs to happen and we’ll support you and the church no matter what”… and then left when the “no matter what” demanded adjustments on their part)
  • “if the men of this church start cutting the yard, I’m out of here” or, another time, “if we start charging for donuts, I’m out of here!” (lines I heard at one church when we were considering some of the things we might do to balance the budget… again, donuts and a manicured lawn: the kind of things Jesus died for!)

I guess you can hear that I’m battling some strong feelings here. I surely want to avoid self-righteousness and attending judgmentalism. Still, with these acknowledgements and their attending prayers, I remain very frustrated and disturbed! I find it extremely hard to embrace these excuses in the light of Jesus and the Cross and the Gospel. Here, I affirm that the importance of Christian community is not that it conforms to us (and our tastes) but that it is a vehicle through which Christ works to conform us to Him. (And, as there’s more to conform to, perhaps there’s the potential for greater Christ-likeness!)

Truly, I am saddened that people leave the church. And, even sadder for the [empty] reasons they can articulate for leaving a local congregation. But, then, maybe here’s hope and consolation (and here I must watch out again, lest I deceive myself): that when some leave a church/congregation for the wrong reasons, there’s greater hope for the Church (capital C). For when there’s less people consumed with donuts and the churchyard and worship times and attire and having it their way, there’s more room for Christ and a singular focus on Him and His way!

Dear God, for all these attitudes — theirs… and mine:
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy!

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