As a military member, leaving a church has been a small part of my reality of orders and transition to a new location. I never had to make the decision to leave a church without the military being the reason for moving on. When having to make that decision on my own, I’ll be the first to admit that it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. I prayed over the situation for nearly two years before I felt God releasing me to move to another location.
During that two years, I continued to serve and tithe. I continued to join small groups and lead women’s ministry. I also educated myself about differences in doctrine, about healthy churches, about how to leave in a graceful manner. I asked questions of my church leadership and I felt comfortable in presenting any of my concerns. I created an excel spreadsheet phase of pros and cons of nearby churches. Ultimately, I listened to the Lord…stayed when He told me to stay…moved on when He told me to move on.
Emotionally, the decision felt like a horrible breakup; like a divorce of the worst kind. It felt like the death of a loved one; like I was planning a funeral.
Let me be very clear–I’m not saying the church I left was bad. It was very right for the people who remained. What I am saying is this; God has released me from serving at that particular church. My focus shifted to finding another church. However, finding a new church home has been a challenge that I wasn’t anticipating during this stage of my life.
There are many things to consider when looking at a church. Is the leadership teaching from the Bible? Is there sound doctrine? What are the children and youth programs teaching? What are the affiliations? How is the leadership structure? Are the finances available and transparent?
Is it a healthy church?
According to Thom Rainer in “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” there are several ways to recognize if a church is not going to survive a season of illness and to recognize if they are unhealthy. In other words, I’ve been able to use this as a gauge to check the health of churches that we’ve been visiting. Usually it’s a slow erosion, which highlights that there is focus inwards on the church rather than the community, as well as a distinct focus on the past (and how the “good ole’ days” used to be). When the church doesn’t have a clear purpose, becomes obsessed over the facility or individual preferences, or worse…when the budget moves away from ministry and is primarily focused on staff or facility, then there is a disconnect in what is occurring within the church walls. As a new visitor, it’s nearly impossible to see if these things are occurring within a church without deliberately asking questions.
Rainer contends that only 10% of churches are truly healthy, while 40% are showing some symptoms of sickness, another 40% are very sick, and the last 10% are in the final process of dying. I know that every church has some semblance of issues. I recognize that churches are not perfect. However, as a result of Rainer’s analysis, I’ve been praying for my family to find a church in the healthy 10%. I’ve also been focusing on praying for the churches in the other 90% to have open eyes and ears to become the healthy 10%.
Through the process of finding a new church, I realized that I’m not the first one to face the challenge of church transitions. In the past, I searched for churches based on the style of praise music, the pastor’s speaking ability, or the programs available. Those things were important to me at the time, but now I’ve got a different set of items I’m looking for. Specifically, I am now analyzing churches for the breadth of teaching scripture, speech on Word and truth, the management of the budget, as well as the health of leadership of the church.
Ephesians 4:11-16 has given me direction and hope that my family will find fellowship in a new healthy church!
Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV) “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
I acknowledge that leaving a church should be a hard decision. It truly was. In so many ways, this season of transition has allowed me to rely more fully on prayer and direction from God. I know that the building up of the body of Christ will allow our family to grow roots in a new and healthy church.
RAINER, T., 2017. AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH. [Place of publication not identified]: LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCE.