Every once in a while, when they find out I’m a pastor’s wife, new acquaintances ask me church-related questions. My favorite one is: how do I find a good church to attend? I like this question because it’s an easy one to answer. My philosophy is simple and it comes from almost a decade of observation as a pastor’s wife who is also a member of the congregation. Here is what I say:
You pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as you search for a church home. Then, when you find one where the Bible is preached and taught, that meets your family’s specific needs (children’s ministry, youth group, whatever your circumstances), where the people are loving and you feel God’s presence you stay and you stick to it.
It’s just not that complicated.
You stay and you work for the good of those people. You stay and you find out your role in that Body of Christ. You stay and you build relationships, open your heart to God’s teachings, and serve your brothers and sisters.
You stay and become a member of the family.
And you don’t leave.
You don’t leave because someone hurts your feelings because someone sometime will. You don’t leave because you didn’t like this event or that sermon because you won’t always. You don’t leave because there is better music or more dynamic preaching down the road because there will always be. You don’t leave because things are not being done your way because this is not about you alone.
And you don’t leave because people in your church are not afraid to lovingly and biblically point you in the right direction when you are headed down the wrong path. That’s what people who love you do: they care enough about your soul to risk your anger and point your sin out to you so that you can right your relationship with God.
That’s a church that is worth going to.
There is no such thing as a perfect church. Churches are made out of people with imperfect leaders and imperfect ideas. Looking for a perfect church will leave you wandering like the Israelites for forty years, never settling anywhere, never putting roots down. And you will wonder why you are as dry as the desert. We were never meant to do this alone. And church-hopping and church-shopping will only leave you lonely.
So when you find a home you don’t leave lightly.
You leave if God calls you to help start a ministry somewhere else where there is a need. You leave if the Bible is no longer being upheld in word and action. You leave if your family’s needs change and that church can no longer accommodate them and you cannot help them start the ministries that would. You leave prayerfully and carefully for when you are gone that church is never the same without you. They have lost a valued, cherished, and important piece of their family. The Body hurts and grieves.
And if you choose to leave, you show respect to your pastor by letting him or her know. This is a person whose job is to worry about your spiritual and emotional well-being. And the good ones spend many hours thinking about you, praying for you, worrying about you, writing you an e-mail, taking you out to lunch, investing their lives on you.
Leaving without an explanation it is one of the most painful things you can do to your pastor.
He or she will wonder if there was a problem. He or she will worry that you simply quit going to church altogether. He or she will be heartbroken that the Body is no longer complete. You are not simply a face in the crowd to your pastor. He or she loves you. It is his or her calling to do so.
Leaving a church is not like changing grocery stores without telling the manager. If you respect your pastor as a person, as a friend, as a human being, take the time to let him or her know you are leaving, even if the conversation is difficult, even if you are leaving angry, even if it is uncomfortable for you. He or she will appreciate this simple act of closure, honor, and compassion.
It is the right thing to do.
I hope with my answer not only to help them understand the process of finding a Christ-community but also to give some insight on how painful loss is to a church as a congregation. Finding a church is important, but staying in one is even more critical to both a person’s spiritual growth and to the community in which they have chosen to enter.
On a side note the pastoral family feels the loss in a very personal way. That it is inevitable and part of ministry in a church, does not make it less painful. Some we had known were coming and we understood, some we had sensed were coming but still saddened us, some blindsided us, some baffled us. Some we felt we were sending out with our blessing to be lights in other communities and some we felt were in the best interest of all. Nonetheless, no matter the situation, we have never shrugged our shoulders and just let it go. We have always grieved and prayed for God’s grace in all situations.
Joining with Michelle:
Joining with Michelle: