In Bill Muehlenberg’s Culture Watch, he recently posted an article called “On Leaving Church.” He opened with this statement:
“There are many Christians who have stopped going to church. They have not given up on God, have not renounced their faith, have not denied Christ, and have not become pagans. They simply are no longer going to church. That this is happening is not a matter of doubt, but why this is happening is in fact a difficult question to answer.”
Muehlenberg lists a number of reasons why many people may be “done” with church. Here are a few:
- Many believers are growing tired of the celebrity culture in our churches.
- Many believers are fed up with the incessant entertainment and worldly amusements found in the churches.
- Many believers are not being fed from the Word of God.
- Many believers are put off by the attempt to cater solely to youth, while ignoring their needs.
- Many believers are tired of just being bench warmers, with no role to play.
- Many believers are weary of the constant need to be “relevant” at the expense of biblical orthodoxy.
- Many believers are starving for the reality of First Century Christianity.
He goes on to say that many believers who are “done” with church still meet in small fellowship groups to worship, pray, and encourage one another. It’s a thought provoking article.
To all who consider themselves “done” with church, I would say, don’t be. A number of the reasons listed above may be reasons to leave a particular church – for example, if the church is not being fed the Word of God, or if the need to be relevant has replaced biblical orthodoxy, or if it tolerates sin in the leaders. There may be many reasons to leave a church. But you should be committed to SOME church. Some of the reasons for leaving a church in the list above would be topics to talk to your pastors about, like if you feel you’re a bench warmer with no role to play. Ask where you can serve or meet a need.
If you are done with church because you are “starving for the reality of First Century Christianity”, consider the reality of the Corinthian church: gifts being abused, factions and cliques, serious immorality being tolerated, believers suing one another in court.
Or consider the reality of the Galatian church: legalism, believing “another gospel,” sowing to the flesh. The church has always had problems. Yes, we want to see God moving in people’s lives, but he does that in messy churches with real people who struggle with real sins.
In Revelation, Jesus told the church in Ephesus that they were doing the work but they’d lost their first love. Did he tell the saints in Ephesus to be “done” with the church? No – he told them to repent. The church in Laodicea had grown lukewarm. Jesus was close to spitting them out of his mouth, but he wasn’t done with them yet. And he didn’t tell them to be done but to open the door and let him come in and fellowship with them.
There are numerous reasons why we shouldn’t be done with church. Here are a few:
Jesus said, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18). In every locality he is building his church (Ephesians 2:19-22). He isn’t done with it yet. How can any believer be?
Believers need preaching, teaching, admonishment and shepherding from pastors who are over them:
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
If you are not in a church, then who is “over you in the Lord” and admonishing you?
Believers need shepherding and oversight and every believer is said to be in a pastor’s “charge”:
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:1-3
If you’re not in a church, then who is shepherding you, exercising oversight, being an example as a pastor. Whose “charge” are you in?
Though gifts of the Spirit may be exercised outside the church, they are primarily for gatherings of the church and building up the church:
“Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” 1 Corinthians 14:19
“So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:12
These are just a few reasons God’s word says we should be part of a local church. You may need to leave the particular church you are in now. But Jesus wants you to be in some church somewhere. A church with pastors, preaching, instruction, shepherding. It won’t be perfect. It will probably be messy, hopefully not as messy as Corinth. But you need to be in a church. And some local church needs you.