The reasons for someone’s frustration in a church vary. Maybe they are upset because of a style change in the church. Maybe a certain program they love and believe in has ended. Maybe they feel like the decisions being made about finances are not the decisions they would make if they were in charge. Maybe they see a change in leadership that they don’t agree with or don’t understand. Maybe the methods are different than what they would choose. Maybe the church is putting a stronger emphasis on outreach, and in their opinion ignoring discipleship. This list isn’t exhaustive.
Not always seeing eye to eye is normal. Having different opinions is normal. But what is sad and breaks the heart of God is that many individuals who get frustrated or leave the church respond in an unloving and ungodly manner, and it creates a chain of negative results.
Where does all of this frustration come from? I believe James 4:1–2 gives us insight about where this problem stems from: “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have.” Isn’t that really the problem? We want our way, and when we don’t get it, we get upset. Whether it’s the man at the hotel or you in the church you attend, if we don’t get our way, we get upset. Many of us create a lot of pain, heartache and damage to the kingdom of God.
A good friend who is pastor of a large church in Asia once told me, “I would never want to pastor in America. The people of your country have no idea what loyalty is.” He went on to say, “The people in my country don’t leave a church simply because they get upset or because they don’t like something. They work it out and talk it out, but they don’t abandon their spiritual family. We are loyal to Jesus and loyal to our church family.”
Loyalty in America runs paper-thin. One of the reasons for this problem is the wide variety of choices we have. This get-what-you-want-when-you-want-it system has bled into other areas of our lives, including our church life. If we aren’t happy with something in the church, or if something doesn’t go our way, we simply wander down the street to the next church or isolate ourselves from relationships and watch our favorite church online. The only problem with this solution is that as soon as the new pastor or church doesn’t live up to our expectations or do things the way we think they should be done, we head off to the next church.
Your Church Will Never Be Perfect
Let me clarify some misunderstandings you may have about your church. It isn’t perfect. Your pastor isn’t perfect. The leadership isn’t perfect. The people who attend—and that includes you—aren’t perfect. Nothing is perfect about your church except Jesus. So because no one in your church is perfect and it is made up of imperfect people, there are and always will be problems.
As I always say, “If you find the perfect church, don’t go there, because once you do, it won’t be perfect anymore.” Yes, it is sarcastic, but it is nevertheless true. This chapter is titled “Quit Expecting to Wake Up in Heaven” because your church isn’t heaven. Quit looking for the perfect church; it isn’t out there.
We are called to give our heart, prayer, love, support, faithfulness, loyalty, encouraging words and positive attitude to the church that God has us at. There may be times when someone you know in the church starts to complain or become negative. When that happens, just remember that you are not responsible for other people’s responses; you are responsible only for your own. You do what is pleasing in the sight of God when it comes to your church, and the rest is in His hands.
I am not saying that no matter what happens, stay in a church and keep supporting it. There are some rare occasions when exiting (without talking to everyone about it) may be the right thing to do. But in my experience, leaving should be the exception and not the rule. It should never be our initial response. Too many people, when things don’t go their way, respond with negative words and painful reactions, and ultimately abandon their spiritual families. This is not what God intended for his bride. God’s desire for the local church is that we operate in a spirit of unity and love; that we are faithful to each other, encourage each other, and believe the best about each other; that we speak words of life to each other and about each other.
Again, your church isn’t perfect. No church is perfect. The imperfection found in all of us can create tension. How do we handle it? How does God want us to operate and function in His body of believers called the Church? God loves His church and every person who attends it. He wants us to have healthy relationships with each other, to act and react in a healthy and godly manner, and to be a family that He can be proud of and that people on the outside want to be a part of. This is the kind of family God wants. This is the way He wants us to be with each other.
This article was adapted from Chris Sonksen’s upcoming book, Quit Church: Because Your Life Would Be Better if You Did. Used with permission.
understands church growth and how to help pastors who may feel stuck because their church isn't growing. His personal experience comes from his own journey in pioneering South Hills Church, a multi-campus church based in southern California that has been widely recognized for its unprecedented growth and strategic approaches to doing ministry. In addition, Chris's church growth expertise has led him to found Church BOOM, an organization that has provided personal coaching to more than two hundred churches and impacted thousands of leaders. Chris and his wife, Laura, have two children and live in Southern California. His latest book, Quit Church, is available for pre-order now and will release nationwide June 5, 2018.