To Stay or To Go?

I read a lot of blogs frequented by brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe I’m perceiving a cumulative effect, but it seems that a lot of what I’m reading recently in the comments of those blogs has an undercurrent – if not an outright expression – of yearning to worship elsewhere.

People are asking whether they should stay where they are, and perhaps feel to miserably stifled and unable to worship with all their hearts … or to go elsewhere; somewhere they can breathe in more freely the Spirit of the Most High God.

Okay, I’m intentionally slanting the question in the direction that most folks asking it have it italicized it.

I gave my less-than-two-mite’s-worth recently on David U’s blog, Light and Salt, where he’s written about perceiving that angst, too.

Some folks are called to go. Some folks are called to stay.

The ones who have to go should do so … so their faith can grow and mature in an environment where they can do God’s work in the way He has called them to.

The ones who have to stay should do so … so they can mentor the ones who don’t have a clear picture of what God’s work should be, and help them grow and mature, and answer God’s call.

There’s no one right answer to the question of “to stay or to go.”

Our loyalty to the Bridegroom must be like Ruth’s: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Then I was asked to expand upon it later on:

I don’t know if I can explain anything about the way God calls us! But – just as Arthur C. Clarke said that ‘any sufficiently advanced civilization is indistinguishable from magic’ – I believe that anyone who feels compelled to serve God in a way that she or he is obviously gifted, and has God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within, is indistinguishable from someone who is directly called by God. For me, “called by God” covers a pretty wide range – from Paul being prevented to go where he wanted to go by the Spirit to David being picked out of a queue of brothers to serve as king … and everything in between.

Whoa, that’s a whole blog post in itself.

When you think “called to stay,” think about Timothy in Ephesus. There was every kind of nonsense going on there, and somone needed to be there to help straighten things out. There were false teachers worming a living off of young widows instead of trying to help them get by; there were people making outrageous claims about angels and genealogies and apparently praying against each other … well, you get the picture. It was far worse, in many ways, that what most churches have to deal with today.

But there are still a lot of churches where there is a misguided sense of what God’s will is – being right about everything instead of doing good toward everyone, for instance – and need to be mentored by folks who are more mature.

It’s a tough calling. It calls for sacrifice. It’s not for those who are new to the faith. It’d be easier to go back to the milk diet, but mature Christians need to be chewing on the meat … and helping others develop the teeth and the taste for it.

I have no less respect for dear brothers and sisters of mine who have left my home church than I do for those who stay, yet are not completely comfortable in its worship environment. I’ve blogged before that there are ways I would like to express praise for God that would be distracting, annoying and off-putting for others I love there. So I don’t. The worship environment is neither old-fashioned nor up-to-the-moment contemporary. It is a blend, and to many who are not satisfied with compromise on both ends of the spectrum, that is frustrating.

As Tim Woodruff and so many others have eloquently expressed, our purpose in worship is not to be satisfied but to praise God and encourage others. We feed the needs of our brothers and sisters in love, speaking in the worship language that resonates best with them. Not all of the time; that’s not possible. Hopefully, not grudgingly; that’s not fruitful. But we feed each other as generously as we can, while we are all fed by God through Christ. Lovingly. Generously. Patiently. One bite at a time.

Worship language is only a fraction of what causes frustration for many; there are matters of scriptural interpretation and teaching and mission emphasis that comprise a complex tapestry in each church. Personally – and I have no scripture upon which to rest this judgment – I think that those who are young in the faith need to worship where they are most comfortable; where they are fed with the spiritual milk they need to reach maturity. They’re not lesser Christians. They’re younger. I think that more mature Christians should seriously consider remaining where they are, to encourage others to think and read and weigh for themselves what God says to them through His Word and His Spirit, which are never going to contradict each other. God built diversity into His church from its very inception. He must want it there.

I think it may be to demonstrate to the world that we can believe the same, yet have different opinions – and still love each other almost as dearly as He loves.

I stay at my church because I love being there. I work there for the same reason. I can differ on matters of opinion with brothers and sisters there, and love them and be loved in return. Some I try to persuade; and some try to persuade me. Others I don’t pester, and they don’t pester me.

It’s not a perfect church, because we’re all messed up, sinning people. But we have a perfect Savior, and that’s more than enough.

So we stay. Most of us stay.

And when sometimes someone goes, we mourn a little bit. We miss them. We wonder if we could have been more for them. We’re always glad to see them back, even if it’s just for a funeral or a wedding or a community event. Because – for the most part – people don’t generally leave there, leaving behind an acid-edged, smoking hole.

But they do leave a hole that no one else can quite fill.

Did the church of Century One offer such an option: more than one Christian assembly to choose from in each city, town or village? Probably not. So is it a good thing today? It can be. Many Christian people find fulfilling church homes by visiting and searching. They find places they can serve in ways that they’re gifted that, perhaps, would not have been possible or permissible at their old church home. My point is, we don’t really have scripture we can look to for an answer to the question “to stay or to go?”

It’s a choice, a very very personal choice.

I think it should be made prayerfully, with fasting, in concert with every member of the immediate family, with a focus on worshiping/glorifying God and serving His children most effectively – according to the gifts He has given and the expectations He has for them.

If you can do that where you are, you should stay.

If you can’t do that where you are, you should go.

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8 thoughts on “To Stay or To Go?

  1. Keith, first a question, do you think that century one followers ever changed the house that they were meeting with, within a “city church”?And as a recent “leaver” maybe I am after milk, but I don’t think so.

  2. Tommy, I don’t have a clue whether each city had more than one house church (and, at least for a while, some met in synagogues). Letters seem to be written to “the” church in any given city, but that’s not conclusive. So I dunno. I don’t think anybody knows.I think – and this is just me – folks should leave their church if they are not being fed what they need in order to grow and grow closer to Christ. And I also think folks should leave their church when they cannot serve God effectively there, as He has gifted them.I wrote this post because I wasn’t fully satisfied with the answer I posted in David’s blog. It ain’t just a question of maturity on the part of the departing – sometimes it’s a question of maturity on the part of the church.There are churches led by immature leaders who insist on serving only milk – as a kind of lowest common denominator of spiritual nutrition – when their flock needs to grow and mature. It’s all they know. (And there are churches which serve watered-down instant coffee creamer and call it steak, for that matter.)When you can’t serve God effectively in a church like that, it’s time to go.Let somebody else turn out the light.

  3. Super post, Keith. Thanks for expanding on what you had communicated over on my blog. What’s evident in your post is that you have a wonderful heart towards those who choose to stay, AND those who choose to move on. I think that is the key. Both groups are still our brothers and sisters, and we will be in eternity with them some day!God bless you in your minsitry at PV, DU

  4. The real problem comes when you accept those who stay or leave, but those who stay or leave don’t accept you. Then the hurt is compounded. I wish we could just all “get along” and allow each to be his own person in God’s timing and not judge! Why do we think we have to clones of each other to be acceptable?

  5. The process is likely the most paingul thing I have ever experienced….and am still experiencing. As you know I chose to “go”. And I truly think my quest is for “meat” and for a church whose main emphasis is not the “Sunday Come to Meeting”. Not that I don’t love my brothers and sisters left behind…I do, a great deal. But I feel the need to “be more like Jesus”… to the world.Maybe like TCS I am getting a little sensitive…

  6. Angi and I left a church in a city where we lived for about a year. It was difficult. Angi had gone to college with the minister; was close to him and his wife. But we had to go.The men there didn’t sing. Not as a general rule, anyway; I did and a handful of others did. The rest just stood with their hands in their pockets.Jesus was hardly ever mentioned. He made a cameo appearance at the end of prayers and was occasionally talked about around the time for the Lord’s supper. Mostly, though, He wasn’t there because He wasn’t invited.We didn’t feel welcome, either.We went across town to a smaller church, just as conservative in belief and worship practice – not what our souls were craving – but it became our home because the people there loved each other and worshiped with all their hearts and Jesus was present at every worship hour.We still remember it fondly. That church has already planted another since we were members there, and is in the process of planting a second.The other church let their minister go.

  7. It is good to know you speak from having been on both sides of the issue.The easiest thing for me would be to stay…..but I just can’t….I just can’t!

  8. I appreciate your thoughts on this. This is certainly a difficult issue and one that is further complicated by the variety of choices. It seems to me that division makes this so much more difficult and gives us so many more options. If you don’t like the flavor of your church, go across the street to one that seems more to your liking. At least that is true most places in the south. It is hard to know what the answer is on this one. It seems like they didn’t have that struggle. It was either Christianity or many brands of paganism. Now we can choose from many varieties of Christianity until we find one we like. I don’t think people should be miserable in a congregation but I also wish people would try to make more a difference where they are at before they run off somewhere else where the cycle will probably repeat itself and they will get hurt again. God bless

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