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.