This is the third of a 3-part series of posts addressing the question, “what constitutes a good reason to leave a church?” The first couple of reasons were dealt with in the first post, and dealt with issues concerning the church leadership. Yesterday’s post dealt with a couple of reasons related to a church’s theology and practice. Today’s post deals specifically with conflict in the church.
So, the fifth and final “good” and “bad” reasons….
Good Reason #5 – There is no “good” version of this 5th reason, so let’s get right to the “bad reason”
Bad Reason #5 – conflict within the church – While #4 above may be the biggest component of the “consumer mindset”, I believe that this reason (conflict) is the number one reason why people leave their church. It is the both the most prevalent reason, as well as the most unjustified reason.
A couple of weeks ago the History Channel aired a 3-night mini-series about the infamous “Hatfield and McCoy” feud that erupted between two families in West Virginia in the late 1800’s. I found it ironic that in the movie’s adaptation of the feud, both families attended the same church. Some folks can give testimony to the potential for feud-like conflict within the church, but most often the conflict is left unaddressed while the festering wounds of the conflict continue to cause pain for years. Many have left their church home in such instances.
Scripture is filled with admonition to work out the interpersonal conflict we have with other people, especially within the church. “Love between the brethren”, not bitterness or resentment or hate, is to be the defining characteristic of those who follow Christ (John 13:35). Consider Paul’s exhortation to two women in the church at Philippi to “agree in the Lord”:
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Phil 4:2-3
Resolving conflict in the Body of Christ can be messy and complicated, but Paul gives one of the keys in Philippians, chapter 2, verse 3:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Paul then goes on the explain that the kind of humility we need to have in our relationships with one another is the kind of humility that Jesus displayed in His coming from Heaven and dying on a Cross for those who were in rebellion against His Father (Phil 2: 6-11).
If you are in conflict with another person in the church, please don’t leave the church over this. The hurt and pain that are a result of the conflict will not go away just because you move your membership to another church. In reality, you will only be bringing that hurt and pain with you to the next church, and it will become the filter through which all of your new relationships are established. Instead of leaving, please prayerfully, graciously, lovingly, patiently address the conflict in humility with a willingness to forgive and seek forgiveness where necessary. If needed, ask a pastor/elder or another mature believer to help you walk through this conflict resolution. Let the Gospel of Jesus Christ replace conflict with grace, and allow it to be a resolution that bring glory to God.
Conclusion – In over 10 years of pastoral ministry, I would have to say that the vast majority of those who left the church probably should not have left. Of those who left because of good reasons, over half of them did not leave well. Only a very small percentage of those who left, did so because of reasons that in my opinion are justifiable, and that when they left, they left well. My encouragement to those reading this who are considering leaving their church home, is to prayerfully reconsider. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you can’t just do whatever you want to do….you gave up that right when you made Jesus Lord of your life. Our obligation is to pray and ask God what He wants us to do, and then trust Him to give us the faith, patience, strength, and whatever else it might take…to obey Him.