You casually hear another church member’s name in discussion and you realize, “I haven’t seen [that person] in ages.” You do a little Facebook stalking–but to no avail. Who posts about church on Facebook, anyway? (People post on Facebook in church, but not about being at church!) You ask a mutual friend who tells you, “Oh, they go to [the church across town] now.” You try to find out why but no one really knows. It’s just ‘the way it is’ and life goes on.
We’ve probably all seen it… and that is a problem.
If you’re thinking about leaving your church or if you have friends considering the same–it IS your business (Below I’ve linked some helpful resources). The Scripture clearly teaches that the congregation exerts authority over the individual for the individual’s good. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul calls the congregation to expel an unrepentant brother. The congregation is called to watch for each other’s spiritual protection in Hebrews 3, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Paul also teaches that every member is a necessary part of the body in 1 Corinthians 12. A foot can’t just decide it’s no longer needed by the others in the body. If you’re members of the same church–You are connected. You need each other. You have right to each other’s spiritual lives.
God has also placed congregations under the care of spiritual leadership. These men, most often called Pastors or Elders, are vetted and appointed by the congregation in order to feed, guide and protect her members. Peter tells them to “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them” in 1 Peter 5. He calls them to do this in an honorable way so that they can be rewarded when Christ returns. Spiritual leaders have authority, and church members are called to submit to that authority in Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (ESV). If you have a pastor (and you should), then he has a right to know about and to speak with you about a church transition.
Along with these passages of Scripture, consider the visual aids of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The “Ordinances” are the possession of the church (as a congregation, cf. Matthew 28:20 and Acts 2:41). That’s why people don’t baptize themselves, or partake in the Lord’s Supper alone. The ordinances make the membership of the church visible. It’s not coincidence that most (at least most reading a Baptist seminary’s blog!) join their church in a clear, public and formal way. Sneaking out of a church is anything but clear, public or formal.
So if you’re thinking about leaving your church here are a few questions:
- Can I leave my church without consulting other members?
- Can I leave my church without inviting the counsel of my pastor(s)?
- What motivations could cause me to secretly and casually end something that started so clearly, publicly and formally?
If sneaking out seems attractive–think on these texts and pray for wisdom. Leaving a church in secret is never loving. Leaving a church without counsel is never wise. You can’t (obediently) sneak out of church.