It has been a tough period for churches over the past 18 months. It has also been a tough period for all those who make up the local church. With the time away from meeting physically, there has been an extended period for Christians to consider whether they will return to their local gathering. There are many legitimate reasons as to why one may leave their local church. There are, however, some illegitimate reasons. With the necessity of the local church being challenged, some may deem it necessary to question what they once considered to be true about the church at large as well as the church they attend. Depending on the circumstances, it may become necessary for a person to leave their church. So how do we determine whether the time is right to leave our local assembly?
Help, I’m Offended
If you have been involved in a local church for any considerable amount of time you are likely to have encountered something that would’ve offended you. When the offence occurs, the natural reaction is to recoil from the environment where the offence occurred. It is uncommon to explore the nature of the offence and decipher why the offence occurred and whether the offence is as such that leaving the church is the first port of call. In our current cultural climate, cancelling a person is a better option than reconciliation. Instead of seeking to investigate the offence, we are quick to cut off the person as our way of resolving the issue. But is this the way of Christ?
Matthew 18:15-20 is often cited as the framework in which church discipline ought to occur. Jesus exhorts us that if our brother (a co-heir in Christ) offends us, that our initial response is not that of cancelling but one of confronting (Matthew 18:15). When we hear “confronting”, our minds can be filled with negative connotations. However, here Jesus doesn’t exhort us to be hostile in our confrontation but welcoming. The aim here isn’t to demonise the one who has offended you but to invite them into forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthew 18:15). What is more staggering is that if the person rejects our initial approach, we are encouraged to continue to pursue peace with the aid of others (Matthew 18:16-17). Where this world will tell us to protect our peace, Jesus tells us to pursue it; even if we are the ones that have been wronged. By doing so, we declare what we are – sons of God (Matthew 5:9).
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What Should I do?
There are cases of offence that occur which are sinful to those on the receiving end and these cases should be taken seriously. However, it is becoming increasingly common to brand everything that offends as “sinful”. If you are considering leaving a church because you have been offended, it will be prudent to pause and consider if this is necessary. We are not to be a people that are easily offended (1 Corinthians 13:5), so here are some questions for us to think through when offence inevitably knocks on our door.
- Why am I offended? When someone or something within your local church offends you the first question you should ask is why? Why has this person or this thing offended you? Are my feelings legitimate or illegitimate?
- Is the offence sinful? Not all offence is sinful. If your pastor is calling you out of sin into repentance, you may be offended but your pastor hasn’t sinned against you- in fact he (or she) has loved you as Christ has instructed them to (1 Timothy 5:20).
- Have I pursued reconciliation? Before you decided to leave your church have you pursued reconciliation? Remember even if you are the one wronged, the Bible still declares that it is our responsibility to pursue peace. Even if the response is less than welcoming.
- Have you prayed? When offence occurs, we can be swift to make decision based upon how we feel rather than how the Scriptures instruct. Whilst this may be understandable, it can lead to sinful responses. Before you make any decision, pray. Seek God’s face and He will order your steps (Proverbs 3:5-6).
- Have you sought counsel? While offence may not be the reason that you leave your church, there are other issues that can drive you away. Before you make the decision to leave make sure that you speak to mature believers in the faith that are part of your local church. These mature believers can often reflect on issues in such a way that you cannot. If there is no one in your church you can trust, seek mature believers in other contexts. There is wisdom in an abundance of counsellors (Proverbs 15:22).
Offence is one of many reasons that a person may decide to leave their church; it is not an easy decision to make and is one that should be taken with great care. If you find yourself considering leaving your church, ensure that your decision is wrapped with much prayer and sound counsel. While the local church is not your salvation, it is a physical representation of what you have been drafted into by faith. A local assembly declares the bounding of every tongue, nation, and tribe through the blood of Jesus (Revelation 5:9). Even with all the difficulties present, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?