Barry King asks us all a pertinent question
Church membership is more akin to being part of a body than to being a passenger on a bus.
So any suggestion that you might be a member of the wrong church or that you consider changing churches must be made carefully – very carefully.
Some people are members of the wrong church. Full stop. End of discussion. They are members of a church that has ceased (if indeed, it ever did!) to believe the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Theological ambiguity and its corresponding moral laxity has left the witness of the church in ruins. Christians in such a predicament probably should have left already. If they haven’t, they should do so now without further delay.
Question of geography
Leaving a church for theological reasons, however, is not the situation first and foremost in my thinking at this point. I am asking you to consider whether you are a member of the right church from a geographical point of view.
Where is the nearest biblical church to where you live? Are you a member of it? If not, why not? If you are, do you ever face the temptation to leave it and go elsewhere further afield? Why shouldn’t you? Are you a member of a church in your local area but know of a church in the next town or village that is weak and struggling? Why should you consider going over to help them?
Every Sunday when I walk to the village chapel where I tend to preach most of the time these days, I see Christians driving out of the village in every direction to worship in nearby towns. I know they do so for a myriad of historical, personal and theological reasons. I have wondered on occasion, though, if this is in keeping with biblical principles and whether or not it could rightly be considered best practice.
What message does it send to non-Christians in the village? Do they surmise that there must be something wrong with the churches in the village when even Christians won’t attend them? Do they conclude that should they ever decide to go to church they would need to leave the village to do so? Leaving your own area to go to church may have all sorts of unintended consequences.
What about the churches in nearby towns? At least they are being helped by this pattern. I suppose it depends on what is meant by helped. Yes, maybe their buildings are full. But that can become a disincentive to evangelise in the town itself: the building is already full. I personally know of more than one church that has extended their premises to accommodate people who don’t live in their town while faithful churches in the areas where their worshippers come from are virtually empty. Is this really good stewardship of the gospel or of material resources?
Helping where you are
Why not (with the knowledge of your present church leaders) visit your local church for a number of consecutive Sundays? Why not have the pastor of the local church or another church leader around for a cup of tea or a meal? Share with them that you are prayerfully considering the possibility of coming to them more regularly – perhaps even joining them as a member. Ask if there are ways that you could support them in prayer. See if there are needs you could help meet. They would likely be greatly encouraged. Such a contact might well be considered an answer to prayer.
You, on the other hand, may already be in your local church. After some years of patient and persistent effort with little visible result, you may be thinking the time has come for you to consider changing to another church. You may hear from friends about how much they enjoy worshipping in a larger congregation; about how nice it is not to have so much work to do; about how liberating it is to take a holiday without feeling guilty. The allure of this type of thinking can be quite real – and captivating!
I would encourage you, though, to take a step back and see whether leaving your local church for those sorts of reasons would be wise. Indeed, changes may need to be made in you and in your church. Begin with prayer. Continue by faithfully reading the Scriptures. Spend time with other believers. Cultivate relationships with unconverted neighbours. Seek help from churches in nearby towns. Be flexible. Be open to change. Be warm hearted. But don’t quit.
You may have children for whom you are concerned. I do as well. Communicate to them regularly what a privilege it is to be a part of a small church in your local area. Seek to provide opportunities for them to have interaction with young people who go to larger churches.
Our two teenagers regularly attend a youth club at another church. Since they are the only teenagers in regular attendance at our church, they really enjoy it and we are glad for them. Then we were recently encouraged when two young people from the other church volunteered to help us distribute leaflets in the village.
Asking for help
You may be getting older and feel unable to continue carrying the burden alone. Rather than simply leaving to find a larger church elsewhere, why not contact another church and ask for their help? No, they won’t do everything the way it has always been done. But that’s a positive, not a negative. If you transferred your membership to another church they would also do things differently to what you are accustomed to. Why not at least try?
You may be in a local biblical church already. By God’s grace your church may even be experiencing a measure of growth. Is there anything here for you to consider? Perhaps you should be prayerfully exploring the possibility of moving to another town or village to support a struggling cause. Bear with me as I share a word of personal testimony.
The strong and the weak
As my pastorate of the Grace Baptist Church in Wood Green drew to a close last year, my family and I were facing the prospect of moving from London where we had lived and served for over ten years.
Where would we move to? What would we do? I (as usual) had all sorts of preferences and preconceived notions. One day that verse in Romans about the strong having an obligation to help the weak and not to please themselves spoke deeply to my heart. Though, admittedly, Paul was talking about a different matter, the principle is nonetheless true.
We then chose to move to support a work in rural Buckinghamshire where three octogenarians from the local area met regularly with occasional visitors from a church in a nearby town. The Lord prompted another couple to join us. Slowly the work has begun to grow and recently a new church was formed. The whole process has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my Christian life. I would definitely recommend it to others.
You may be at a critical juncture in your life. Where will you go? What will you do? Let me encourage you to consider finding a small and struggling fellowship somewhere. Move to that town or village. Live wisely and winsomely in your neighbourhood. Serve in the church with humility and tenacity. Who knows but that the Lord will use you to strengthen one of his churches for his glory.
Are you a member of the right church? If not, I pray you will make a change.
Barry King leads Grace Baptist Partnership and serves Grace Baptist Church, Edlesborough