In grade school, I think it was, I learned in science class that animals, when faced with difficult situation like getting eaten by a bear, or rising home costs in the forest, have one of two responses: fight or flight. In other words, when the going gets rough animals either run away or they stay and try to kill you.
I think, when it comes to the church, we run away too quickly, too often. Someone confronts us or does or says something we don’t like and boom we are off like a shot, although usually it is a quiet, maybe passive-aggressive, shot.
In his gospel, John writes about a time when Jesus’ disciples were abandoning him (John 6). To be honest, I can’t say I blame them. He was preaching some crazy stuff about people needing to eat his body and drink his blood. I’d wake up from my nap if the pastor starting saying stuff like that, I guarantee. And so seeing all the deserters, Jesus asked Peter if he was going to leave too, now that things were getting a bit tough. Peter said something that I will never forget, “Where else will I go?” Peter hung in there and it paid off. I think we need to be less quick to jump ship, most of the time. After all, there is only one church, right?
Later, of course, things got really tough and Peter ran for the hills, and I think he regretted it. The Bible tells us he wept bitterly when he realized what he had done. He wished he had stayed and fought instead of denying Jesus, turning his back on him.
I am not saying you should never leave a church. I am just saying it should take a pretty long time. Longer than you might think and there are a couple things you need to be faithful doing during those trying times, in my opinion, before you head for the hills or the next church down the road.
Jude offers two tactics for when things get tough, especially when lawless leaders are running roughshod over the church. Here are two things to do when you want to leave your church:
First, you really need to stay engaged with God. Jude brings to light some serious issues happening in the church: corrupt, selfish, greedy, manipulative leadership. But instead of telling his readers to leave, he encourages them to stay engaged, to keep pursuing God through the tough times. He puts it this way:
Build your faith, pray, stay in God’s love, wait anxiously for the mercy of Christ. These are not the actions of someone on the run. This is what people do when they stay and fight, when they persevere through difficult circumstances.
Second, Jude encourages us to stay engaged with people. It is very tempting to want to hide in the corner, to slip into the back row and make an early exit during the final prayer, when things are good. How much more so when there is trouble. We don’t like to get involved.
But Jude suggests another course. Get involved, stay engaged with people, all kinds of people:
Some people need mercy. Some need to be saved from the peril lurking in the church, because they don’t know or see what is going on, or are weak and could be tempted to fall as well. Some need to be opposed (i.e., hated because of how they pollute the church). Not everyone needs the same thing, but they do need to be engaged. What they don’t need is to be left alone. They don’t need you or me running away, scared.
It took me three years, lots of prayer and fasting and countless conversations to leave my last church. It was a very difficult season for me, personally. I had been there for almost fifteen years. I had a lot invested and many friends there. And as much as I wanted to at times, I am glad I didn’t leave in a rush. I think that would have been a real mistake.
And I hope before you leave your church (hopefully you will never need to even think about it!), you will give yourself some time to fully engage both God and those around you. Regardless of what happens in the end, I think you will be glad you did.