Reading in Jay Adam’s Shepherding God’s Flock I came across this little snippet. Having gone through a rather large church split some years ago and working with people wanting to leave for various reasons, this word from Adam’s was instructive. As a leader in a local church these days, I also found Adam’s encouragement to churches receiving others from other local churches extremely helpful. What are your thoughts?
“”Frequently, needed pressure can be exerted upon another church to handle disciplinary matters that they have been seeking to avoid, by sending the counselee back to pursue the course of action outlined in Matthew 18. This advice, when followed, may lead to great blessing and strengthening of the counselee and the counselee’s congregation.
Carelessly receiving persons from another Bible-believing congregation without inquiry and investigation about the reasons for their change my lead, as has been the sad experience of many, to the reception of troublemakers who could not get a long where they were and will not get along in the next church either. People moving from churches for the proper reasons* and with Christian attitudes always will wish to do things in a decent and orderly fashion and will not object to, but will welcome, attempts to bring about reconciliation, exercise biblical discipline, etc. Beware of those who refuse to heed such counsel. Ordinarily, therefore, the contemplated change from one Christian congregation to another should be greeted (at the very least) by a thorough discussion of the reasons, and more often than not will eventuate in a series of several counseling sessions. If ever conservative churches could work together on anything, it should be in the recognition and exercise of church care and discipline. Herein lies the possibility of a new era for true ecumenicity among believers, based upon the common denominator for the authority of Jesus Christ in His Church.”
*E.G., such as major change in doctrinal beliefs.
So, according to Adams,we should not only think seriously about why, when and if we are considering leaving our churches. Valid reasons to leave include a shift away from essential Biblical doctrines or unrepentant immorality which goes unchecked. Other than a job re-location or major family situation change that would move you to another area, other reasons to leave really don’t hold up under biblical scrutiny. We laypeople need to hear this instruction.
But Adams also has instruction for church leaders. Be careful how, when and if you receive new comers into your membership. Carelessly receiving those who have left another church for less than Biblically justifiable reasons need counsel. They need to be encouraged to go back to their other church (a preposterous thoughts for our ‘church growth’ age today!) and it may take some settling of important issues with their former church before you can consider them ready for membership in yours.
Update: To be clear here. I’m not saying that leaving your local church for any reason other than (unrepentant) moral or doctrinal error (that you have tried to address in a godly, Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15-17 manner) is automatically sinful. What I’m trying to warn against is the light manner in which we think about church membership and so quickly consider leaving our churches. In our rampant consumerism-driven culture, we too easily give up when the going gets tough and leave our churches without really taking time to consider if perhaps the Lord is actually using difficulty, strain and hardship in your church to grow you and the body into greater Christlikeness and maturity.
The other issue I’m trying to address here is something I actually didn’t mention. This is the idea of being “called away” but not called to something. I’ve heard people say they were being called away from their church but they didn’t know where to. They reference the story of Abraham being called away and not knowing where he was going. I take the position that this is a misunderstanding of the story of Abraham and that the New Testament knows no such animal as being called mysteriously “away” from a ministry and not being called “to” a ministry. So – I would say that the Lord normally calls us to something. If that means, we need to leave our current ministry or local church (or job, or home and community) then that will be clear. But – and this is where I think it gets messy because people often neglect this part – this typically does not happen (conveniently?) when there is trouble at your current church, strife or hardship. We need to be careful and guard our hearts from thinking we are being called away right when the drama is high in the midst of your local church. I’m not saying God can’t do that, but I’m saying that the enemy would love nothing more than for us to think we are hearing the voice of God calling us to move on when in reality, we may be hearing the voice of the god of this age, calling us to give up and bail out on our brothers and sisters instead of fighting hard to bring reconciliation and unity in the situation the Lord has placed us. You ought to be able to leave with the blessing and encouragement from your current church and ministry, not with disappointment, suspicion and certainly not with any spite or bad blood between you and anyone else in your local church or current ministry. I hope these further points have clarified some of what I was trying to say in the original comments on the Adams quote above.