The author points out that a church can spiritually leave a member by making “a change from traditional worship (many knew of no other type of worship), such as a change of attire or song selection.” Such a change can make a member “uncomfortable.”
He then notes that sometimes “more doctrinal issues” are at stake. “The result is the same,” the author concludes.
What should a member do? The author advises, “move on.” “You need to find the support of others of like faith.” “Once you find a congregation you are comfortable with, get busy!”
Notice what is not recommended. The uncomfortable member is not advised to talk to the elders and consider that their doctrinal views may be right and the member’s in error.
The uncomfortable member is not advised to suffer a little discomfort for the sake of unity or for his or her own personal growth.
The uncomfortable member is not advised to seek a church that desperately wishes to serve the community and seek the lost.
No, the uncomfortable members is told to seek comfort.
(Phil. 2:1-8) If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
If I truly want comfort, I’ll find it in the love of Christ–what greater comfort could there be?
And how do I find such comfort? By being like-minded with a common love, spirit, and purpose. “Like-minded” does not mean agreeing on everything, of course, but it does mean agreeing to stay. The solution to discomfort is not leaving, because leaving is the opposite of the oneness to which we are called. How could I leave people with whom I have the same love, the same spirit, and the same purpose?
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
If my discomfort is due to worship styles, how to dress for church, or any other non-doctrinal issue, then I have to subordinate what I want to the community. Leaving is selfishness, considering yourself better than those you leave behind. If you leave, they’ll have to do the work without you. They’ll have to carry the financial and ministry load. They’ll have to re-form their community with one less Christian. And they’ll suffer to loss of a beloved friend and brother or sister.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!
Strong language indeed! Aren’t we glad Jesus didn’t leave to be comfortable? Rather, he left the comforts of heaven to be decidedly uncomfortable–because his love compelled him to sacrifice, not to self-indulgence.
Now, things are different when the dispute is doctrinal. Obviously, you cannot stay if to do so is for you to sin. If you think clapping is a sin, and your church insists on clapping, then … stay! STAY! Because no one has asked you to clap. You aren’t being asked to violate your conscience.
The solution to differences on such issues–not involving faith in Jesus, of course–is to find a way to stay together without violating conscience. Multiple services. Or just not clapping. Be creative. Look for a way to remain a part of your community.
If the disagreement forces you to violate your conscience, though, it’s still not time to leave. Sit down with the elders. Recognize that they are charged with making such decisions. Ask them to teach you. Don’t demand change. Don’t make ultimatums. Let them do what elders do: teach. And listen.
Of course, you may not be convinced, but give them a fair chance. Don’t set yourself up as the ultimate expert on scripture. Be humble before God’s word and God’s leaders. Maybe they’re wrong. But maybe you are.
And pray. A lot. Ask for wisdom and patience. Ask for understanding. And be open to God’s workings and the elders’ teaching.
Finally, if you must leave–and sometimes you really must–search for a church that makes you decidedly uncomfortable. Look for a preacher that pushes you to learn more and serve more and pray more.
Look for elders who want this church to matter in the community and to the lost. Make sure they expect you to give generously and will hold you to account. Make sure they teach you things you don’t already know.
Look for a challenge, not a retirement–a mission, not a social club–a church that see itself as an outpost of God’s love reaching out to a hurting world.
In fact, perhaps the best reason there is to leave is that you are too comfortable: your church doesn’t challenge you or give you opportunities to grow or confront your weaknesses and intolerance and selfishness and push you to serve and mature in Christ.
Leave comfort. Seek discomfort. Like Jesus.