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Monday, May 14, 2018
When it's Time to Choose a New Church
TIME TO CHURCH SHOP?
One day you wake up, find yourself in the situation of facing a divorce.
Perhaps it is because of bad behaviors on the part of your spouse. Perhaps it is because of your own bad choices. Perhaps you had no say in the matter. Perhaps it is your only hope for survival.
In that wakeful moment, perhaps you recall a sermon in which your pastor made plain that he believes divorce has no place in the church, and therefore will not permit a divorced person in any leadership position in his church.
Perhaps you recall that you spouse has more respect in the church than you do, and you are not sure what your place would be on your own.
Perhaps you simply feel the embarrassment, the awkwardness of walking into the sanctuary you have attended for years alone, sitting in your usual seat alone, or worse yet, walking into the sanctuary and NOT sitting with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse who is seated across the room!
Suddenly you wonder whether it is time to make a change.
How do you know if it is time to consider changing churches? And what do you seek when you go searching? The first suggestion I would offer is this: don’t get in a hurry to move churches.
Because if you do decide to move to another church, you want to do so as a well-reasoned decision under the guidance of God, not because of a knee-jerk emotional reaction to a difficult situation. And because while there may be individuals in your church who may be difficult to be around, it is also likely that you have some significant friendships within the church, and those friendships may give you the strength you will need during the upheavals and loneliness of divorce. And because the only legitimate reason to change the church you are attending is out of the certainty that God is leading you to do so, and a decision of that magnitude requires time devoted to prayer and biblical reflection. Presumably you sought God’s leading when you joined the church you attend, so it is God’s leading you must seek to know that it is now time to go elsewhere. Without that, you risk stepping outside of God’s plan for your life, and that is never a good path to take.
I have seen divorced couples remain in the church they attended when they were married. I have seen divorced couples both leave to find another church, or even to quit attending at all because of the loss and betrayal they have experienced. I have seen instances where one partner remains in the church, and the other goes elsewhere. I have even seen instances where individuals left the church because they were asked to by church leadership who didn’t welcome divorced people into their church.
It truly is a time of significant upheaval. It is a time that Satan will use to push individuals away from their faith and their churches. It is a time when you will be severely tested, and in which it is easy to lose your way, or to make decisions from intense emotions that aren’t always the wisest choices.
May I offer some suggestions?
1) As I said above, don’t get in a hurry to leave. You may want to take a short leave of absence, you may want to change your routine by attending the other service your church has, you may want to sit in a different spot, and you may even want to visit another church or two. But don’t rashly sever the ties and endanger the support network you have built up over time. Get through the emotional rollercoaster first, then make your choice.
2) If you are in a situation where you are clearly not wanted and made to feel unwelcome, then it is reasonable to consider that God’s way of nudging you to somewhere else. But even then, if you don’t rush that decision, your presence may be the means God uses to help your church friends learn that there is grace beyond divorce and that your church needs to find a way to learn the road of grace in this area.
3) Journal some of your experiences to help you focus. Write down those scriptures through which God seems to be speaking. Record the encounters that cause you to think it is time to leave, or the reasons you believe it is best to stay. Keep track of the ways God is speaking to you in this area, so that in a more stable time you will be able to assess wisely the lessons you are learning.
4) Don’t leave your church to avoid facing the pain you have to work through. Let the hard experiences teach you, and learn the lessons from them that can become your path of healing.
5) Evaluate your church involvement…whether your current church or the next church you may choose, based on whether God is calling you to exercise your ministry gifts where you are, or in a new Christian body. Don’t make your decision rest solely on how YOU will benefit in a church, but how YOU can benefit OTHERS.
6) Don’t shift churches to find a church whose theology more easily fits your experience. At least, not right off. Consider that your theology sometimes needs to be challenged and stretched by being around those whose views do not feel so comfortable. Sometimes the combination of difficult experiences and uncomfortable theology can be used by God to teach us something fresh and lead us to a new level of understanding. Fleeing those difficult times short circuits the growth opportunity.
Let me say one final word. Over the years, I have had individuals come to churches I have pastored after having been battered and bruised through the trauma of divorce.
I have always been proud of my churches when they stepped up to the opportunity and wrapped their arms around these struggling individuals and imparted God’s love and grace. As a result, I have seen some of these people become some of the best church members I have ever had, because they have been through the fire, then come out on the other side knowing that God had carried them. Perhaps that will be you, if you are in the midst of this kind of turning point in your life as well.