I wanted to leave our church. So, I did the thing that people who want to leave do. I started a conversation with someone I was sure would agree with me. In this case, it was my husband. This is where the story took a dramatic turn. He disagreed.
“You’re doing the thing where you’re looking for reasons to be offended.”
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.
My husband was right. I was in a place where all I could see were the things that drove me nuts. There’s a funny thing that happens when you decide to “quit” a place or a person. You stop seeing any of the good things and all you can see is the negative.
There’s an art to quitting well or staying well. It’s an area that tempts us with our worst relationship habits. There will always come a point of tension in a relationship, either with a place or a person, where we decide if it’s worth it to put in the work to stay.
How do we do this well? I don’t know how it looks for you. I know there are valid reasons to leave a church, but I realized as I looked at our situation, the best thing for my spiritual growth was to stay. If you look at your situation and staying is hurting more than it’s helping, it’s time to go.
(That’s my disclaimer in writing this. We have dear friends who have made the decision to move on from a church home. They did it after thoughtful, painful deliberation)
*Don’t quit because your threshold for offense is low.
Gary Morland, author of A Family Shaped By Grace, says this:
“Everyone has their threshold of how much they’ll take. If yours is low, you’re always starting over with jobs, churches, and friends and your family life is dominated by challenging relationships” . . .”You don’t have to take advantage of your right to be hurt.”
My husband’s words are ringing in my head, right next to Gary’s on what it looks like when your threshold for offense is low. I’m taking an honest look at my pattern of reaction when relationships are difficult. It’s harder than I first thought. If I’m too easily offended, it’s not going to be solved by moving on.
*Does the grass look greener somewhere else simply because I don’t know as much about it?
Several months ago, our family visited another church. I sat there and took it all in thinking about how peaceful it felt there. It did feel peaceful. One reason for that is I was a visitor with no knowledge of this church’s particular idiosyncrasies. The other was that I had no responsibilities there! That’s a rare treat. It’s easy to think another place is better simply because we have less knowledge of it.
*Don’t quit just because there are shiny, new options available.
Commitment to one particular congregation seems rarer these days. My generation thinks about commitment to a local church differently than my parent’s generation. There’s a tendency to be looking for “the next big thing” and this applies to church attendance as well. Current church-goers seem to often be entertaining the option of leaving. When leaving is an option always on the table, it’s a lot more difficult to do the hard work of dealing with difficult situations.
Shannon Martin asked this question on Twitter not long ago:
What would church look like if we committed to one local congregation for the long haul? Asking for everyone.
— Shannan Martin (@shannanwrites) May 22, 2017
I replied with some words I’m still trying to live, myself —We could all benefit from staying in a messy community learning to love people, including pastors, with whom we don’t always agree.
Even with all different options out there, when it comes to spiritual development, I’m still committed to the local church.
My husband’s honesty about my discontent was a gift. In this case, my imperfect church was not the problem.
This is the spiritual discipline of staying.