I wrote this post a little while ago, and have just been sitting on it, not sure whether I should publish it.
My hesitation comes from the fear that this may hurt, anger or offend some people. Which is not my intention at all.
My hope is that by sharing my experience it may help others find the freedom and joy that they are seeking. I believe Jesus wants us all to grow and flourish, and sometimes that means making decisions or taking action that not everyone may understand.
Not only has moving churches been my own recent personal experience, but it’s come up in a few conversations I’ve had. Other people have been wrestling with this issue too, so if this is you, I hope and pray this will help you.
Before I share with you our journey through this, please note the following.
This post contains some jargon and concepts that may not be familiar to those who have not been around churches for a long time. It’s coming from the perspective of someone (me) who has been in a Baptist church for more than 40 years and is aimed at people in similar situations – whether that’s long-time Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholics, Pentecostals … or whatever denomination you happen to be.
I want to make it clear that this post is NOT trying to:
- convince you to leave your church
- argue in favour of one denomination over another
- say that there’s something wrong with Baptist churches
- present a case for church-hopping – I fully believe in committing to a congregation and toughing it out through difficult times
This post also does not cover doctrine and teachings, and assumes you have a mature relationship with Jesus and spend time with him and his Word regularly, and know his voice and leading.
With that out of the way …
My History with Church
I’ve been in a Baptist church my whole life. I spent my first 18 years in my home-town Baptist church before moving to Sydney where I attended various other Baptist churches over some years. Eventually I settled into one particular Baptist church which became my church home for the remainder of my years in Sydney (some 8 years).
When I returned to my home town about 12 years ago, I went back to the church of my childhood. Different pastors than when I left, some people who’d known me my whole life, and others who were completely new to me.
Very recently, my husband Thomas and I concluded it was time to find another church. We’d struggled with the idea of wanting to leave for quite some time, but suddenly one day it was like a switch had been flicked.
Let me make one thing very clear: we did not have a problem with our church. No conflict, no disagreement. We had no problem with the teaching or the people. It might have been easier to make this decision if we did.
The first thing we did as we considered moving was to evaluate what our reasons were for staying.
Six Major Reasons we were Staying in our Church
- God hadn’t called us to leave, or called us to go somewhere else
It would have been a whole lot easier if we’d felt a real sense that God was requiring us to leave, or specifically calling us to another church. How much easier to tell ourselves – and others – that “God told us to leave”.
And perhaps that was what had kept us in our church for longer than we’d wanted to stay. We were waiting for that sign or call.
No, we didn’t feel called to leave. But we didn’t feel called to stay, either.
For a long time we knew God was calling us to stay. But we realised that time had passed, and it’d been a while since we’d had that sense of calling to stay.
Being able to say “God called us somewhere else” would sound very spiritual, but maybe sometimes it’s a way of saying, “Blame God.”
- Out of loyalty to our church family
Of course, we loved our church family. We’ve walked beside them for many years, and through difficult times. We certainly didn’t want to leave them.
God often calls us to stay in a place and continue serving those brothers and sisters there. And as I’ve mentioned, I’d previously felt called to that very thing. But I wasn’t feeling that same calling now.
We also realised that even though this sounded like a very Godly reason, it could easily be nothing more than a noble reason. Loyalty on its own, without any other context, is just a “rule”. Another kind of bondage.
- We didn’t want to hurt our church family
We knew from experience that when people leave, those left behind can feel a wide range of emotions. From anger and resentment to sadness and discouragement. I’ve felt all of these emotions when people have left before.
But staying and holding our own family back from something good that God might be leading us to, just because we might hurt some people, wasn’t a good or wise reason.
At the end of the day, we knew that those who loved us might be sad and disappointed if we left, but would hopefully understand and bless us in the step we needed to take. That’s what I had learned to do for others when they felt it was time to move to another church.
- A sense of duty to stay and tough it out
If you’re raised Baptist like I was, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about here.
Yes, God often calls us to stay in certain places and situations and persevere through the difficult times. To not give up, to struggle and run the race.
But this reason can easily hide a self-righteous kind of holiness. And it’s a one-sided, narrow view of God that suggests the only time we are being Godly is when we’re suffering and toughing it out.
Had we toughed it out enough? We didn’t know for sure. But we were at the point as a family, that where we were was no longer life-giving for us. And ultimately, Jesus came to give us life.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10 (NIV)
- We loved the teaching at our church
No, we didn’t love the teaching because it was tickling our ears. The teaching at our church regularly challenged us and fed us good, mature spiritual food that gave us something to chew on.
For me personally, this was a particularly strong reason to say. And it sounds like a good and wise reason, doesn’t it?
Except it was largely founded in fear. I was simply afraid of going to another church. Afraid of something different. Afraid of going somewhere that the teaching wasn’t as deep and challenging as I liked.
I let go of this fear when I realised I was responsible for feeding myself. There comes a point in your spiritual life when you’ve moved beyond the milk, have been eating the meat and should also be able to find nourishment from your own time with God. And I knew that God already taught me a lot through my personal time with him and his Word.
On top of that, living in such a privileged era with the internet, I could find “food” (i.e. teachings) anywhere in the world, including my current church’s sermons.
This fear was stopping me from taking a step forward. But it was a fear I had to surrender to God, and trust that if there was a problem with the teaching if we went to another church, he’d make me well aware of it.
- There was no other Baptist church to go to
In our small town, there were no other Baptist churches. If we left, we would have to go to … *gasp* … another denomination.
Interestingly, I truly believe God had already freed me from a lot of denominational culture. I’ve been in a wide range of Baptist churches over the years from traditional and conservative, to charismatic and expressive. And I’ve heard stories about my grandmother and mother being raised in fundamental Baptist churches. (Yeah, I’m not just 40 years Baptist church. I’m 3rd generation Baptist church!)
So leaving the Baptist denomination (even if it’s for a season) makes a big statement to my family and anyone who knows me. Yes okay. It was a big statement to myself too. I’d never imagined stepping outside of what I’d grown up with.
But this reason not to leave was simply lame. It’s a fearful reason. Fear of change, fear of upsetting the apple cart. Fear of being in the “wrong” church.
Which comes down to not trusting my own relationship with God. If I stay close to him, and know his word, I won’t end up in the wrong place.
Making a Move
Thomas and I prayerfully considered these reasons. None of them were strong enough in of themselves to stay because of this one simple fact: our family needed more.
None of us were thriving where we were.
We were struggling to even want to go to church. And what kind of example does that set for our kids? Church services should be something we look forward to, that gives us joy and enables us to encourage and be encouraged by others.
As parents our first duty is to the spiritual welfare of our own children. Which includes our own spiritual welfare, because it impacts theirs. And that’s the basis we made our decision on.
This thought of leaving had been hovering in our minds on and off for years. But once we made the decision to look at it seriously, we moved very quickly.
The first step was to visit another church. That’s all we were doing – visiting. We hadn’t decided we were moving churches yet. We’d just made the decision to be open to moving and to make further investigation.
The very next Sunday, we went to another church.
In that first service, I thought, “I’d be happy to come back here next Sunday.”
There were no complaints from anyone in the car on the way home.
The next Sunday we went there again. And my thought after that service was, “I’m quite happy to stay visiting here for a while.”
By the third Sunday: “Why didn’t we come here sooner?”
Our family had been missing out on something wonderful out of a misapplied sense of loyalty and logic.
We know we’ve made the right move because we can see the difference in our family. We are all enjoying the worship, the teachings, and the connections with the congregation. Thomas and I have joined a bible study – something I’d be longing to do since I returned from Sydney. We can see God working in our children and touching their hearts.
For the first time in a long time, I look forward to church each week. I’m excited to go. I’m looking forward to growing and deepening relationships.
I’ve also seen God’s hand and heard from him in ways I hadn’t done in months. It had been the right move.
A Note About our Previous Church
Once we’d made our decision we spoke truthfully with our pastor at our previous church. We knew he would understand and that made things a lot easier for us. He came to pray with us and bless us in our decision. He didn’t guilt us or try to convince us to stay. And that’s a huge blessing to us, and a testament to the true spirit of Christian love.
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
John 13:34-35 (NIV)
We know some people were sad that we left, and we were sad to leave them. But they don’t stop being our family in Christ just because we attend a different worship service, and we can still love and encourage them.
A Note about Freedom and Fear
These two verses have been very influential in my life and have regularly helped me to discern what is good and what is not:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18 (NIV)
If you feel fearful or trapped where you currently are, seek the Lord. I don’t believe those feelings are his design for you.
Remember this one also:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10 (NIV)
There you have it. That’s how we went through the process of deciding to move to a different church. We’ve not had a moment of doubt that we’d done the right thing. And yet God gave us confirmation the other night anyway, maybe just to reaffirm us. It came from a discussion regarding the commonly seen disunity between denominations. Someone mentioned:
“You should go to a church where you are being fed.”
Blessings and love to you.