The Pain of Church Members Changing Churches

by Mary Somerville

I don't know if you've ever identified your top struggle in ministry but I definitely know mine. I really feel like throwing in the towel when people in our church change churches within our community. This is a continuing struggle for me. Just what makes this such a deeply distressing trial? I believe it is because of the feeling of rejection by the people whom we love so deeply. We have poured our lives into them, maybe even led them to the Lord and discipled them. They are like family. We thought they would always be by our sides. Then they decide to change churches. It is inevitable that we are affected by it if we have any emotional involvement at all with our people. According to a recent survey, one out of seven adults switches churches every year. The whole congregation feels the loss, almost like they have been divorced, because relationships that have been valued have been torn out of their lives. Probably the hardest trial that we have experienced in ministry was when ten families left our young church of just a few years for a large church with a good youth program. These were some of our closest friends and we thought they would never leave us. When this happened we were stopped short in the water, wondering if the church that we had moved across the country to plant would survive. I wanted to move away, thinking that I could escape the hurt. I felt that if our best friends weren't supporting us in ministry, who would? I went into the depths of discouragement. Although Bob was receiving criticism from the elders for the decline in the ministry, he was holding steady in the gale and looking for the lessons God was trying to teach us. I have never wept so much in our ministry. I cried out to the Lord. "Lord, why are these people going to the large church, when we need them so desperately in our church? Can't they make some sacrifices for the sake of this church that they have been such a vital part of up until now?" Just how do we handle this situation and come out like Paul who wrote, "we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Cor. 4:8-9)? Keep Your Focus on Jesus During this trial, the one passage of Scripture I clung to was, "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin" (Heb. 12:2-4). In order to sustain myself spiritually, I meditated on these verses, which I had on cards throughout the house. I kept reminding myself, "Keep looking to Jesus, Mary; don't grow weary and lose heart. You haven't resisted to the point of shedding blood!" I prayed, "Lord, you will never leave me. You love me. I'm yours. You endured the cross with such pain and hostility of sinners to purchase me for Yourself. Give me Your peace. Help me to be satisfied in You." I saturated myself in God's Word. I began in Genesis and underlined in red all the references to Jesus Christ and His atoning work for us throughout the whole Old Testament. I read the Gospels seeking to draw closer to Jesus. With my increased knowledge of His love for me, my love for Him grew. I read books about strong women who kept their focus on Jesus such as A Chance to Die, the story of Amy Carmichael, who saw the disappointments and trials in her life as an opportunity to die to self (John 12:24). The only lack of success would be not dying to self nor living to Christ. I saw that through Jesus' example and teaching I needed to die to myself and my idea of success. Elisabeth Elliot's life and writings were also an inspiration and I read many of her books. Let God's Peace Rule in Your Hearts Instead of a downward spiral into self-pity, I went to Paul's directive to have God's peace in Philippians 4:4-8. What is his prescription for peace? 1. "Rejoice in the Lord." This is a command. "Rejoice" is in the present imperative and could be translated, "Keep on rejoicing in the Lord always." Let's just think about all we have to rejoice in. We rejoice in the cross of Christ where God the Father poured out His wrath on His own Son so that I could become His child. We rejoice that we are His blood-bought children because of His great love for us. We rejoice in all the riches we have in Christ. We rejoice that He is sovereign, perfectly holy, just, loving, wise, and powerful and is working everything in our lives together for good. When my life is not turning out the way I had hoped, I can rejoice because my joy and peace are totally unrelated to my circumstances; rather, they are related to my unchanging relationship to my sovereign Lord. If Paul could rejoice from a prison cell, then I can rejoice anywhere, at any time! How do I rejoice? I talk to the Lord and tell Him how much I love and trust Him, if need be, through my tears. Consider the trial to be a joy, because it is a way to fellowship in His suffering. I know more of the rejection He went through. Sing a praise song, a hymn. Write Him a psalm. Turn on praise music. Remind myself of how much He cares for the precious people who hurt us. He is directing in their lives. It is His church. I must learn to release people to other parts of His vineyard with less sorrow. Resolve to be gentle, patient, and have a forbearing spirit. This means that I must be willing to submit to injustice or mistreatment without retaliating. When I feel like lashing out I must walk in the Spirit, exhibit the fruit of patience and wait on God to accomplish His will. 2. Remember the Lord is near (v. 5). I have His presence living within me to comfort me on a moment-by-moment basis. 3. Refuse to be anxious about anything (v. 6a). This, too, is a command. I must put off anxiety about our church going under and my friends leaving us, because He is in control, loves me, and is working for my good. 4. Rely on prayer (v. 6b-7). I must pray about the situation-lay my hurts and disappointments before the Lord who already knows all about it. He wants me to do it with thanksgiving-gratitude that He will take care of it. What a promise I have: "the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 5. Rest my mind on whatever is excellent or praiseworthy (v. 8). I must keep my mind on the things of moral and spiritual excellence if I am to have peace. These thoughts will crowd out all the other thoughts that cause me to worry and doubt God's goodness. 6. Reach out and practice what is good (v. 9). I hear what God wants me to do, think on it until I understand it, and then I must act on it-put it into practice. The result is what Jesus said would happen to the house built upon a rock: when the storms come, it will stand firm. Draw Comfort from Your Husband Satan would like to divide us by tempting us to blame our husbands for perceived failures on their part, and cause these trials to pull us apart. It's important to draw closer together as a couple as you weather the storms. My husband, in comforting me in my grief said, "Honey, I'll never leave you. You're stuck with me!" I seemed to have forgotten that and those words brought me comfort. The important thing was that we weather it together. God designed marriage for these very times. "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion" (Eccl. 4:9-10). Give Unfulfilled Expectations to God We expect the flock to be as passionate about serving Christ in our church as we are. Some are and some aren't. When they aren't, we feel let down and ready to give up. Our feelings tell us, "If they don't care, why should I? I can't continue to carry the burden of this alone!" See this for what it is, a "pity party" and the beginning of a downward spiral. Contrast that with giving these expectations to God. When we do that He will give us His grace to continue alone, if need be. Paul wants us to get it straight. He writes, "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4). If I could only remember this! Keep the Big Picture in Mind Dear friend, you and I need to remind ourselves that our church is just one row in the vineyard of the Kingdom of God in our community. There are many other rows-gospel-preaching churches where these people can be fed and serve Christ. We need to realize that God may be leading them to another church. They are not rejecting our husband's ministry or us. They are seeking to do what is best for their families. As we pray and ask God for comfort, thanking Him for the trial, the Holy Spirit will do His work in comforting us and assuring us of God's love and sovereignty. He has allowed this to happen for a purpose. Through His peace, which is ours on a moment-by-moment basis, we are able to persevere through the trial for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. As a footnote, our church weathered this storm-and many others-and is a strong, growing church now. However, we must resist taking credit in any way. It is a very dangerous situation to become prideful, taking our eyes off Jesus and putting them on the success of our ministry.
2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
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