ODJ: leaving church

December 15, 2013 

READ: Psalm 122:1-9 

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD” (v.1).

Poised at the door of the church auditorium, I hesitated. Why? I realised that I didn’t want to go to church. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to any church at all. I simply no longer wanted to go to this church. My wife felt the same way. A few weeks later, after 20 years as members, we made the agonisingly painful decision to leave. But leaving is not the same as quitting.

Later I spoke with a friend from Estonia who had moved to America. She too was struggling with leaving a church. “We’ve been to three churches now in 10 years,” she said, “but still we’re not happy. Is there something wrong with us?”

It’s a vital question. Changing churches can be all too easy in areas blessed with options. But accountability to each other and to God may be hindered. Our sense of community suffers. “Let us not neglect our meeting together, . . . but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).

A psalm for worshippers on pilgrimage to Jerusalem begins, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ ” (Psalm 122:1). The psalmist sang of the joys of being inside the gates of Jerusalem and near to God’s house. “All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—make their pilgrimage here,” he observed (v.4).

The psalmist loved the sense of community with God’s people and he focused on others throughout his song. He desired peace “for the sake of my family and friends” (v.8). His motivation was “for the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem” (v.9).

Leaving a church is a serious matter, but it’s not synonymous with leaving God’s people. Brothers and sisters in Jesus can be found wherever our pilgrimage leads us. —Tim Gustafson

If you’re grappling with a problem in your local church, read Philippians 2:1-4 for some help in avoiding unnecessary divisions. 
What does your church do well? What things about your church would you like to change? Why?