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Should I Stay If My Church Doesn’t Satisfy Me?

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

I belong to a small church which used to meet all of my preferences.

But now, five years and many unforeseeable changes later, our numbers are dwindling. I am the only person of my age at the church, and I do not feel satisfied by my experiences there.

What would you do if you were me? Would you hop from church to church for better music, sermons, and social events, combining different encounters for the “optimal experience”?

Some would argue that this is akin to going to different grocery stores to find the necessary ingredients for a good meal, and that my satisfaction and sense of God’s presence should be the governing criteria for church involvement.

But what I’ve realized is that when we combine different surface-level experiences and move between churches, we rob ourselves of the joy and depth of belonging. Growth happens when we put down roots and commit.

Through Bible study, I’ve become more and more convinced that church membership is a significant spiritual foundation that we cannot do without.

This summer, my best friend and I talked about visiting churches together in the fall. She was preparing to move into college and needed a congregation closer to her campus. She encouraged me to move on and find a church with peer community. But I felt I wasn’t ready to make that decision. Besides valuing church membership, I didn’t want to make a switch just to follow a friend. I told her that I would pursue ministry opportunities within the church, and pray about God’s will for my future.

This process forced me to examine my true motivations for attending church. Was my primary criterion that church meet my social and emotional needs, or was I attending for a greater purpose? No doubt I often feel unmotivated to attend my church and wish that I had gone elsewhere, but I care about the other members around me, and I know that I am needed all the more as our numbers decrease. Even though I feel like my role is limited and unsatisfying, I know that this is where God wants me to be for this stage of my life.

My current circumstances are not ideal or gratifying, but I know what really matters. I am hearing the word of God faithfully preached, praising the Lord with believers, taking communion, and sharing life with people whom I have promised to care for, love, and protect.

Church membership provides a context to live out the “one another” commands of Scripture—loving, forgiving, encouraging, and bearing one another’s burdens. As I choose to invest in others, they invest in me, and we have the opportunity to be known and loved by a community, chosen and cared for not because of common interests or shared activities, but because of Christ.

Without commitment to a church, one can still listen to sermons, sing songs of praise, and grow in faith through personal devotions. But God did not design us to live out our faith in isolation. The New Testament brims with instructions for church life, and it describes the church as the bride of Christ, His body on earth, and the nexus through which spiritual growth and community occur. Going to church is not an experience but being with a family, and is a fundamental spiritual habit which gives order to our lives, independent of momentary whims.

I do not trust myself enough to attempt Christian life on my own. I need the input of other believers to challenge my interpretations, push me towards ministry, point out sin in my life, and support me. I know that if I ever stopped attending church, people would pursue me; and that if I were to be in conflict over a decision, unsure of God’s will for me, other members who know and love me could speak into my life. I am in the position to do the same for them, and I do not want to discard these relationships based on temporary dissatisfaction.

Being in a church is not about my comfort level, sense of fulfillment, or ease of connection with others. Rather, it is a covenantal relationship, and no matter how I feel, I know that the other members and I are keeping watch over one another; there is accountability. Although this type of obligation might seem burdensome, I know that it is worth it.

Even when I feel unconnected, I know that I am seen, loved, and appreciated, and that God has me at my church for a reason. I stay not out of apathy or obstinacy, but in faith, knowing that God works through small and everyday things, working out His purposes through those who are committed and willing.

Why I Stayed On In My Church

Written By Lim Chien Chong

Chien Chong joined Singapore Youth For Christ (SYFC) full-time in 1998 after a six year teaching career in a local junior college. In 2005, he became SYFC’s National Director. He currently serves in the pulpit and bible class ministry in church as well as preaches, trains and teaches in different churches and youth groups locally. He has been married for 14 years and has two young lovely boys, Joshua (10 years old) and Elijah (7 years old).

“You mean you are still attending your church after so many years?” This was a question someone asked me about two years ago.

He shared that he was very disappointed with his own church and was trying to find reasons why he should stay. The question set me thinking about why I’m still attending the church that I have been going to since I was a teenager, some 35 years ago.

To give you a rough picture of my church, it has had an average attendance of about a hundred people through the years. Along the way, new people have joined us and others have left, some to start new churches.

Like many others, I face the same struggles and issues that many do in their churches, such as differences in opinions and priorities, disappointments with leaders and fellow members and disagreements about how the word of God should be taught.

Friends have invited me on several occasions to join them at their churches, but I have always declined their invitations. It’s not that I don’t have my fair share of frustrations—I do feel that the church can be better organized and members should be more interested and involved in the work of God. But despite the moments of frustration I sometimes face in my church, I have decided to remain where I am.

It has made me wonder sometimes: What is my motivation to stay? Am I staying on just because of inertia to change? Shouldn’t I have an expectation of what a church should be like? If my church is not meeting the mark, why shouldn’t I move?

Paul’s depiction of a church in Ephesians 2:19-22 has helped me understand what a church is and what it does. Although the passage refers to the universal community of all believers in Christ, it has also shaped my view of my own church.

1. The church is a kingdom and a family

“[you are] fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (v.19)

While we are fellow subjects of God our King, we are also fellow brothers and sisters with God as our Father. I can choose who I want to be friends with, but I can’t choose who I want as my family members. As such, I am committed to accommodate, relate to, and work through issues with people at church as I would with my family members.

It is not easy most of the time, but I know that I need to put in the effort to understand and communicate with people—and in some instances to mediate between them—because we are part of the same family. Not everyone may share the same values, but that does not mean that any of us is any less of a family member.

 

2. The church is founded on the word of God

“. . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (v.20a)

The word of God is central to a community of God’s people. It is no wonder that in some churches, the pulpit is placed at the center to remind us of this important truth. Many people have left their church because they felt they were not being fed properly with the Word of God.

I understand the struggle. I may not be spiritually refreshed every Sunday at church, but I need to be refreshed by His Word in my daily walk with Him. The weekly sermon cannot replace my daily meditation on His Word. Even if I may not receive as much spiritual input as I would love to (that’s not to say that I am not learning at church), I can still think of ways to share constructively with others what I have learned from God’s word in informal or formal settings.

 

3. The church is also founded on Jesus Christ Himself

“. . . with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (v.20b)

As Christians, we are followers of Jesus Christ. Our lives, whether communally or individually, must be grounded not only in God’s Word but also in the work of Christ as well as our relationship with Him.

It will be ironical if I claim to follow Jesus but my life does not portray His character in the way I live and in the way I relate to and resolve differences with others. Besides, Jesus, by His death on the cross, has granted me peace with God and with men; I have every reason to be harmonious and peaceable.

 

4. The church is joined, grown, and built by the Lord Himself

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (v.21-22)

As much as I would love to see my church grow in strength and number, I constantly remind myself that it is the Lord who grows His church. This does not mean that we can simply ignore factors that are causing people to move out of church. We should take a good and honest look at how our church life is affecting everyone. There may be many areas that we need to work on so that we are truly living as God’s people.

Nonetheless, I know that I need to be patient because people do not change overnight. Besides, any change in people’s hearts is a result of God’s work. It means that I should learn to pray more for my church.

And so my answer to the question, “You mean you are still attending your church after so many years?” is: Yes, and why not? There are still many things that I need to work through in my own life as well as among fellow members at church. My church is not perfect, but neither am I. In fact, this is why we come together as a community of God’s people.

What if There was No Church?

What-if-there-was-no-church

Written By Leslie Koh

After spending a number of years in the media, Leslie finally decided to move from working with bad news to good news. He believes in the power of words (especially when they’re funny). He works as an editor in Our Daily Bread Ministries.

 

It’s probably hard to imagine not having a church around, at least in some form.
It could be a building—a grand old cathedral, a modern theatre, a space in an office block, or someone’s house, generously opened up for use on Sundays. Or it could be some sort of system—an official or unofficial organization with a pastor or group of elders leading a body of believers—that organizes regular services or meetings. (Or any entity that comes to mind when we say things like, “I go to church on Sundays”, or “My church teaches that . . . ”, or “I’ll ask my church to help me”.)

But what if the building we called church were to be torn down by the authorities or destroyed by nature? What if there were no more “church” organizations, because they were banned or no one wanted to form and lead them? What if there were no more leaders to organized regular services or no preachers who wanted to teach? What would you do?

You could consider two options:
1. Stay at home and practise your faith on your own. Yes, you could still study the Bible on your own and pray with your family.
2. Find ways to meet up with fellow Christians somewhere, somehow, because you feel that you still need to . . .

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…To pray and worship together

Long before the New Testament church came into existence, God’s people were gathering to worship Him. When the Israelites offered their sacrifices and offerings, they did it as a corporate body at the Tent of Meeting. They gathered to listen to God’s Word, spoken through Moses. And they gathered to praise God as one body.

In his article, “Why We Shouldn’t Neglect to Meet Together”, co-founder of Desiring God and author Jon Bloom takes us even further back and notes how the nature of God himself—not just one, but Three in One—reflects the importance of corporate worship. The Trinity also created a companion for Adam. Why, Bloom points out, would Adam need a companion when God’s companionship would have been more than adequate for any man? “Adam’s being alone wasn’t good for God,” he writes. “The ultimate point was not that all of God wasn’t enough for all of Adam. It was that all of Adam wasn’t enough for all of God. One human would not enjoy God as much as many humans together.”

That is why Hebrews 10:25 reminds God’s followers not to forsake “our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near”. God wants us to worship Him both as individuals and as a community. Why? Because “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). This description of Christ’s followers would be meaningless if we were to worship God as individuals.

Just think of what it’s like to watch a big football game. You could watch it alone on TV, in the privacy and comfort of your own home. But nothing beats gathering in a stadium with 20,000 other fans and celebrating each goal with big cheers, high-fives and fist bumps, right? Because nothing unites us more than a shared love, joy, and victory. What more when we want to celebrate God’s greatness and Jesus’ victory over death?

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…To study the Word together

Imagine trying to study the Bible on your own. You could read as many commentaries and Bible study guides as you can, but you’ll soon find yourself asking for help to understand God’s Word better, and for guidance on how to apply it in your life. Why? Because the Bible is not a textbook or Wikipedia site that you can simply read and expect to understand fully just by doing so. Neither is it a story book that you can enjoy and appreciate by yourself. It is the living Word of God, and needs to be interpreted wisely so that you can apply God’s wisdom in your daily life.

This means we need to learn from others who are more knowledgeable and mature in the faith, as well as discuss with fellow believers, so that we can share our experiences and discoveries with each other. In Jesus’ time, God’s people met in the synagogues to hear His Word and learn from teachers. In schools, we attend lectures where teachers and other experts explain new concepts to us, and have group discussions in tutorials, which help us understand and apply what we learn. Why should we do any different with the Word of God?

The apostle Paul, a learned Pharisee himself, stressed the importance of teaching and learning from one another: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16).

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…To support, encourage, and build up one another

The Christian journey includes trials, tribulations, and challenges, which makes it a hard one to walk alone. Yes, Jesus Himself walks alongside us and carries us, but God also gives us human companions so that we can encourage, inspire, comfort, and strengthen one another. There are times when we need that fellow human voice, comforting hug, or listening ear, to help us through the hardest times and remind us that we are not alone. And there are also times when we need someone to chasten or remind us to push past our complacency and persevere in our journey of faith.

Romans 12:5 tells us we are one body in Christ. One part of a body cannot strengthen the whole by itself; you can’t get a fit body by just doing pull-ups. All the different parts of the body need to work together and support each other so that “from [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16). While we are all to grow a personal relationship with God, it is not an individual task.

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…To gather for fellowship

Unless you’re a hermit or rabidly anti-social, you will need the companionship of friends. Not just for the bad times, but for the good times too. What beats a good laugh with friends, an enjoyable outing, or a hearty dinner with a few good buddies? Most of us have gone out with our colleagues for a nice meal after a long day at work, or a movie with classmates after school. We do it because we are brought together by a common experience in office or class; what more when we share a common belief, values, and mission?

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…To welcome new believers into the body of Christ

Acts 2:47 describes how God was giving the early church new converts as they met daily, “adding to their number day by day those who were being saved”.

If fellow Christians stopped gathering together, where would a new believer go? Whom would he seek for advice and guidance, and who would teach him and help him grow in this new relationship with Jesus? A gathering of some kind would welcome this new believer, introducing him to the rest of the body of Christ and showing him that he was really joining a corporate body of members who believed in the same God and who would give him encouragement and strength for the days ahead. Such a gathering would remind him that his new relationship with God was both personal and corporate, while also giving him the assurance that he would not walk alone in his new spiritual journey.

What if there were to be no more “church” in the sense that there were to be no more buildings, system or organization known as a church? The short answer is, fellow Christians would still be meeting.

We might do it in small or large groups. We might meet regularly or occasionally. We might meet at someone’s home, in a public place, or somewhere convenient. We might do different things, but chances are, it will include worshipping God, studying the Bible, and praying together; sharing our experiences and discoveries; encouraging and strengthening one another; and having some fun. Just like what we do now . . . because that’s what a “church” is really about.

Church: In Greek, ekkelsia; an assembly of Christians gathered for worship.

Why I hated the Youth Ministry

After six years, I was annoyed with the whole Sunday school affair. Crazy action songs. Kiddy puppet Bible stories. Even the sweets for reciting the week’s memory verse no longer appealed to the pre-teen in me.

The youth ministry, however, sounded promising. On occasion, they came to lead us in a time of songs. The songs they sung was loud and lively; they dressed well and sang passionately. In short, I thought they were very cool.

But when I finally got old enough to join them, it took me only three weeks to conclude: I hated the youth ministry.

In the first week, the girls sitting behind me “whispered” nasty comments to each other about my boyish dressing and choice of short hair. In the second week, a close friend of mine got herself a boyfriend and abandoned me. In the third week, I overheard some of the youth leaders discussing how to “deal” with the “hyperactive” me. According to them, I wasn’t the “right fit” for this youth ministry. I was too loud and disruptive for their taste.

And so I left.

A couple of months later, I had run out of excuses for not attending the Saturday youth service. Rather than risk incurring my mother’s wrath, I began to visit other church services that were being held at about the same time. At least I wouldn’t be lying when I told her I was going to church. And I reckoned that I would eventually find one that would suit me—where I would be loved and accepted for who I was.

This went on for about a year and a half. Visiting a new church, making new friends, discovering problems—the whole cycle would begin all over again. It was a cycle that not only wore down my self-confidence, but also affected my belief in God. What was new and exciting at first became exhausting—to the point that I started to consider giving up on my faith entirely.

It was at this juncture that a youth leader from my home church invited me to attend a spiritual leadership boot camp. She had heard through a mutual friend that I was struggling in my faith journey and that I was resistant to returning to the youth group, and so didn’t push me. Instead, she reassured me that this camp was external and interdenominational; only two or three others from our church were attending it. I rejected her offer at first, but then decided to register for it on my own after I discovered that some of my schoolmates would be attending.

Truth be told, I no longer remember what the sermons were about or what games we played, but one particular session left a deep impression on me.

On the second night, when we entered the worship hall, we were surprised to see that the musical instruments had all been removed, leaving the stage bare. After singing three worship songs with just a guitar, we were told to remain silent, to imagine we were alone in the room with God, and to read whichever Bible passage came to mind.

This left many of us bewildered. For a start, singing songs with a single guitar was quite unlike the usual music we were used to. Furthermore, as we were in a place away from the sounds of the city, it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. The silence was uncomfortable, and every minute that passed felt more like an hour.

After about half an hour of trying not to fall asleep, the numbers “27” and “4” suddenly came to my mind. I had no idea which book I was supposed to flip to, so I just went to Psalms—right in the middle of the Bible.

This is what the verse said:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

As I read these words, I immediately felt rebuked. Why did I go to church in the first place? Whom did I go to see? Whom did I worship? What did I truly seek?

Before I knew it, tears began to well up in my eyes. I got up quickly, barely making it to the door. Outside, I sat down and wept freely.

That night, through Psalm 27:4, the Lord revealed to me that my motives for attending the youth ministry were wrong. No matter how many different youth services I visited and no matter how many churches I tried, I would never find the “perfect” youth group.

The same night, I confessed my self-centeredness and my pride to my camp group leader. I also sought God’s forgiveness—for the bitterness I had against those who I felt had criticized or abandoned me. Immediately, I felt both relieved and at peace with God; it was a peace which I had not felt in a very long time.

That episode taught me that church is not instituted to serve my needs or to meet my desires. The early Christians met to pray, to worship, and to study the word of God. We too are called to do the same, so that we may know God better, worship Him, and make Him known.

The very next week, I went back to my home church and started to serve as a small group leader in the youth ministry. I’ve been serving there ever since, 15 years now . . . and counting.