Life in a small rural area in Ohio was very different from the big city life in Nashville, Tennessee. I finished serving in the U.S. Navy and started college. My wife and I had a decision to make on which congregation we were going to attend. In Nashville, you have many more from which to choose.
We both were “raised in the church,” so there was no doubt we were going to become a part of some church family. We believed that if the church was important enough for Jesus to die (Eph. 5:25), then it should be a priority for us too. Yet Nashville was so different, with countless congregations from which to choose. The decision was made but it was not because it had a basketball team or because it was so large. We wanted to be in a congregation where we could serve and grow as a young couple starting a new life together. It was not a perfect place but the leaders, preacher and other members treated us like we had been there a long time. They genuinely cared about us and helped us learn and grow.
During the time we were there, we noticed something we had not experienced before. A number of people would show up, but after a few weeks they seemed to disappear. We found out that most were “church hopping” — going from one congregation to another every few weeks. Most did not want to be known, or involved, or accept any responsibilities.
Unfortunately, I have seen the same attitude throughout more than forty years of preaching. I believe this lack of commitment is one reason why some members stay disconnected and move from one congregation to another. This is a completely different attitude than that possessed by Paul. When Paul came to Jerusalem he wanted to be a part of that church (Acts 9:26). Everywhere he traveled he became an integral part of the congregation there. He found relationships that were mutually beneficial for spiritual growth. Members who invest their time, money, energy, and talent in working with a local church desire to serve God and one another; they don’t forsake being together (Heb. 10:24-25). The reason some come in the front door and leave through the back door is because they do not feel attached nor desire to serve under the elders of the church (Heb. 13:17).
Besides a lack of commitment, another reason some leave is because they have not found unity. It is important to live and work together in unity in the church. Unity is so important. It is what Jesus prayed for before He was hung on the cross (John 17). Sometimes this working together in a unified manner is like being on a ball team. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to “play our position” to the best of our ability and respect the work others are doing. Unity begins with a respect for the leaders. Know them, respect them and follow their lead (1 Thess. 5:12-13). Some act when immaturely when a decision is made by the leadership which was not what they wanted. Instead of respecting leaders and promoting unity, they look to another place. Others come in the front door and leave out the back because of personal problems. It could be a health issue or a financial problem. It may be discouragement due to not finding the support they need. Former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano used to say, “Never give up,” when facing problems. No one can avoid problems, but Christians have God’s promises. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:31-39). We have the promise that we will not be tempted beyond our ability to cope (1 Cor. 10:13). The Bible exhorts us to “continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22), “be steadfast” (1 Cor. 15:58), and “run with endurance” (Heb. 12:1). As Christians, we will suffer and face disappointments, fear and loneliness. Yet others in the church are there to encourage and comfort us (1 Thess. 4:18; 2 Thess. 1:3-4).
Some want to run out the back door when they sin. Yet we all sin (Rom. 3:23). James reminds us to confess our sins to each other (Jas. 5:16), not to be shamed or judged but to be taught and encouraged. This confession also helps all of us recognize our own vulnerability and sins. It is not a time to quit, but a time to seek God’s forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9) and keep on living the life God wants us to lead.
The Lord’s church is a family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Our actions and speech must be prompted by familial love (1 John 4:7). We are not just on the job together at a plant or serving others in a social club. There must be a genuine bond of love and respect from every heart bowing to the will of God.
In the church, no lock is needed to bar the back door. Once inside, people will see and know they are in the right place.
Rob serves as a member of the board of directors of the Carolina Messenger.