When is it right to leave your small church? When is it right to say ‘enough is enough’? Here are some examples of when the ‘when’ moment was resolved with some individuals.
1. When you despise the small size of your local church.
He sat across the table from me. I had gone to what I thought was a pre-New Years lunch with my friend and his wife in their home. My goal was to enjoy a time of fellowship and also to encourage them as to what the church plant I served in would be doing in the next year. My friend had grown distant and had increasingly been late to our Sunday service and chose to hang out with two or three other friends on a regular basis while neglecting the church Bible study. Something seemed to be discouraging him, but it was probably the impending pressure of shortly becoming a new father. The sincere, ‘Please tell me, how are things?’ was met with generic responses so it must have been the stress of a soon to be father. Despite my request to meet up with both of them, my friend had sent his wife out for the afternoon. That was…interesting, disappointing, odd. The words played through my mind. As we ate and talked, I expressed my thankfulness for the man and his wife and their support in the church plant. I started talking about the plans for the next year. The man still seemed distant. He wasn’t smiling, there were a couple of times I thought he smirked, but that could have been his smile…it had been some time since I had seen him smile. Eventually he came out with his statement. He and his wife were leaving the church. While they had been thinking about it for sometime, even meeting with another pastor and his wife and while he had discussed it with his two friends, he had never discussed the possibility with me. I asked when they planned to leave. Well…they weren’t coming back. They were just going to leave. No seeking the church’s blessing. No discussion. They were just going to leave. The church plant was small, there weren’t enough on-site leaders, we didn’t offer enough, and we expected too much of members in the way of faithful attendance and giving. The church they were going to was bankrolled by a large U.S. church, didn’t teach tithing as Biblical, they had the “right” view of the end times (we simply emphasised Christ is coming again and we should be ready), and wouldn’t need much if any input from them personally or practically. They could go hear good teaching, return home, and enjoy life on the periphery of the church. And so they left and started to travel past their local church. You see, the new church was larger.
2. When you despise the small status of the pastor(s).
My first story really could have included this aspect as well. Since it wasn’t stated as such, however, I will relate another cautionary tale. A young man moves to London to study and to work for a designated period of around two years. He comes into contact with me and my church. He starts attending regularly. He seems zealous. He seems keen to do evangelism, but doesn’t understand why the church situation inhibits a church-wide weekly night of evangelism. He is encouraged to participate in the church opportunities for witness that are available and then to be faithful in the call of personal discipleship and evangelism on every other day. He comes to meetings, but doesn’t fully take the opportunities that are to hand. His schedule is busy, though and the church is understanding. We mention the possibility of membership a time or two and he seems keen. He attends a larger church linked to a famous pastor of great status and good teaching for a student meal. The next Sunday, this friend says ‘I won’t be attending your church anymore.’ I ask if he has found another church closer to him. Not really. ‘I’m going to go to *famous pastor’s name*’s church. It’s a good opportunity, plus the service time allows me to have a lay in. I’m young and like my lay-ins.’ He wanted to be in a place that would link him to the famous pastor. He wanted teaching that was like unto the famous pastor. He wanted the opportunity that being in a place close to a famous pastor would bring. So, why not leave the small church with the unknown evangelist/church planter and go to the place that had a name for itself? After all, such action would provide a good opportunity. Indeed the structure and programming would all be served up on a plate with minimal member initiative needed. It made traveling past the small church worth it.
3. When you despise the smallness of musical gifting.
‘I like taking my friends to Hillsong, because it doesn’t feel too much like a church. I feel like its better than them going clubbing and they all like the music and lights and stuff. I feel like they would just really like find our church a bit boring.’ So spake a young teenager who only 6 months previous had been indicating real growth and had been a real encouragement. Sadly, a couple of friends who came once or twice didn’t like what they saw as ‘our style’ and this began to play on this teenager’s thoughts feelings. As much as I would like to, I cannot currently play a musical instrument nor can my wife or anyone else in the church. I do hope to learn the guitar in the near future, but whether that will happen, I know not. The last person who was in our congregation who could play anything? You guessed it! This teenage girl. Trouble is, despite asking her to play and use her gift on numerous occasions she only accepted to play once during a Christmas service. Of course, the problem was not really that our circumstances require that we sing acapella each week, rather we find our identity as a church not a concert, a body of Christ not a night club. The latter are popular, the former is not. Christ promises his disciples that the world will hate us just as it hated him (John 15:18-25). But pleasing God is an eternal thing. If what we do and where we go pleases our peers and makes us more popular we can feel better about ourselves, nevermind Galatians 1:10…Paul’s Words must not apply to the present.
4. When you despise the smallness of programming
‘There are too many people in your church who are needy. They require a lot of attention and help. There aren’t enough mature Christian friends in the church. There is only you, Regan, and *church member’s name*.’ So my wife was told. ‘Also, at *name of large evangelical Anglican church* they have a really good homeless outreach that we don’t have.’ We did have a one-off outreach to local homeless people at which the individual in question did not participate in any way. ‘I enjoy going and making bacon rolls and getting in the church bus on Saturday and driving around giving them out. A lot of them aren’t actually homeless, but it just feels really good to make a practical impact.’ So basically, you don’t want to invest in people or get your hands dirty by getting to know them and through helping them with their baggage. Why not go to the place where there is not really an organised membership? You don’t have to be too responsible, there isn’t a concept of discipline to hold you to account, and when you really don’t feel good about yourself, you can join the Saturday Sandwich Squad and feed people off, all while sating your own ego! Much easier than committing to involving yourself on a weekly basis with real people who have real problems. Much simpler than actually getting to know people and allowing people to get to know you. Just join the program – no questions asked and accept your Brownie points for an hour a week of feeling like you are doing good. It makes sense. Its a ready made opportunity to slot into. In the church with fewer resources and limited programming there would be too much investment and involvement needed. Much more comfortable to hop on the bus and the 2 miles past to a more comfortable place.
I trust that you understand all of the above is written from the perspective of people looking for an excuse when there is none. I have written from the experience of real conversations and situations and have presented each point following the logic and manner of thought exhibited in our conversations. It all begs the question: why do people despise smallness? Why do people mourn or act surprised at small early stages where great care and investment are called for? The Scripture’s certainly don’t view smallness as weakness. Only Noah and his family out of all humans survived the Flood of Genesis. Gideon and a very small band of men were used by God to deliver his people from their enemy’s oppressive grip. Jonathan was alone with his armour bearer, but by God’s grace they won a great victory over Israel’s enemies with God’s grace. David wasn’t the tallest or strongest of his brothers and yet God used him to slay Goliath and defeat the Philistines. Proverbs 30:24-28 points to wisdom exemplified in the smallest of creatures. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were the small minority who stayed faithful to God while other’s bowed their knees to the idols of Israel’s enslavers and God protected them. Zerubbabel’s temple lacked the glory and splendour of Solomon’s, but would be filled with the greater glory of the promised Christ (Haggai 2).
I cannot sum it up any better than in the words of C.H. Spurgeon in preaching from Zechariah 4:10:
It is a very great folly to despise “the day of small things,”for it is usually God’s way to begin His great works with small things. We see it every day, for the first dawn of light is but feeble and yet, by-and-by, it grows into the full noon-tide heat and glory. We know how the early spring comes with its buds of promise, but it takes some time before we get to the beauties of summer or the wealth of autumn. How tiny is the seed that is sown in the garden, yet out of it there comes the lovely flower! How small is the acorn, but how great is the oak that grows up from it! The stream commences with but a gentle rivulet, but it flows on till it becomes a brook, and then a river—perhaps a mighty Amazon—before its course is run! God begins with men in “the day of small things”—He began so with us…Woe unto that man who despises “the day of small things” in the Church of Christ, or who despises “the day of smart things” in any individual Believer, for itis God’s day—it is a day out of which great things will yet come and, therefore, he that despises it really despises his Maker’s work and despises the great and glorious things which are to come out of he small things which are at present apparent! I know some professing Christians who, I am afraid, despise “the day of small things” in little Churches. There is gathered a small community of godly people. Perhaps they are poor and many of them illiterate. And some of you rich folk who think yourselves wonderfully intelligent—though I am not always sure that you are—if you happen to settle down in that village, you say that you would like to attend the little Chapel or mission room, but the minister puts his h’s in the wrong place and his speech is ungrammatical and, of course, that is very painful to your refined taste! Then the people are very poor and you hardly think that the Church is advancing at all, so to help it, you leave it alone! “God forbid,” you say, “that we should despise the day of small things!” But you are very sorry that everything is on such a small scale! You say that you pity the poor people, but, instead of helping them, you lie quietly by, or you go off to a more fashionable place where you meet with some of your own class and feel more at home.There, the h’s are put in properly, though the Gospel is left out of the preaching! But the people who attend are such a“respectable” sort of folk that you feel it is quite the correct thing to worship with them. If any of you have any respect for yourselves while acting in such a way as that, I hope you will soon discover that there is really nothing “respectable”in that kind of respectability! I mean that there is nothing that should make a man respected when he gives up his convictions and leaves his own true Brothers and Sisters for the sake of getting into a better class of society and seeming to be of a superior order to the godly poor people to whom he might be of real service.To me, it seems that it should be your glory to join the poorest and weakest churches of your denomination and wherever you go, to say, “This little cause is not as strong as I should like it to be, but, by the Grace of God, I will make it more influential. At any rate, I wil1 throw in my weight to strengthen the weak things of Zion and certainly I will not despise the day of small things”
So when is it right to say goodbye to your small church? In a Biblical church, that time comes when God grants grace for your small church to grow larger.
May God help you and me to press on and to always rejoice in the day of small things that when larger things come, we may rejoice all the more!