Have you considered that Jesus may be leading you to leave the church as you know it so that you can be the church as it was meant to be?
Please don’t dismiss such an idea too quickly.
There are lots of people who leave the church today, and they often get criticized for abandoning God or disowning Jesus. But in my experience, I don’t find this at all. I find that people who “leave the church” have not given up on God or stopped following Jesus. Instead, many of them are simply learning to follow Jesus outside the four walls of a church building. They are seeking to be the church by following Jesus into the world.
So let me encourage you … if you find a rapidly growing unrest with church as it has always been done, this unrest may come from Jesus.
Millions of people today know that something is missing from their normal church experience, and they sense Jesus leading them to something more, but they don’t know what …
Some Christians think Jesus is leading them to leave the church they are in to start attending a different church down the street. More often than not, they get to this new church, and find that the internal unrest has followed them to the new building. So they start looking for a new church to attend, or think that maybe they misunderstood God’s leading.
Some Christians think Jesus is leading them to leave the church they are in so they can go on a mission’s trip to Africa. So they raise funds, pack bags, and spend $10,000 for a six-week trip to Africa. And while they might have a spiritual mountaintop experience while there, they find that the internal unrest followed them to the new continent, and is multiplied even more once they return.
Some Christians think Jesus is leading them to leave the church they are in so they can go to seminary and become a pastor or church leader. They have ideas for how the church could be different, better, more productive, and believe God wants to do new things in His church through their ministry. But in the process, they get saddled with a bunch of debt and end up leading a church which is almost identical to every other church in the country.
Some Christians think Jesus is leading them to leave the church they are in so they can follow “the New Testament pattern” and get involved in a home church or community collective. They long for that intimate setting where everybody has everything in common, where people get to share as the Spirit leads, and where there are no professional clergy, choirs, or classes. But they soon find that although the setting might be smaller, home churches are not that much different than regular churches.
Some Christians go through some (or all) of the experiences described above, and think that the unrest they feel is because church is simply a waste of time and energy, and so they leave the church … and Jesus too. They turn their back on all of it, saying that they tried the whole “church thing” and it wasn’t for them.
If you want Jesus to lead your life, I can pretty much guarantee you have gone through one or more of the experiences above. I have personally experienced all of the scenarios above, other than that last one.
So are these experiences wrong? Was that feeling of unrest not from Jesus after all, but from some self-centered desire to experience something new, do something adventuresome, or fulfill an unmet need?
I say no.
I firmly believe that when people feel that Jesus is calling them to leave the church they are in, they are rightly discerning what Jesus is saying through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The problem, however, is that when people feel Jesus calling them to leave the church they are in, along with this leading, they want to know where Jesus is calling them to go. But very rarely does Jesus offer this direction. If Jesus says, “Leave” and we say, “Okay … but to where?” Jesus will answer with “Just leave.”
The mistake is when we try to fill in the blank ourselves and say, “Well, I can’t just leave the church. So I guess I’ll go to another church. Or go to Africa. Or attend seminary. Or start a house church.” But Jesus never led us to those places, and so after going to these places where He never led, we will soon have that feeling of unrest again, and we will wonder if we misunderstood or misheard Jesus.
You didn’t misunderstand or mishear. But now Jesus has to call you to leave the church all over again.
Do you want to know where Jesus is leading you? Jesus is leading you to leave the church “as you know it” so that He can guide you into being the church “as He wants it.”
The church Jesus wants has little to do with the things that are often identified as “church.” The church Jesus wants has little to do with fundraising, mission’s trips, attendance numbers, ministry programs, large-group events, personality cults, best-selling authors, TV and radio programs, stained-glass windows, padded pews, professional choirs, or regularly scheduled Bible studies.
Instead, the church Jesus wants has everything to do with personally loving our neighbors, hanging out with “sinners,” spending time with societal rejects, defending the cause of the weak, and a variety of other ways of living that look just like Jesus. But you will never learn to be the church Jesus wants until you take the step of faith to leave the church that you want.
Do you feel a growing unrest or dissatisfaction with the church? That’s not wrong. That’s Jesus calling you to leave the church. Will you follow?
P.S. Please note this: I am not telling you that Jesus is calling you to leave the church you are in. If you sense no such leading from Jesus, then stay put!