To Leave or Not To Leave?

Sometimes when I’m responding to an email, I’m aware that what I’m writing is intended for more than just the person I’m writing to, that the question is universal enough that others find themselves in similar situations. When that happens I like to let you look over my shoulder at an email exchange that might encourage you as well. This one from England was like that so I’m going to share the dialog. His response at the end gets it exactly right:

I am writing from England, in the hope that you might find a few moments to help me out. I am part of a small congregation, which was formed by two elders from the congregation we used to be a part of in the same city…. I am involved in leading worship… The elders of the congregation have joined the church to a group (i.e. “Apostles” and “Prophets” and their entourage) that holds a very different viewpoint eschatalogically. I know eschatology isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Christian life, but I find it most unsettling to know that the church I am with is so closely linked to this group that so differs on these things. The elders of the church insist that we aren’t “under” the group, but that they are there for us, to help us out, and we are able to have them as involved with us as we want them to be. I’m somewhat skeptical of this arrangement, and from the way the elders relate to these people it seems to me they hold them in a certain amount of awe.

Apart from this problem, is the whole thing about the “vision” of the church. When we joined, we thought that we were similar in vision to the lead elder and his wife, but (lately) I have heard precious little, if anything, that demonstrates to me an underlying passion to see people brought to Jesus. Another worrying thing is that he has demonstrated, albeit only on one occasion so far, of heavy-handed manipulative tactics on the congregation: standing at the front after calling people up to be prayed for to receive the Holy Spirit and voicing his frustration that nobody responded, then insisting that he knew exactly who did and who did not speak in tongues….

The church is very small, but the leadership have, right from the start, insisted on having a full PA, and the usual sit-on-the-bus format. Everyone (including us) is getting worn out putting on the “show”, and it’s putting alot of pressure on alot of people; but to what end? So all-in-all I am not finding it at easy, and my wife is sharing my disquiet. I have been seriously considering our options, but I am concerned that I don’t starve my family of Christian fellowship. We live in a small village, and we aren’t that confident that there would be much for us in the way of fellowship out here.

My response: I appreciate you taking the time to share your story with me. Unfortunately I know hearing one side of a story is never complete, because we each perceive things in our own way. That said, I don’t doubt your sincerity, but I do doubt my ability to give any practical counsel that could be helpful to you. Obviously, I would not support the things you say this group is doing, nor the position the leaders put people in to advance their view of leadership.

I can say this, however, I wonder if God is doing something in your heart and you keep trying to think it through with your head. Let me encourage you to simply do what God is putting on your heart. If it is to stay and serve IN SPITE of all that seems screwed up to you there, do that. If it’s to not support what you don’t support, then feel free to move out and see what Father might have for you. Don’t think that God will give you all the answers before you follow. You may have no idea where fellowship will come from if you leave, but is that reason enough to stay with something you find so painful? Some people do spend some lonely years before they find connections with others. Some find it right away. I can’t tell you what it will be for you. And I certainly don’t encourage people to a private shell. I think community is a crucial part of living in this family and I do know that Jesus is big enough to place us in the family exactly as he desires. And sometimes I think he finds great value in having us be alone with him for awhile to get some of the religious thinking out of us before linking up again with others.

I can’t tell you how things might sort out, but I don’t think it is helpful for any of us to try to figure that out in advance. We’re usually wrong about our speculations anyway. I’d encourage you to simply sit down with your wife and ask God to make clear to you what he’s asking of you right now and just do it. Don’t make those leaders villains to justify that. You don’t have to think of yourself more right than them. You just need to be faithful to what God puts in your heart. Feel free to make some mistakes in sorting that out. And go for it! Trust him to fit everything together in his way.

In times like this, be absolutely honest when people ask why you’re doing what you’re doing, but do it as graciously and lovingly as you can muster. That’s how we all grow up, when we are each ‘speaking the truth in love to each other.’

I very much appreciate your angle on things, and will certainly take your words to heart. You are right – I do have a bit of head/heart confusion from time to time, which is not always helpful. I am going to try to be more open to what God is saying to my heart, and follow more the light that freedom brings, even if that is within the situation we are now in. I think that we will probably take some time away from the situation, at least, so we can properly assess where we are going. My wife & I have already found agreement on that one. I also found your advice not to make them villains to justify what we feel to do, a great help. I think I was doing that a bit. But it also frees me from the need to have a “good case” for going the way we decide in God to go.

How amazing that you can help me from such a distance, so quickly!