* To my friend whom this is about, bear with me as I continue to sort through my feelings on this matter and don't get frustrated with me, please. I'll understand eventually.
We go to a great church. At the moment, there is no obvious sin that needs repenting of (which for me is the most important criteria, considering our minister growing up was sleeping with one of the married women). People love each other and are in each other's lives. We try to get together regularly to read the Bible and pray (which is more or less successful, given our busy lives as mothers at the moment). However, a friend of mine left the church to go to another one because ours was too dull - not enough inspiration, not enough life in the room, not enough talk of the Spirit.
Last Sunday we had a visitor who is a psychologist, a faithful Christian for many years, and about to become a grandfather. I've heard him speak before and trusted his view on the matter so I asked him if my preoccupation with people leaving our church was normal, or .... something to be repented of .... or - why does it bother me so much and is that wrong?
His response made sense to me. He said that it's not wrong to be upset that people leave. What kind of family would we be if it didn't matter whether people came or left? And sometimes people do leave for the wrong reasons. If the only thing we're looking for is inspiration, then we're missing a very big part of what church is about. (I am not saying this is the case with my friend). He personally believes that church is most effective in small groups, although he currently goes to a church with 2000 members. He said when you go to a church that size, you can almost only look at whether or not you're inspired by the message, but when you go to a house church, you don't really think about being inspired, you think about the family.
But all in all, he said not to miss the big picture. It's not like I think that friends who leave are less spiritual than those who stay, are any less saved, are going to be any less nourished than they would be going to the same church as I do. But he said that God sees things differently, a bigger picture - he sees his people in families everywhere and moving from one group to another doesn't shake him because it's overall the same family.
This was helpful, although to be honest, it's not because I suddenly saw the big picture. I have some more growing to do for that. It's because I was able to put a finger on why it bothers me so much that people leave. For me, a church is only about the family. To me, the inspiration comes from loving one another differently than the people in the world do.
In John 13, Jesus says,
34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Hebrews 10 says,
24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This is how people are impacted by Christ - when they see this being lived out in the church and the lives of the disciples. Awhile back, I knew some friends who stopped going to our church and started church-hopping. At the time it was not so they could find the right one for them (perhaps that has changed), it was so they could take a little from each place. I expressed in so many words that I thought it was selfish. Part of our being in one body is so that we can give to it, not just take from it. Jesus didn't say to look for inspiration wherever you can, he said to love one another as he loved us. This implies commitment.
12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
How can we do this if we are not invested in one church, one body of believers?
Granted, my friend expressed that she didn't really see that in our church anymore - the speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. To her credit, she is seeking a body of believers where that is the case. That's fair enough. But for me, in my staunch, loyal family point of view, we don't abandon our family to find that - we inspire our family to be that. I cannot say whether she or I are right, but I know God can work in both strongly-felt beliefs.
As Philippians 3 says,
15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained."
We're not going to have all of our answers here on earth, but we have to live up to the best of our understanding. It goes on to say:
20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Chapter 4 1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
The person I spoke to in order to get some perspective on the issue, said in the end that sometimes we simply have to say, "I'm sorry we won't be seeing you anymore on Sundays, but when else can we hang out?"
Since losing my friendship is not even an option, that seems like the best approach.