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Church Hopping: A Mexican Point of View

14 Aug

This is profound.

The comment below was made by a Christian in Mexico. It was made concerning a post entitled When is it time for a church to call it quits? I’m posting it unedited.

“Here in Mexico, we dont have notices of evangelical christian churches
who have to close their doors for any reason. I had lived in the United States some years ago. And I remember a lot of baptist churches with
just old members. The youth and children runed away to another more modern temples, with different kind of liturgy, with young pastors,with
modern music instruments.So they just left, I understand that our culture and american culture are different, but we had never think in
left back our elder brothers. I really believe that God not like this
american christian costume. We have to show love to every think that we are thinking to put away, and I talking about temples, furniture, our
elders, our old pastors, and our parents, our old parents. Can you imagine they singin alone Victory in Jesus?What victory we cheer with
out our loveones? My fellow american brother in Christ, you have to think about this…”

“But we had never think in left back our elder brothers. I really believe that God not like this american christian costume.”

I pastor a church that is experiencing a significant exodus of people. All of them are younger than the leadership. They aren’t abandoning their faith – rather, they will all turn to other churches, other families, they believe will be better for them. They will experience the positive sensations associated with a new start, and feel like it was good to have made the change.

“What victory we cheer with out our loveones?”

I live in the west, a land full of transient people. We’re those who for centuries have abandoned families in pursuit of other things. Most people I know live geographically separated from their biological families. Why did they move? Good reasons … to go to a school, or follow a job, or to live in a nicer climate. It’s rare, but occasionally I’ll meet someone who has made their life decisions based on the priority of protecting their valuable family ties. For the majority of us, though, our most natural experiences of relational depth are strained by distance, which can’t help but breed some relational fragmentation.

So, new networks are pursued, by which we can experience the “love one another” realities that we sense and know are so essential to our lives. And churches should provide this, right? After all, the church is supposed to be a community that embodies – not figuratively, but literally – the reality of being a family. And it does for many. There are those for whom their church is truly their family.

What’s sad is that these, who are the most willing to invest their hearts and souls into being a close-knit community, are the most damaged when others sever ties. “I thought this was a family,” they say.

As I get older, I feel this more acutely. When I was younger, I couldn’t possibly understand the value of long-term relationships like long-term people can and do. With each passing year, the pain I feel when people family-hop is more pronounced. As they seek out a better song to sing, with a newer, nicer family than ours, our song turns to lament…and ultimately may be silenced altogether. “What victory can we cheer?”

“My fellow american brother in Christ, you have to think about this…”

We do need to think about this. But we don’t feel the need to talk about these issues until they’re staring us in the face. And then, it’s too late. The political correctness of our day demands that, because people are free, we must let people do whatever they want to without saying anything negative about their intentions or choices. So, when we’re in the midst of being abandoned, and we cry “foul”, we are chastised if we say anything about it publicly. We’re just seen as pathetic, selfishly clinging to something for your own benefit. Or worse, we can be taken as manipulators, trying to deny people’s freedom of choice. It’s perceived as just so much sour grapes.

It’s true … I can’t be subjective about this, not these days. But I’m trying to be. And in my most clear-thinking moments, I can’t help but come to these conclusions:

1. Church-hoppers are hurting themselves.They will never know the wonderful reality of long-term relationships around Word and Sacrament. They will miss the glories that come through the hard side of love – reconciliation, endurance, perseverance, forbearance. They will forfeit blessings God promises that are associated with subjection, selflessness and servanthood. They think that different leadership style, that shorter drive, or that alternative program is a good trade-off for their relationships. But, if we have a better communicator, or a deeper doctrinal understanding, or more “Spirit-filled” worship, or incredible social programs, but have not endless patience, contentment, humility, deference, forgiveness, hope, forbearance, endurance (cf., love), nothing is gained. When you cash in your relationships for whatever else, is it ever a good deal?

2. Church-hoppers aren’t aware of how much they are hurting others. Others who value family bonds more than they are devastated by their departures. Those who leave not only rob themselves of the inestimable value of growing up in a lasting, united church community, but they also rob others. And they rob their children. Then, as explanations are made to others in the church as to why people leave, other families – and particularly their children – are schooled by the hoppers’ examples to see church participation as disposable (this is exacerbated by those staying not being able to openly challenge their departures, because that is seen as inappropriate). We’re stuck with, “that’s what’s happened, and I guess that’s just the way it goes.” We’re all the worse for it, and the pattern continues.

3. Church-hoppers damage the advance of the gospel. If we don’t love each other in a way people can see it, they won’t believe in Christ. Jesus prayed that we “may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). We don’t choose to persevere with each other primarily for our sake, or our kids’ sake, or for the sake of other people in the body – we live as a “love never fails” family for Jesus’ sake. Because every time we leave, we might be able to justify it in our own minds, but the world doesn’t get it. Why should they? “If those people who talk about God and His love all the time can’t get it together, why should I think that their so-called ‘born again’ lives are any better than mine?”

Fresh eyes from south of the border have eloquently pointed out our condition. I fear my ramblings may have diluted the simplicity of his message. Will we rethink these things? Will our trends continue? And what can one orphan do?

For now, we lament, cling to the love that remains, and pray that God will have mercy on our generation, and build His church among us afresh.

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8 Comments

Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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8 responses to “Church Hopping: A Mexican Point of View

  1. Punta Cana Tours

    August 15, 2013 at 2:07 am

    Maybe the Church is supposed to be a community that embodies the reality of a family. And I think it probably still is. The problem is that the definition of a family has changed in our society. Look at what a family is these days? Especially with some of the latest political policies that have been put in place. Families are expendable, especially traditional families.

    So for members of a church to “hop around”, and make no long term commitment is just the norm. It’s all about you. If you don’t fit in here, try something else. If you don’t like what’s being said, I know I can find another church that will tell you exactly what you want to here. The church is your family, just as society has defined for the majority what a family is supposed to be today.

     
    • Bill Hartley

      August 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      I wish I could disagree with you, Ken … but I think you’re on to something. Is “family” a different notion down where you are, the Dominican Republic? I’m guessing it is – but that modern influences might be eroding that identity there to some degree, too…

       
  2. Brian

    August 15, 2013 at 5:43 am

    When Christ entered a scene it was always about what He had to offer to those He encountered. So how have we become so blinded that as we come together as Christ’s church, our focus is on whether WE are being properly served, whether WE are being fed what we want or need, whether WE are afforded the proper environment required to stimulate our worship, etc? Until we all start showing up seeking how we might serve and minister to OTHERS around us, I’m afraid there is little hope for the type of real long term community we are longing for.

     
    • Bill Hartley

      August 15, 2013 at 5:57 am

      Agreed, Brian. But can you imagine what it would be like if it truly was a congregation for of servants? Sounds like heaven to me … !

       
  3. Bill Hartley

    August 17, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    A friend shared this thought with me: “I think it isn’t fair to refer to them as church-hoppers, which implies spiritual shallowness and selfishness. I think many who have moved on probably agonized over their decisions to seek grass elsewhere, and were not just being shallow or selfish.” He makes a good point.

    The truth is, we do have a buffet of church options before us. Frankly, there are a lot of bad ones, as well as a number of good ones. Not every decision to move from one fellowship to another is bad. It may be a “hop”, but a reasonable one.

    But I still think that, for a good share of church-changers, issues of community, covenant and selflessness are dimmed in light of the need felt need for a “better” experience. And the American church has created the atmosphere where switching is simply too easy.

    Thanks for the word of balance, friend.

     
  4. Jim Hersey

    August 19, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Here’s a different slant. Something to think about? Do you suppose that there are ever new people who come into the church were looking to serve. They have a burden on their hearts that they believe has been placed there by God, something very specific. They are welcomed into the doors but find it difficult to be welcomed into the fold. They are never heard, sometimes even rejected because their call is not part of an existing program. Consequently, these people move on seeking to find somewhere where they will be accepted, encouraged and supported by leadership and the body in that which they fill called to.

    Scripture says that it is Christ who builds his church. It is under his authority alone. He arranges the members, as he sees fit, according to his will and purpose, none having the same purpose, yet one body with different gifts given for the good of the body, to build it up. He reveals himself to every believer.

    Considering this, do we ever pay attention why someone new has been brought into the church. Do we truly ask why? What has God placed on their hearts? Is it ever made known to the rest of the body for them to meditate and pray about or do we just give them a list and say we need some help here and there. Do you suppose you can help out? We have a need to fill positions in our church.

    I know some churches that hold classes to determine someone’s spiritual gift, filling out lengthy surveys and or aptitude tests.

    This of course applies only to those who truly have a heart to serve instead of looking for somewhere to be fed, entertained, filled with the spirit, moved by the music. If the sermon challenges you to be more Christ like and you do not like it and end up departing because you are uncomfortable with what is said.. What does that say about one’s motives to be a part of a body? God would rather have 12 people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for Him than 1000 who would just fall away.

    Should we be discouraged because our numbers are smaller. Or should we seek to find out what God has called the remnant to and hear from them. Who’s in control? How does faith in? Do our actions say anything about our faith?

    This all comes from my heart and I am saddened. I welcome and I am open to rebuke if it is found necessary. Lord, lead me and guide me.

     
    • Bill Hartley

      August 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm

      Good thoughts, Jim!

      That people switch churches can, and should, happen. The description you give is of someone who truly wants to be fruitful, and believes that can happen in an alternative context. Of course that happens! It happened to Paul on numerous occasions in the New Testament.

      I’d like to think that this is the reason someone chooses to leave a fellowship each and every time. I’d also like to think that, as was the case with Paul, this desire to change was always brought before the leadership to which they have already covenanted, and that together a mutually-agreed-upon solution could be embraced by all, so that the unity of the body is not severed, but enriched.

      But, having been in the church for years, and having seen dozens of people come in go, I can say that this is the exception, not the rule.

      I would contend with you on the statement that the church “is under his authority alone.” The Great Commission has Christ stating His authority, but also commissioning others to serve in His name. The scriptures are full of texts describing church leadership. Clearly He has vested His authority in the church and its offices. It is unbiblical and unfair to claim Christ’s authority versus the authority of the local church, pitting one against the other. Local church leadership is an extension of Christ’s authority. You’re right – He does arrange the members – but doesn’t he do that through church leadership? How else can this arrangement take place?

      Jim, your questions come from a heart that takes God, His ministry and His church very seriously. Thank you.

       
      • David Henry

        August 20, 2013 at 2:36 am

        As for “church hopping” I think it is mentioned in III Corinthians because I couldn’t find it anywhere else. That people do leave the fellowship of disciples here and there is hard pointed out in Jhn. 6:53-66 when Jesus spoke to those he chose things intended for them to hear.

        Church-hopping is not what church is about. Church is all about making disciples which requires preaching the word that pierces the heart of believers (II Cor.7:9-10) and the word that builds up (Eph. 4:12). As we focus on Christ and our responsibility we do God’s will at “church”. Taking our eyes off our responsibility and getting all caught up in the evidences of human weaknesses is not good, but is what the enemy loves to see happen – who is no doubt responsible for most of it, he being so good at it.

        Brothers-sisters in Christ we need get back on the track our Lord set before us. We are to follow him and in the following imitate our brother Paul (I Cor.10:33-11:1) who said-taught “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified….my preaching….a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on (anything else)” (I Cor. 2:2-5). “Church” is not about man’s will, only God’s. As for me, I will only be part of a fellowship where the pastor preaches to kill sin (in me) and to mature forgiven sinners (like me). Please, let us worship God…in love and peace and we will as we fix our eyes on Jesus.

         

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