Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Caleb Breakey’s new book Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church (Harvest House Publishers, 2013).
Problems in your church – such as apathy, judgment, gossip, and conflict – can discourage you so much that you feel like leaving. In extreme cases, God does sometimes call people to leave unhealthy churches. But usually, God stands ready to help believers stay and change their churches for the better.
God can use you as a powerful change agent in your church if you choose to stay and inspire others in your congregation. Here’s how to stay and change your church when you feel like leaving:
Consider the benefits of staying. If you decide to stay and work to change your church, you can be a great influence on everyone there. Gradually, as God works through you, others in your congregation will join you in your efforts to change the church, and the transformation will grow. The power of that change will keep rippling outward, since a changed church can change the world. When you cooperate with God to help change your church, some benefits include: you help yourself and other believers become more like Jesus, you bring balance and perspective to the church, you practice the forgiving others as God calls you to do, God notices and appreciates your efforts even if others don’t, you gain wisdom from other people, you make the church more attractive to the world, you live out the Gospel message and Jesus’ beatitudes, you overcome evil with good, you help teach people how to obey God’s commands, you embrace God’s plan for church structure, and you bring greater unity, depth and purpose to your congregation.
Identify your church’s weaknesses and encourage your fellow church members to seek God’s strength to help overcome those weaknesses. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pinpoint your church’s specific weaknesses. Then use the Bible’s wisdom to encourage the people in your church to grow beyond those weaknesses. Some examples include: churches that operate from head knowledge can focus more on heart, churches that emphasize outward appearances can pay more attention to people’s souls, churches where people are hypocritical can emphasize the importance of practicing what’s preached, churches full of proud people can become more humble, churches that teach a watered-down version of the Bible can start teaching it more faithfully and radically, and churches that avoid difficult questions can encourage people to ask hard questions and explore possible answers together honestly and openly.
Pursue change in your own life, as well as in your church. Humbly admit that, just like any person in this fallen world, you’re not perfect and can change for the better with God’s help. Include yourself as part of the congregation of people who needs to change at your church. Honestly assess how well you’re currently obeying Jesus in each part of your life. Examine your motives for the decisions you’ve been making lately. Ask God to let you see yourself the way He sees you, and allow your heart to break where it needs breaking. Then confess and repent of specific sins you’ve noticed in your life. Tell God that you want to grow closer to Him, and ask Him to forgive you, heal you, and restore you.
Embrace the power of the Holy Spirit living inside you. Pay attention to nudges you sense from the Holy Spirit, who lives inside the souls of Christians. Listen to the Spirit’s messages to you. Seek guidance and empowerment from the Spirit every day as you work to help change your church for the better.
Become childlike. Ask God to give you the awe and wonder of a child to deepen your faith and help you change your church for the better through humility, trust, and wholehearted devotion to Jesus.
Encourage people in your congregation to develop a greater commitment to Jesus. Get to know others in your church well, and talk with them honestly yet lovingly about Jesus. Urge them to consider: their love for Jesus (how they talk about Jesus, how they worship Jesus, and how much they want other people to know about Jesus), their obedience to Jesus (how they love and serve people in need, how they practice forgiveness and make peace, and how often they tell others about Jesus), their trust in Jesus (how often they get out of their comfort zones, how much they rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer, and how uplifted they are by God’s promises), and their knowledge of Jesus (how they study the whole Bible and all of its truths, how often they look to the example of Jesus’ life as described in the Bible rather than just to theological principles, and how well they focus on what the Bible says their ultimate purposes should be: loving God and others well).
Engage in thoughtful conversations with people about faith and the church. Talk with people at your church, asking them questions such as what they thought of the sermon you all just heard, how they’ve noticed God at work in their lives during the past week, what they’ve been praying about lately and what you can pray about for them, and what God has been teaching them lately. Use social media to passionately express your faith and respectfully engage people in conversations about God and the church. Identify where people are in their spiritual maturation process, accept them where they are, and build them up from there.
Consider leaving your church in certain circumstances. If you’ve honestly done your best to stay and inspire your congregation to change but your church continues to be unhealthy, pray for the wisdom to discern whether or not you should consider leaving and finding a new church. Circumstances that may warrant leaving your church include when: you’re being abused or threatened, the church is destroying your health or relationships with your family, you’re not allowed to think differently from your pastor, your pastor doesn’t turn to the Bible as his final source of authority, most people in the congregation don’t value or follow biblical commands, church leaders fall into sin and refuse to repent, and the Holy Spirit clearly urges you to leave.
Adapted from Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church copyright 2013 by Caleb Breakey. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., www.harvesthousepublishers.com.
Caleb Breakey, a former journalist, is a frequent conference speaker with a sincere passion to lead, challenge, and inspire others in discussions about relationships, the church, and radically following Jesus. He lives in Washington State with his wife, Brittney.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.
Publication date: December 10, 2013