This is a continuation of the blog I started yesterday on “The Dones,” people who still follow Christ but have dropped out of the church. I addressed the point of “being lectured to in sermons” and “having heard it all” yesterday. Today, I’d like to look at an issue that is probably even bigger because I think for most people that are true believers, the sermons are not the reason they drop out. It’s the people in the church, whether it’s their fellow members or the leaders.
The article I mentioned (you can google it, I’m not sure if I’d be allowed a direct link — it’s actually a blog, now that I look at it carefully) is a little confusing to me as I read it. The very first “Done” they mention says he didn’t leave because of a blowup with a church staff or member. Rather, it was long-considered, thoughtful decision. Based on what, we never find out.
That seems to minimize the relationship aspect of leaving the church. But ultimately as you read the rest of the article (and the comments below it by others), relationship problems are at the very root of many people leaving the church. Sometimes it’s philosophical differences on the direction of the church. Other times it was how the leadership treated the members. And yet other times, it was a simple lack of love and brotherly kindness in the church.
And because of that, people leave the church and never come back.
But look at what the early Christians did.
They devoted themselves to…the fellowship. (2:42)
In short, they made fellowship with other believers a high priority. They were passionate about it. Some of my friends say, “Well, you know, I have my group of Christian friends, and we are committed to each other for spiritual and personal growth.”
I hope that’s true. But what does that mean? You call each other once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Are you making it a high priority to spend time with them, talk with them, encourage them, and if necessary, admonish them. Do you devote yourselves to prayer with each other? Do you share communion with them?
Or are these things down on the list after “real life,” work, family, school, etc?
The Christians of that day did make it a priority.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. (44-46)
The Christians were so passionate about the fellowship, they met every day in the temple courts. They spent time together in their homes. And when they saw each other’s needs, the helped each other.
The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (47)
Why did the church grow? It was a fulfillment of what Jesus told his disciples.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)
Note that Jesus said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples if you love everybody.” He said, “By this men will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”
Certainly it is important to love people outside the church. As Christ’s church, we can’t solely be focused inward and loving each other. We must reach out beyond our walls to a dying world.
But if the world looks at us and sees us fighting amongst ourselves, with unresolved differences, anger, unforgiveness, and bitterness, what will they think?
If a person you’re sharing Christ with says, “Hey, can I visit your church?” and you say, “Well I don’t go,” and they ask why, what are you going to say?
“Well, I had some relationship problems with people.”
Or, “I got into a fight with leadership over the direction of the church.”
What are they going to think? If we are disparaging the very church Christ loved and died for, will they still want to become a Christian?
Let me rephrase a verse from I John, and maybe it will hit home.
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet refuses to associate with his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who cuts off his relationship with his brother, whom he has seen cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (I John 4:20)
Can you really claim to love God if you refuse to associate with your brothers and sisters at your local church? Can you really claim to love God if you cut yourself off from a relationship with them?
It’s easy to love your friends. Do you love your family, warts and all?