6. To leave or not to leave

We sometimes get it way wrong. We reject the people we need, and we hold on to the people that pull us down!

From the view of I-am-the-righteousness-of-God-in-Christ-Jesus, we handle life’s obstacles from heaven’s perspective.  We turn the cheek to those who hurt us, bless those who curse us and pray for those who spitefully use us.  Paul elaborates on this list of kingdom operational procedure in his Apostolic toolbox: Being reviled we bless, being persecuted we endure, being defamed we entreat, with much patience, by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness.  By following these Kingdom-Lifestyle prompts, we become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet 1:5)

When members, friends or family resign from their Church without giving any good reason nor being honest about their real motives, it is a severe shock for leaders to handle. It is undoubtedly also painful for members who choose to give up the value of fellowship and face the stigma of being deserters instead of continuing in the discomfort of disagreement.

The reality is, somewhere, something negative ensued between the members and leadership not speaking the truth in love, followed by a slow process of disengagement, turning of hearts, and eventually separation.  We too often speak about each other, instead of to each other.  I sincerely believe that if we act sooner on the signs of separation, and disengagement, by bringing the prospective parties into a save place of dialogue and work through the issues we will all grow together and remain together. This dialogue proses is only complete, when all has been said, all that is hidden in the heart has been disclosed and Christ-centred actions is agreed upon by all. 

These are generally some of the reasons why people decide to resign from their Church.

  1. Doctrinal Inaccuracy.
  2. Personality conflicts and offence.
  3. This Church does not serve their spiritual needs.
  4. They found another church.
  5. They were hurt.
  6. They moved or graduated.
  7. They never connected.
  8. Their gift was not recognized or utilized
  9. Someone they disapproved joined the group.
  10. They were abused and hurt.

It may also be a case where members like children matured into their own. They need to be released from the child vs parent phase into their own sense of adulthood and may feel to do church differently than the parent church.  The relationship however remains mutually respectful and open.  Member movement between churches should on the one hand, not be a too strange phenomenon if it is done the right way. What it problematic is when some people tend to do church-hopping without commitment.  This kind of behaviour speaks to their own immaturity and lack of a healthy upbringing.

Resignation from a certain church family is difficult. This is perhaps why some people rather keep relationships in the church superficial and on the surface.  They are too scared to commit and open themselves to possible relational injury.  In the post-modern world of self-serving individualism, people are even more so indisposed to commit to the hard work of relational discipleship.  

In one sense, it is a good thing that disgruntled, unhappy people don’t secretly disrupt the unity of the family and rather leave to find their respective tribe elsewhere. By contrast, when people resign and leave local churches in a spirit of division and rebellion, they fragmentize the church even more into ineffectiveness. Particularly, when the growth process in both the leader and member has not come full cycle. 

But here is a reality – from a One Church Body in Christ, perspective:

One cannot emotionally and relationally resign from the body of Christ.

One can be released from your commitment to a particular church family, because of practical reasons, and even ministry fit, or doctrinal error but not because of an offence not dealt with.

The third option (spiritual alternative) is to follow a “stay agreement”, where parties remain in the relationship, but the commitments, responsibilities and authority lines are reassessed.

In this protocol we have to define the role, power and rights of both the leader and the members.

Church relational ecosystems are complicated and intricate.  The Church is a mixture of diverse cultural ethnic backgrounds, age-disparities, gender differences, specific personality traits, diverse leadership styles, past hurtful experiences through which we all filter realities and information, and a list of unconscious transgressions we all do to each other without even knowing.  Deep, meaningful relationships are at times messy.  The church is a growing organism, constantly changing shape to best serve God’s purposes for the current relevant timeframe.  

We should acknowledge that the current mainstream media worldview is predominantly secular individualistic and humanistic, set against hierarchical patriarchal leadership or judgements of any kind. The social justice theme sounds noble to give the vulnerable a voice, but what to do when the vulnerable persist in a biblical condemned behaviour like LGBTQ adherents? These groups get a renewed voice in the mainstream media, publicly scolding and stigmatizing biblical fundamentalists who dare to lovingly warn of Biblical Eternal judgements.  This has led to an enormous vacuum of authentic leaders, too afraid to lead according to what God prescribes.  Paul’s prayer resonates in many leader’s heart when he asks the church to pray for him: “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph 6:19)

Twenty-one-year-old audio engineer Israel McFarland was a recent contestant on “American Idol,” where he received some life advice from judge Katy Perry. Though McFarland was raised in a conservative Christian home, he is seeking to forge a different path with his life and music, something that Perry did herself.  As McFarland introduced himself, Perry noted the uniqueness of his first name. “My parents…liked to name us all names from the Bible,” McFarland said. When Perry asked if his upbringing was strict, McFarland said, “Yeah, very strict. My parents—they did not like secular music. [My mom will] still comment if she hears a cuss word in my songs.” He went on to express that cussing is “one of the few things in life I enjoy.” At that statement, judge Luke Bryan joked with an exclamatory, “Yes!” “Let me give you a little piece of advice,” Perry said to McFarland. “Write a song called ‘I Kissed a Boy and I Liked It,’ and let [your parents] hear it for the first time on their own on the radio.” Perry was referencing her own 2008 song, “I Kissed a Girl,” which was about experimenting with same-sex kissing and enjoying it. When the song came out, it was controversial, particularly in conservative circles. It was also a marked departure from Perry’s earlier life as a former CCM artist and daughter of a Pentecostal preacher.  Perry then leaned back in her chair with a heavy sigh and joked, “Alright, Israel, what Satan music are you going to share with us today?”[1]

It seems that the world wants to simply do what feels right, in total disregard for any consequences and ramifications! Looking at the permanent devastation of jail-time, substance abuse, gender-based and domestic violence, and overdosing, one must ask now how is that the most loving thing to do? The adherents to NO-discipline, themselves do not want to be victims on the receiving end of someone else’s self-indulgence, but blindly and foolishly lobby for greater freedoms!

Some people are more agreeable (people-focused), and others more conscientious (task-focused). The loving, motherly, gentle, agreeable, accepting, flexible, inclusive nature of Christ is invaluable and necessary to draw people to Christ. The opposite authoritative, patriarchal, strict, rigid, judge, justice aspect is essential to promote growth and maturity in the knowledge of God. Both these aspects are indispensable in any family relational ecosystem to ensure all grow up into maturity in Christ. We need both the loving reconciler type leaders and the radical prophetic warning type leaders in the church to remain on course.

We currently live in a society where the feminine worldview triumphs—safety, food security, home security, safest vehicles, even technology that saves us.  Stability and safety are natural pursuits of any civilization; that’s why we live longer, are healthier and more affluent.  Yet, we still face destructive financial crises, corruption, costly natural disasters and deadly accidents from time to time. Looking closely at the behavior that precedes these disasters, this convenience and safety put us to sleep and made us weaker and less alert! Safety also means that some people use this safety to assess more significant risks.[2] Boys, in particular, need risks, danger, and competition to develop into healthy manhood.

The question is not less safety and more danger. The quest is for instant feedback! I surfer, diver, racing driver depends on instant accurate feed-back to make split-second decisions and survive imminent danger. We should then always foster an atmosphere of non-threatening feedback, debriefings, constructive dialogue, consultation, and coaching to ascertain effectiveness and accuracy.

Both the leader and the church member, the mentor and mentee must receive constant constructive feedback to uphold the health of the relationship.

Church thus cannot only be seeker-sensitive.  The seeker-sensitive approach is effective in drawing people to Christ but fails miserably at maturing people in Christ.  Church invariably should be the safest place on Earth for people to thrive. The reality is people do not grow spiritually without difficulty, resistance, effort, persistence, correction, coaching and suffering.  The church is not for your entertainment; it exists to train you for life. Learning the kingdom way of doing things and remain faithful to the cause of Christ will cost you your life.  

Here are a few examples:

  • Keep your stand while being persecuted.
  • Accurately defend the faith, while being rejected.
  • Keep your righteousness and peace, holiness and sanctification in the midst of evil, darkness and deceit. 

In this chapter I have focussed on resignation from Church, but divorce implies the same principles.  How many people divorce without any awareness of their own wrongdoing? How many people disengage from friendships, without knowing the reasons? It is correct and okay to break relationship, but then you must follow the Mat 18, Luk 17 prescriptions, to address the wrongdoing!

People continue to do wrong, and follow paths of destruction because no one is stopping them!!!!

In the BBC documentary of the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Dr Phillip Zimbardo one of the young boys who took a self-construed role of abusive prison guard explained his behaviour: “I was surprised that no one stopped me…”  [3]

Disciplinary Code of Conduct.

Discipline is the primary way God loves and changes us. Whether by His gentleness, goodness, instructions, exhortations, doctrine, rebuke correction, leading and scourging, all is done with one objective – to reclaim His image in us.  Inevitably being a disciple and follower of Jesus implies constant correction.  Until we embrace His discipline, we will continue to follow our way.  Receiving regular discipline is humbling yet necessary to realise His image fully reconstructed within us. There is simply no other way.  Being adopted and becoming His children takes an act of God, learning to live as children that represent him well takes a lifetime of discipline.

Every time we engage with scripture and the presence of God, we are disciplined and directed into living His way. You keep a motor vehicle on the road by making minor corrections all the time, so it is to be led by the Spirit (Rom 8:12) being full of the Spirit. (Eph 5:18)

Sin and offences between believers

  1. Step one: if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone (Matthew 18:15-18)
  2. Step two: if he does not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established
  3. Step three: if he refuses to hear them tell it to the Church
  4. Step four: But if he refuses even to listen to the Church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector

Discipline to those who sin but are repenting

Receive one who is weak in the faith (Romans 14:1)

We who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:1)

if a man is overtaken in any trespass: restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal 6:2-3)

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. (Jude 1:22)

Discipline to those who do not repent

deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:4–5)

of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Tim. 1:20)

A brother who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: not to keep company… not even to eat with such a person… put away from yourselves the evil person (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. (Romans 16:17)

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)

But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6)

And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, (Titus 1:10-11)

One cannot but wonder if the global Church kept these precise practical instructions regarding doctrine, whether the Church would have been in such a mess as it is today.  We need both LOVE and TRUTH to be disciplined into Christlikeness.

Disciplinary principles for Pastors and overseers.

This will be the third time I am coming to you. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare (2 Corinthians 13:1-2) It is important to note that discipline takes time and consistency, Paul visited three times, and shifted gears in mood, this time not sparing anyone.  This sounds harsh, but this action was only necessary because of the hardness of hard and their refusal to repent and change.

For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. (2 Corinthians 7:8) One is soberly aware that man can force another man to do nothing. You can make a man to stand on the outside, but if he is still sitting on the inside, you have accomplished nothing.  We are never impressed with outward impressiveness, making everyone to dance accomplish nothing if people do not understand why they should dance.  Repentance is a gift from God. 

Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2) Discipline is not a one-size-fits-all procedure. People are different, and various means of discipline needs to be applied that are most effective for that particular person. 

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. (1 Timothy 5:19) One does not deal with a leader by receiving one testimony. He who states his case first seems right until his rival comes and cross-examines him. (Prov 18:17) I think this generally applies to all members in the Church. When the goal is to get the offender to repent, accurate, precise, specific, revealing of the wrong is most effective.  Like a surgeon cutting out cancer, saving the patient.

Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, (Titus 1:13) This severe discipline is reserved for major sins that are hurting the body of Christ. Extortionist, liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons, They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. Dealing with sinners in the Church is therapeutic, and the rest of the body will sigh relief for leaders taking charge to protect the family!  

Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. (1 Timothy 5:20) This should not happen regularly, only in extreme cases of open rebellion and sinful conduct. What we should remember though in this verse is its context. In a few sentences later Paul instructs: “without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality” We cannot openly rebuke sin in the greater family for instance, without condemning the same sin publicly in our own biological family.  Many Leaders have made themselves guilty of nepotism and favouritism of their own family at the cost of the greater family.  This path weakens the leadership instead of strengthening their position. Leaders ought to always be example in following the more difficult righteous biblical path.

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2) Finally God’s favourite means of discipline is our Preaching and Teaching. Sound, expository teaching is the best way to get people to see and follow God’s way. 

Discipline by God

Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. (Acts 5:1-10) At the end we ought not be judged by men’s judgement. We all stand before God. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5) For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor 3:11-15)

We all stand before God who know all things and examines the heart.

How does one resign without hurting anyone?

Finally, when one has to resign, and after all possible offenses has been dealt with, the following steps should be undertaken to remain in peace with all men.

  • Speak the truth in love.
  • Be precise in speech.
  • Consistently and genuinely bless and thank one another.
  • Give a small token of thanks.
  • Do not speak unresolved issues or offense with anyone.
  • Keep the relational door open, we still belong to the same family, the body of Christ.

[1] https://churchleaders.com/news/420639-katy-perry-encourages-young-american-idol-contestant-to-use-music-to-rebel-against-christian-parents.html

[2]  Ip, G., 2015. Foolproof. 1st ed. Copyright © 2015 by Greg Ip. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4txhN13y6A  Zimbardo, P., 2013. The lucifer effect. New York: Random House.