I have been involved in the same church for almost four years. I love the people like my own family. We had a pastoral change about two and a half years ago and it has been hard to adjust. My husband and I (along with many others in the church) do not agree with some of the pastor’s ways. There are a lot of politics in our church and we cannot go over his head for help. I can speak for myself that I have been praying about the matter but it seems like every time I think things will change, we find out more things that should not be going on. Please tell me what we should do!
– No name or city given
A question of style? (Part 1)
The first question to ask yourself is this: is your problem a matter of style or is it something more substantive? Your answer makes a huge difference in how you handle the situation. You said you do not agree with some of the pastor’s ways. That sounds like a style issue but you also mention finding out more things that should not be going on. That sounds more serious.
For instance, if you became aware that your pastor is involved in any illegal or immoral activity you would need to report it to the proper authorities for the situation. Or, if your pastor got seriously off base doctrinally, you could not just continue to sit in the pew and accept it. This would have to be addressed.
I’m going to make the assumption that is not the type of thing you are referring to. I’m going to address your question as a matter of styles. That said, I do not want to minimize the styles issue because it is very real and can be troublesome. Almost all churches go through some turnover when there is a change in the pastoral staff. After all, often it is the pastor who draws you to a church to begin with – his focus, his outstanding sermons, his loving attitude, his clear direction, etc.
When a pastor changes you may find that there simply is not that meshing anymore and you begin to feel dissatisfied. People always say that we should not look to a man but to Jesus Christ in a church. While that is true, we also have to find a church that feels right for us and style has the most to do with that. The types of worship songs; altar calls or no altar calls; prayer styles, philosophy of handling building, finances etc. – all of these matter to style.
Your Choices (Part 2)
Boiling it down to the simplest level; you can leave the church, you can stay and adjust/accept or, you can stay and wait it out until there is another change of pastor which probably will eventually happen. Staying may be the hardest option because there will be very stringent rules to follow if you do this.
In a certain way, leaving is the easiest. Shop around; you can start fresh with a new pastoral staff – one that more closely matches what you had before. Yes you would be leaving all those who feel like family but you can continue relationships with them outside church. Of course church shopping is no fun so the transition can be somewhat uncomfortable. (Regarding shopping for a new church, you may want to read a related Straight Talk question which deals with that called “How can I find a good church?”
Staying and accepting is the option you have chosen so far and it does not seem to be working out for you. You have been trying to pray about it but you see no progress. That is because praying for other people to change is an uphill battle. It also places expectation on the other person and usually results in frustration and disappointment. I would suggest that if you continue to opt for remaining in the church, you do so on the basis of accepting things AS THEY ARE. Can you do that?
Can you accept and celebrate the good that is there and participate fully in the life of the church without complaining, gossiping or bad mouthing the pastor? Can YOU change instead of expecting him to? I think that is a tough road but there may be reasons why you’d choose it such as consideration for another family member or in order to continue relationships you feel you would lose otherwise or maybe because there is no acceptable alternative church in your city.
Your great opportunity (Part 3)
You may wonder why I have not brought the Lord and his will into this discussion a little more. Yes, of course he cares and you should be taking this to him in prayer. However, it is my opinion that God cares less about the final decision you make than how you handle yourself while you make it.
It is in the difficult and stressful times when we have the most opportunity for spiritual growth. What you do and what you don’t do really matters as you weigh your options. For instance, if you stay, you have a tremendous opportunity to practice self control and the love described in 1 Corinthians 13.
In the event you decide to leave you can do it the right way. Be honest and straightforward in telling the pastor why you are leaving but leave pronouncing a blessing on the church. (By the way, is the pastor aware of how you feel? Sitting down and talking this out may resolve your dilemma straight away.)
If you leave, be careful not to cause division; don’t try to get everyone over to your new church; let each person make their own decision. When people ask, you can say something simple and honest without going into gossipy details.
Sometimes God makes us uncomfortable in our present circumstances so we will be open to moving out of them and sometimes he is looking for us to change within our circumstances. I don’t know which this is for you. Remember that God cares most about your character. He wants you to grow up “to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”(Ephesians 4:13b) Let every decision you make be guided by that.