I recently read Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary, “On Leaving Church.” He says, “There are many Christians who have stopped going to church. They have not given up on God, have not renounced their faith, have not denied Christ, and have not become pagans. They simply are no longer going to church.”
He gives the example of John who had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision, saying, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.” Then he comments, “John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation—often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.”
Mr. Muhlenberg then gives a list of reasons he believes people stop going to church. Here are two of them:
-Many believers are looking for the real deal. They want an encounter with almighty God, not just a razzmatazz stage production.
-Many believers are desiring genuine Holy Ghost revival, not just pep talks, self-help seminars, and a me-centred gospel.
It is easy to relate to Mr. Muhlenberg’s commentary. Due to circumstances, I attended a church for 2 years while being way from home. The presence of God was almost completely absent in their services. It was more of a get together for retirees than a service intended to meet with the Creator of the universe. It left me with a yearning for His presence.
You may be like John or many of the Nones and Dones. My suggestion is to shift the focus off the church and onto you, the individual, dissatisfied believer. Make it a question of what do I do to position myself so that God can glorify His name through me?
Let me give some examples of some wonderful things God has done in my life and assure you that I am no better than anyone who is reading this article. I am not a pastor or a deacon. I don’t have a theology degree or a doctorate of any kind. I have had huge failures in my life. I give these for you to consider what is possible for God to do in your life.
During a conversation with another church member, I talked about the prayer life of George Mueller, how I had been teaching his life as an example of faith, and said, “If I really believed what I taught, I would ask God for something incredible.” He told me to give him my prayer list and he would pray with me. My list was to provide Bibles for specific missionaries/nations for a total of $9,000. A few months later, I received a phone call informing me that the government owed me $13,200. I eventually received the money and was able to provide the Bibles.
I was invited to a foreign country for a couple of personal reasons. Prior to going, arrangements were made for me to speak in a woman’s maximum security prison, though it was not supposed to be allowed for me as a foreigner to go in. The month before I left, my wife asked me to help her best friend move her household goods out of storage into her new apartment. The morning of the move, it was raining and the forecast called for rain all day. The radar showed rain throughout the area. On the way to the storage unit, I prayed, “Lord, you know I am going to [a country] where women are thought of as property. I need to demonstrate Your love for women by stopping the rain for [my wife’s friend].” A few blocks later at the storage unit, the rain stopped. Her father and uncle were supposed to be there to help, but weren’t. She called her father on her cell phone and asked, “Where are you?” “It’s raining,” he replied. “It’s not here,” she said. It took us multiple trips and several hours to move everything. It never rained the entire time. Later, she told me it started to rain right after I left for home. I was able to share that message with those women in that prison. Six women came forward in that maximum security prison in tears to ask Christ to save them.
I spent a year in the capitol city of an Islamic regime as part of a multinational, assistance effort. I wasn’t there in any kind of a religious capacity. Yet, I had the opportunity to peach once a month and tell dozens of people from all over the world that Jesus loved them, that He died for them, and because of that, they could have forgiveness of sins and become a child of God. Also, I was asked to preach one Sunday at the US Embassy and because the UK military’s chaplain (they call him a Padre) was out of country on another day, I was asked to preach in an Upper Anglican church service. (That’s amazing when you consider I am not a Brit nor am I Anglican.) I was also able to disciple a Muslim convert to Christianity and at some personal risk to both of us, smuggle him discipleship materials.
There was a family that had quit coming to church. We began to pray for them. Without ever stopping by to visit them in their home, they showed up one morning. When I exclaimed to them, “We’ve been praying for you,” the wife/mom said, “I know. We can feel your prayers.”
I could relate other events for you, but I think this is enough to demonstrate to you that God is able to use you in ways that are exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, but you probably have to make some changes in your life, worship, and approach to Him for Him to do so. Forget about what your church is or isn’t doing for the moment and focus on you.
My first question is, “Do you believe in fasting?” My next questions are, “Do you believe in fasting enough to actually do it? How often do you fast? When is the last time you fasted before the Lord?” When in the Islamic country as a part of a small group of believers, we fasted one day a week. In our church services there, we might only have 15 to 30 people present, but we would see 4 or 5 get saved every time I preached. A friend of mine pastored a church in Pennsylvania. He and his deacons fasted once a week. After several months, over 1/3 of the town’s population was attending there. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God you are serious about Him. Check your Bible. You will see God did great things once people fasted (2 Chronicles 20, Ezra 8, Esther 4, Daniel 9, Jonah 3, Acts 10, Acts 13) Whether you’re a church leader or a lay member, if God seems to be absent from your life and your church, you need to fast. If you’re not serious enough about your discontent or desire to see God move to give up some meals, you’re only kidding yourself. You may be guilty of wanting God to work miracles, but only if He does so in a way that is convenient to you and your lifestyle.
Don’t drop out of church. First, because the Bible tells us we’re to go to church. That’s part of obedience to God and obedience is better than fasting. To disobey is a form of rebellion and the Scriptures equates that to witchcraft. Second and practically speaking, you can’t fix your church’s problem by being an outsider. To drop out is to say that God doesn’t have the power to fix your church. If He can’t fix your church – an institution that He established, how is He going to fix anything in your life? If you won’t trust Him with His church, why should He do anything for you?
You should pray for your pastor, minister, priest, bishop, deacons, elders. (See “A Plea to Pray for Pastors.”) Unless your church leaders are teaching heresies, the Bible tells us we should obey them. Paul said the Hebrew children of the Old Testament were given to us as examples. The people complained about Moses’ leadership. (Numbers 16 and Numbers 20 give just 3 examples.) The people were angry with their leaders, Moses and Aaron, because their experience wasn’t what they expected it to be. So, they blamed Moses and Aaron for their circumstances, when it was God that had led them to where they were; it was God who was trying to teach them something; and it was their unbelief that was instrumental in placing them in their situation. Moses wasn’t their problem. It could be that your church leadership isn’t the problem either, but that God is working in a way you can’t understand. If you’re not on your knees praying for your church leaders to have truth, wisdom, guidance, and protection, then who is?
You must be involved in personal daily Bible study and prayer and you must be involved in giving your tithes/offerings. You should be asking God for wisdom. You should be asking God to use you to glorify His name. You should be asking God for guidance as to where to serve Him. If you’re not doing these things, you do not have an intimate relationship with God and you are not in tune to what He wants from you and what He wants to do through you – possibly He even wants to spark a revival in your church!
The problem is when you focus on your unhappiness and discontentment is you become ineffective for God. Your complaints can be heard by those who need a Savior and then will turn them away from the church, a place where they can hear the Gospel and the institution God established to train and equip the saints for service. Also just as dangerously, you become a target for cults whose members will approach you, speak doctrine that sounds like what you believe (but is laced with not so evident half-truths and falsehoods), and promise you that their church has the real truth and happy members.
Think about it, what if you asked God to teach you truth? What if you were serious enough to fast once a week (or more)? What if you asked Him to glorify His name in you? What if you asked God to reform your church? What if He did it? Wouldn’t it be a wonderful experience to see true revival occur in your church and to know that God used you to make it happen?