Part four in the series entitled, Biblical Principles to Consider Before Leaving Your Church.

Are your expectations of the church and/or pastor realistic? Your pastor may not be a motivational speaker, the worship may not descend from the portals of heaven, and you may not be greeted with hugs and smiles from everyone, but these are not reasons to leave. As a matter of fact, we should be thankful that we live in a nation where we can worship God and faithfully preach the Word without fear of death or imprisonment (at least for now).

It’s not realistic to think that all the messages and worship services will meet our every need. As in marriage, it’s vitally important that we don’t enter into things with unrealistic expectations. Without humility and a teachable spirit, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get clear direction. Humility does not mean that we become passive observers, but that we live in total surrender to God and align our expectations with His. Allow the Word of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to transform you, rather than always relying on pastors and others.

Granted, I do believe there should be passion in a true spirit-filled church. After all, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire” (Lloyd-Jones). Passion and unction should resonate from the pulpit and the church. Excitement is often the by-product of a radically changed life.

Is preference influencing your decision? When it comes to preference, the questions are endless: “Why is the worship music so loud? Why is the worship so subdued? Why don’t we sing the old hymns? Why do we sing the old hymns? Why are we using a band? Why aren’t we using a band? Why do we have a choir? Why don’t we have a choir? Why are they sitting? Why are they standing? Why are they raising their hands? Why aren’t they raising their hands? Why aren’t the pastor’s messages topical? Why are they topical? Why are they wearing suits and ties? Why aren’t they wearing suits and ties? Why do we have so many guest-speakers? Why don’t we have guest-speakers? Why aren’t the services charismatic? Why are the services so charismatic? Why don’t we take communion every week? Why do we take communion every week?” The list never ends. I remember telling a friend that I really enjoyed the worship service that morning. He smiled and said, “A few others commented just the opposite.”

Preference plays an enormous role in our lives, but this isn’t always a bad thing. Personally, I think that what many are referring to as racism or division within the church has nothing to do with racism or division at all, but preference. We all “prefer” certain settings and styles of worship. Ethnic groups, as well as age groups, generally have preferences that are based on experience and upbringing—on what is familiar and comfortable. This may be another reason why God has granted us denominations. There’s nothing wrong with having preferences, but there is something wrong when our preferences become the standard by which we judge others. Enjoy your God-given preferences, but don’t allow them to become the standard by which you evaluate others. Love and grace should be the driving force behind motives.

In closing, it may appear that I’m siding with the church on these issues…I’m not. My goal is for the reader to examine motives and make the right decision. Wayne Grudem reminds us, “There were no perfect churches at the time of the New Testament and there will be no perfect churches until Christ returns.” He is referencing the Westminster Confession of Faith that says, “The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error” (25.5). Mr. Grudem continues, “This means that Christians have no obligation to seek the purest church they can find and stay there, and then leave it if an even purer church comes to their attention. Rather, they should find a true church in which they can have effective ministry and in which they will experience Christian growth as well, and then should stay there and minister, continually working for the purity of that church.”

This doesn’t mean that we overlook the spiritual health of the church; we need wisdom. Grudem concludes, “But we must realize that not all churches will respond well to influences that would bring them to greater purity. Sometimes, in spite of a few faithful Christians within a church, its dominant direction will be set by others who are determined to lead it on another course. Unless God graciously intervenes to bring reformation, some of these churches will become cults, and others will just die and close their doors. But more commonly these churches will simply drift into liberal Protestantism.”