A few weeks ago, a friend and fellow member of my church, Cofer’s Chapel, posted some old pictures she had taken of the children she and her sister used to teach on Wednesday nights. I couldn’t help but smile as I scrolled through all the pictures of my youngest child, along with many of his friends and classmates. It was a beautiful reminder why my wife and I decided to stick it out when things were far less than perfect in our church.
Before I even attempt at making any applications or declarations, I want to be clear about a few things. While I truly believe church loyalty is important, every circumstance is different. During my 20+ years at Cofer’s, we’ve seen many people leave. Some have followed ministry opportunities elsewhere. Some have moved to new cities, states, or even countries. A few have left for philosophical differences with church leadership. And some have left because they were unhappy. I won’t begin to judge any of these. And while I’m confident that not everyone left for the best reasons, I don’t know their hearts and cannot call their decision wrong.
As I looked at all the old images of some of our church children, a few thoughts occurred to me. Instead of this coming across as a “Do as I do because I know best” sort of thing, I would rather focus on my experience and hope that will be helpful to others.
Sticking it out is hard
Throughout our time at Cofer’s, we have felt the pull to consider a new church home. Whether it be due to a general feeling of stagnation at the church or something more profound, there have been times that sticking it out was the harder road to take. Yet, stick it out we did. I can’t 100% say we made the right decision, but where we stand now, I do believe God has blessed our loyalty.
I have no desire, nor do I think it would be prudent or wise, to go into details about any issues at my church that contributed to our feeling a need for change. In as simple terms as I can put it, there have been times when we felt the church was not the best fit for our family. The siren call from other churches was loud; the greener pastures of a thriving children’s ministry always looked appealing. Still, time and time again, we chose to stay and stick it out. “Why?” you might ask. To be honest, we have not always been able to answer that question. And, sometimes, even when we can answer it, our answers have been weak and feeble things. But now, years into this process, I believe we can answer it and feel confident we have made the right decision.
The harder road
Remaining loyal to our church has been the harder road in some regards, but in others, it has richly blessed our lives. Yes, it likely would have been easier to find a large, growing church and plug in there. Our kids would have had so many wonderful church programs and activities to be a part of. It would have felt easier and demanded less of us as active and involved members. But, would we have lost something in that trade? I believe we would have.
Cofer’s is not a large church. In some ways that can be viewed as a negative as it demands more from its staff and its core members and it limits the scope of the church’s ministries. In my view, the size is inconsequential if the church is actively seeking the will of God. I believe we are. Due to the size of our church, our family has truly found a church family. I don’t want that point to get overlooked. It’s one thing to enjoy the church you attend and to feel like you are being fed spiritually. It is another thing entirely to find true community and family. Sticking it out has allowed us to form bonds with our church, bonds that would have been difficult to impossible if we had left for greener pastures.
The blessings of sticking it out
During times of grief or loss, our church has not only rallied around us, they have walked the road with us. When we have faced financial difficulties (an article for another day), our church has not only joined us in prayer but have poured themselves into our lives in ways we will never fully comprehend. Yet, even more profound than those wonderful examples, our church knows us. They know my children and they love them. There are numerous adults in our church who make it a point to speak to my boys. They engage with them, talking about their studies, interests, and anything else my kids are willing to share. That is a blessing I would never give up no matter how extravagant and impressive another children’s ministry might be.
The following is in no way meant to be a pat on the back, so I hope it’s taken in the spirit in which it is written. My wife and I have always been involved in church activities. We have served as Sunday School teachers, worked with kids from the nursery up to the teens. We have taught and served in a variety of ways. That wouldn’t change if we switched to a new church. At least, I hope it wouldn’t. I am confident we could find a new church home where we could get involved. I am equally confident our kids would adapt to a new church, with new friends and teachers. But, no matter how hard we try, I have serious doubts it would feel the same. Leaving our church behind would be a loss. A monumental and life-changing loss. That sacrifice has never felt worth it to us, no matter how bad things got at our church.
I doubt I have done this topic justice. I am speaking from the heart much more than from my head. Even so, I hope this will encourage you to stick it out. Now, to be clear, that is not always possible or even recommended. Sometimes, finding a new church home is the best decision you can make for your family. Yet, I’ve found that often when families leave a church, they run into the same issues at their new church. Or, they realize after the fact that if they had just stuck it out a little longer, things would have improved. My point is, if you can and it isn’t a matter of heresy or immorality, sticking it out might be your best option.
Instead of pulling away when you feel disconnected, throw yourself into the church. Never let it be said that you drifted away from the church because things were not exactly how you wanted them to be. No, plug in, work, serve, minister, and connect. I can’t promise you it will get better, but if you do those things and still feel you are being led to find a new church home, you will know you gave it your all. Isn’t that better than simply jumping ship when it starts to take on water? Don’t leave with regrets about what you could have done to improve the situation.
Sticking it out is not a quick fix. It’s a long, hard road. But, if my experience is any proof, it’s worth it in the end. My family truly has a church family. That is something that does not happen overnight. It has taken time and tears and plenty of prayer. In the end, sticking it out has been the right decision for my family. If you are feeling disconnected or disillusioned in your current church, I urge you to stay the course a little longer. I believe it is worth it. I hope it will be worth it for you as well.