What do you do when you find yourself in disagreement with your local church? Is it possible to stick with it and keep going? There may come a point when you say “No I cannot in good conscience.” We’ll have a look at that scenario in the next post on this topic. However, first of all, there are a couple of helpful things you might want to consider.
1. Distinguish between genuine disagreements and preferences. I may prefer a particular genre of music, style of preaching, liturgy, how children are involved etc. but I should be careful not to confuse my preferences with the church being in the wrong. Now whilst, I may find a greater sense of joy in a particular style of church, it may even do me good to learn to enjoy gathering when things are not to my liking. Remember, you don’t join a church as a consumer looking for it to meet your felt needs. You are part of the family gathering locally. For much of history and in most parts of the world, it simply isn’t and hasn’t been possible for people to say “my church no longer works for me and so I’ll go elsewhere.”
2. If the disagreement is about specific decisions, then how important and central are those decisions? Are you on-board with the overall vision/mission/direction of travel of the church? When we moved from one morning service to two, not everyone agreed that this was the right way to go. Some people were very worried about how it would affect the life of the church, some particularly felt the strain of increased responsibility and workload and others felt the pain of seeing less of people that joined a different congregation. At the same time, we were also considering buying a shop building and converting it into a community café. There were people who were not sure if this was the best use of limited financial resources. However, what I found encouraging with both decisions was that those who disagreed or weren’t sure were willing to keep walking with the church through the decisions and challenges. The reason was that although sometimes they weren’t sure about individual choices, they were in agreement with the rest of the church in its desire to reach a needy community with the Gospel. They recognised that to do this we had to make some big and challenging decisions. They knew that the decisions were not always easy. So, they kept going, kept supporting, kept participating.
3. If the disagreement is theological then how central is it? It’s important to distinguish those things which are central to the Gospel from second and third order matters. I have a friend who will do that explicitly. He will tell me that he disagrees with me on something but then say “but that’s not even a third order issue.” In other words, it’s not fellowship breaking. Now, when something is second order, then you may recognise that it is not fellowship breaking in that it is not central to the Gospel, however, it may be significant enough for you to say “But I don’t think I can continue in membership of a church that holds that position.” This may especially be true when the church makes the second order issue primary. However, there may be times when you find yourself part of a church and there’s something significant you disagree with but you agree on everything else and there’s not really many other options. For example, many churches that practice believers baptism will make provision for paedo-baptists who agree on all other matters and would not be able to find a good local gospel church that practices infant baptism.
Now, it’s important to be careful with point 3. We can become comfortable, afraid of change and end up moving our negotiating line further and further back to accommodate others so that once was primary becomes secondary and what was secondary and so on. Be careful not to compromise the Gospel. There may come a time as well when the church is clearly going in a different direction in terms of its vision and mission to what you believe is right. What do you do then?
Well, first of all, with any of the above situations I would encourage you to speak with the elders and raise your concerns. If something is a matter of taste and preference say so. You know, it’s okay to ask for what you like and generally speaking elders and pastors are not wilfully trying to make church a burden to bear! If you disagree, explain why, take time to think through your reasons and make sure you’ve a Biblical basis for your argument. Show charity to those who disagree with you. Deal with the issues, don’t make negative assumptions about their motives. Don’t make things personal. Think about how that will affect them and their family. Be ready to listen to what they have to say, check out their arguments scripturally – be willing to be persuaded by Scripture. Keep praying for those you disagree with.
And …if the disagreement is too serious, too significant -then there may come a time when you have to leave. How can we do that in a way that shows faithfulness?