Why Should I Stay?

I know many who read this blog are not members of Churches of Christ. However, this is an important question for any Christian Fellowship to answer: Why Should I Stay?

I conversed recently with a preacher at the end of his rope. He feels his ministry is futile. He feels everything he suggests either gets a “no,” or gets a “yes” only after a multi-month, Herculean effort that brings him to the brink of utter despair. Even then, the “yes” brings him only tepid support that lasts until the first complaint.

This isn’t his first rodeo. Not even close. But, he’s torn between his spiritual heritage and what he perceives to be the vanity of staying in churches that exhaust he and his family while quenching his gifts and training.

This is of course is how he feels after many years of ministry. His heart is frustrated, tired, broken, and he’s asking: Why Should I Stay? Not in ministry. Not in Christ. In Churches of Christ. Granted, what makes one “in” or “out” is itself complicated. But, he is talking about a clean break.

I know I haven’t told you a lot. But, you know the broader strokes and probably know someone who has felt similarly–asking, “Why Should I Stay?” 

I offered a few suggestions as to why he might want to stay, and why he might not. What would you tell him? He’s listening.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

14 thoughts on “Why Should I Stay?

  1. No offense gentlemen, but it is a little bizarre hearing all this stuff about being frustrated that the CoC wasn’t all you wanted it to be and how if only the congregation would have done ass you said everything would have been great.

    If I’m not misreading you, that was exactly the sort of preacher my father fought against his whole life and I fought against up until I left the church about 5 years ago.

    Perhaps a read of Bonhoeffer would be appropriate here. Please forgive me for my excessive insert at this time (from Life Together):

    One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood.

    Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung up from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

    Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

    God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christains with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first and accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

  2. It’s been a very long time since I commented here, but this one pulls at my heart. As a former minister in the COC, I can completely understand these struggles. I was born and raised in the COC for more than 40 years. My church was my family and I love them very much. But when you enter “leadership,” I think you have a greater responsibility for the organization you lead. You have a responsibility to God, to your family, and to the congregation, and, in my opinion, in that order. I tried to lead where I could, educating myself, supporting the members, and being true to the direction I believed God was calling me. I had support from our lead pastor, elders and members of the congregation. However, we continued to struggle, as a congregation, with what I felt were “occasional traditions” that were holding us back from being able to reach many in our community. We studied the issues as a congregation, and then studied them, and then studied them again. In the end I don’t really know what we decided, but months after the announcement, little had changed. Rather than leave, I tried to implement some of these practices in a “small group” setting, and while it was wonderful, I couldn’t get the buy-in I wanted. My time ended, essentially, in a leadership meeting that brought me to tears, not because of their response, but because of my struggle to be effective in that setting. I say all of this to qualify what I will say next. In the end we left. I left because I couldn’t bring the change many agreed was needed. I left because I didn’t want to struggle against my church family anymore. I left because I didn’t want to damage those relationships. I left because I realized it was not MY responsibility to bring change where change wasn’t desired. I left because I was in pain and I needed to feel connected again. I didn’t leave because they were wrong. I have to say that I am released. I feel a sense of peace and joy that I’ve missed for a long time. We have found a place that works for us, and it is a wonderful body of Christians.
    So my advice is this: be careful of letting yourself feel so “important” that you owe it to this congregation to stay. That is a common feeling among ministers, and one often supported by members of the congregation. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “but without you, who’s going to bring the change.” That sounds nice, but it is a burden and a misconception. God will bring the change if the congregation really desires it. If they don’t, God wont. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve been given, but you also owe it to yourself and your family to not let your position become your relationship with God. Stay if you want, but you are free to go. In my opinion, God wants us to be alive, not martyrs, and that’s what your family needs too.

    • Bryce, thanks for the thoughtful comment. The struggle you mention is common, and the last part of your comment is dead on, “be careful of letting yourself feel so “important” that you owe it to this congregation to stay. That is a common feeling among ministers, and one often supported by members of the congregation.” True dat.

  3. Since you brought it up. While my own motivations were manifold, I can say that the moment I knew I must leave was when I was told that not only would my leaving not matter, but “you should do what you think is best for your family.”

    You see, I was brought up with the idea that church was family, a non-negotiable familial relationship. To be “out there” was to be lost (though no one in my own congregation would have ever said things like “going to hell”). When confronted with the fact that my relationship was viewed as fungible (in the economic sense), I realized that Christianity could not possibly be in that house.

    None of the rest matters. What matters is: Is this the body of Christ? If it is, then nothing is negotiable. If it isn’t, then you need to go find it.

  4. Are the relationships he has made at his current church home irreplaceable?

    That, I think, would be my number one question.

    Because the older I get, the answers I get to programmatic suggestions I make matter less and less … and the people I serve while working at my home church matter more and more.

    By the way, some of the “no” and “are-you-kidding?” answers to programmatic suggestions that I got five or six years ago are actually starting to happen these days. All it took was for the suggestion to come from somebody else!

    • Good stuff, Keith. Time certainly makes a difference. To be fair, my friend has been at his location for some time. One of the side issues I didn’t mention in the post is the changing of the guard in his eldership. It resets some relational dynamics every 3 years inside the room–and they have a propensity for picking some that are relatively new to the church if they’ve served elsewhere. Relationship is at least half of the ball-game in these scenarios. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I wouldn’t make the decision out of frustration. Is God calling you to a move? New direction? One assumes that you won’t run into all of the same leadership issues in other groups. Then you find they don’t have the same convictions or attitudes on a host of issues and then what? That they don’t want to follow where you want to go anymore thant those in the CofC.

    If it is what God wants so be it but I wouldn’t advise making that move simply becuase you think you won’t find the same situations and maybe even discover things that are worse.

    I said a prayer for him.

  6. There are good reasons to stay and to go. What’s more pressing is to find a congregation where his preaching and leadership style fit — which is no easy task. Obviously, and I’m sure he knows this, there are some frustrations that are endemic to the process and position of ministry.

    For me, it’s just terribly hard to leave. The job and church is one thing, but it was CofC people who raised me, raised me in the faith. I went to camp and college with them. It has been my life blood in so many ways.

    For me (and I’m not kidding), it’s somewhat like being black. It’s just what I am.

    On the other hand, it’s like my family. I’m part of it, but I’m all to aware of it’s flaws.

    • Sean, one of the interesting questions for me is who decides if a person is “in” or not. Is it the minister, or the self-appointed powers that be of the fellowship. Or, both? Or, neither?

  7. First off, I would tell him I’m sorry. I then would ask him what other sort of options has he considered and whether or not he has explored those options…and if so, what’s coming of it. That may provide a better answer as to whether he (or any of us in such circumstances) should stay or go. That is, that may tell him more about where God is leading than any suggestions I could offer.

    Grace and Peace,