Exit Stage Left 2: How the Spiritually Mature Reengage

In his earlier post, Dave Terpstra described why the spiritually mature find most churches ill-equipped to assist them in their growth. This, he says, is why the more mature often leave the church or disengage from active service. After reading your responses, Dave has returned with further thoughts about spiritual growth within, and without, the church.

When my friend's dad died it was a challenge to his faith to say the least. His dad was a long time follower of Christ and had been in full-time ministry for years. He seemed to be at the height of his ministry career. The he got sick and died. My friend didn't officially "leave" our church. But as best as I can remember he stopped serving. He stopped participating in programs. I rarely saw him at worship services. I'm sure he missed more than he made. But God was up to something amazing in his life and with his faith.

Some of the comments in response to my original article seemed to hold the viewpoint that my friend was being spiritually immature because he stopped serving. But to cut straight to the point, I trust his maturity more than those who would question it simply because he stopped serving for an indefinite period of time.

It has been my experience that everyone who matures in their faith has times where God grows them tremendously through basic discipleship and service. I would hope that those are maturing elements of our faith to varying degrees throughout our lives. However, I disagree with those who would argue those are the only times and ways in which we grow. I believe in the same way we experience times of transformation through discipleship and serving, we also experience times of inner transformation that are not initially outwardly expressed.

In Galatians 1:15-17 Paul writes, "But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus."

According to scholars Paul spent a couple of years in Arabia. He was not doing the externals of the faith, being discipled in church services or serving. Paul was receiving the gospel straight from heaven. That seems to be quite a journey inward to me.

Why is it that when someone tells us they need to take a break from serving or from the programs of our churches we become so defensive? Was Paul being selfish because he took two years off from helping in children's ministry? I think my defensiveness towards those who might leave my church is wrapped up in a healthy sense of wanting what's best for them, and an unhealthy desire that I (or even my well programmed church?) have failed them.

February 08, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 26 comments


April 04, 2006  11:34am

A friend turned me on to this article (and the previous one), telling me there was a book out advocating people to leave the church when they 'grew beyond it'. My first thought was to speak up in defense of the church, but as I read through the many responses for both articles I began to understand why they were written in the first place. I must admit it is sometimes just as hard to stay in a community of faith as it is to leave one, and each of us will stand before God to give an account of the talent we were given in regards to our interaction with other Christians. This is not to say staying is better than leaving, or vice versa, but rather when a person realizes it is only through interaction with the living God are we given the directions we need in life- stay and change or go and change. That we must continually be willing to change is not up for debate, but why is it I so often do not hear about coming before the Lord first before we go about our decisions? Could it be possible He would have some leave a local church while telling others to stay and grow up within it, in the same way He at times tells one of us to do one thing and another to do something different? To me this is the beauty of His bride- none of us are exactly alike and yet we are called to love each other and pray for each other to mature in faith, hope and love. It is true that a church's pastor and its mature believers should foster a community whereby others can ask hard questions about their faith as it intersects with their life

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March 13, 2006  11:17am

I sit here at the PC, listening to a praise CD and found this site. A true God thing. This is spring break and I usually do not have the time to do this at all! My husband and I have been involved in two churches our married life(26years). We spent a number of miserable years, feeling like we were clocking in on a time clock....then left the first church. I had been there 35 years and it was hard to leave, but guilt and condemnation was taught over and over. We have been at a rather new one, that has slowly become very "seeker friendly". I don't have the space to go into all the details, but there has been a serious check in our spirit the last year. At any rate, we gave up our morning community group yesterday and quietly slipped away from the church. We are doing home studies, and we have two teen boys as well. People pretty well think we are crazy, but we almost feel that we have to "run from the organization of a church" to actually be the CHURCH. To see that there are others that actually understand our hearts is so confirming. We love the Lord God with all our hearts, souls and spirits. God's word has encouraged us to follow HIM and not men. I don't want to give up on the local church, but it just seems like things are not focused. Numbers are coming in, but is there depth or just numbers? Are people growing spiritually? One of our sons was under such a spiritual oppression in his youth group. He can never do enough. He admits he is not where he should be...but this has not helped matters. My prayer is that in this "unknown" territory the Father will allow us to grow closer to HIM. Our growth as a family has come from homeschooling and the daily Bible studies that have now been set aside due to the "busy lives" we lead and change in schooling and the seasons of life. Our involvement in missions outside the church have helped us grow as well. There is a fear of the unknown I guess, but I trust the Father is doing something. It is not our place to tell others what the Holy Spirit is telling them...nor is it there business to tell us. I don't believe the church is wrong, I just am not sure if it is right either. Please pray for strength as we seek HIS face alone. Blessings to all who read this...

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March 04, 2006  8:21am

My husband and I are both at that place, as spiritually mature believers, former pastor and church planters where we no longer are connected with a "local church". We have spent most of our adult lives worshipping and serving in a local body of believers but no longer do so for a variety of reasons - primarily because in the "seeker sensitive" church we were attending, there is really little or no opportunity to use the gifts we have. Some would encourage us to "lead a small group" which we have done and still do, as we are led. But not under the auspices of the church. We worship and serve Christ daily, minister to believers and unbelievers and have done so without "attending" church. We are more interested in "being" the church than attending church and have slowly begun to heal from the mantle of guilt that other non-understanding, church attending Christians want us to shoulder. We view "church" biblically - as the called out ones, and try, by the power of the Holy Spirit to live our lives in that manner. We are no less committed to Christ than those who fill the pews and stadium seating attending "church"; in some instances, probably more committed. We see the disenfranchised all around us and seek to minister to them - and they are not interested in attending the institutional church - "seeker sensitive", "post-modern", "emergent" or otherwise. I sympathize with the former pastor and his wife who are struggling to find a Christ-honoring church for themselves and their teen-age children. Been there, done that, and the judgmental attitude that our son endured is a scarring that went deep. He's still working through them, and , Lord willing, will heal from them, too. The Lord knows the spiritual needs of you and your children; be confident that He hears and will answer.

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Paul C

February 26, 2006  10:29pm

I appreciate both of Dave's postings regarding the mature leaving and reconnecting with the organized church. Having experienced the "dark side" of church while in serving in the pastorate, I also relate to some of the responses posted in these blogs. Only the grace of God got us through some very painful experiences. God has been good to our family. He provided a good job and a good place to live. We feel very blessed. Our main need now is for a church home. After the disappointments in the churches where we served, I was looking forward to having the freedom to choose a church where our family could worship the Lord and serve Him. However, after searching for a year and half, we have not yet found a church where we can fit in. Every church we have visited displays much the same self-centeredness we encountered in ministry. My wife and I are beginning to understand why so many people decide to leave the organized church. God surely has a purpose for taking our family through this wilderness journey, but, for now, we have to go on faith. Have we reached a level of maturity that makes fitting into most churches difficult? I don't know. What about our two teenagers? My daughter keeps trying to fit in even when she feels disgust about the immature behavior typically tolerated in church youth groups. Our son just has no use for church. They both need mature Christians (besides their parents) to mentor them, but where can we find such Christians? My wife and I probably could reconnect with a church on our own. But our two teenagers are having a much harder time. What will happen to their faith if they don't reconnect? Only God knows. All we can do is trust God and keep searching. But why should we have to search so hard for a sincere, God-centered church? What does our experience and the experiences of other Christians who feel disenfranchised say about churches in America?

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February 22, 2006  1:34pm

When you are slogging it out on the journey alone, whether through the mud of spiritual pride, or the rocks of criticism from others, it is always helpful to encounter someone who has run that race and has an understanding of your struggles. Yes, I have the pride to recognize and repent for, and flesh to crucify as we all have. But I also have been in this life long enough to appreciate fellowship, encouragement and exhortation to move higher and deeper in my walk with the Lord. That encouragement comes most often from wise, mature believers who are not necessarily leaders in the organized church. Many pastors have their plate (and days) full with the demands of Stages 1-3, with little time or inclination for the long, slow, thoughtful conversations which feed the soul and spirit of those who hunger for more. Much can be gained through "iron sharpening iron." If those opportunities exist, both to give and receive, the mature believer will be happy to stay in the church.

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February 21, 2006  11:00am

I've been ruminating on this article for a few days now. I think to some extent I am in this situation right now, a little ambivelant toward regular church attendance. I feel like I don't get much from the service, and I have a tendency to think everything is a little dumbed down sometimes. But I know my biggest problem is myself; my own sinful spiritual pride. The reason I don't get anything from services many times is because I have a tendency to think there's nothing for me to learn from a sermon I've already heard ten times over the years. I have a tendency to believe that no one else around me has made it as far on the journey as I have, and therefore I can't learn anything from them. Then I remember that this is not about me. Church was never meant to first and foremost be a place for me to get my needs met. It is a place for me to serve. It is a place for me to help others. It is, most importantly, a place for me to worship an awesome and glorious God with my fellow Christians. I don't know if this is anyone else's experience. I know that as I grow, there will be times when I won't get what I think I need from the church. They'll be times when I won't find it important to go. And those will be my worst moments.

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February 14, 2006  9:16pm

Dave's articles, and the various comments on them, have been extremely useful to me in assessing my own current ambivalence about church attendance. I've only just realised how hurt I was by the reaction of the majority of members in my church family after my mother's death last year. My pastor and his family were great, and there were 3 or 4 other members who really stood beside me. But while there was a lot of talk about "the church is praying for you", the bulk of people I attended church with (roughly 100 attend the service I do) in the month's after mum's passing never spoke to me or rang me, or wrote to me. They know me - I'm one of their worship leaders - and I was hoping that most of them would be mature enough to cope with someone grieving in their midst. I think I understand now why so many people leave.

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February 14, 2006  7:11pm

I keep wondering why no solutions are being offered from scripture. Paul was not silent on the issue of maturity or the church. This Blog is helpful but incomplete. Paul certainly equated maturity and service in Ephesians 4. In Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul writes about the church, leadership and maturity. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. The thoughts here about the inward journey are interesting, but not necessarily helpful. First they seem to be case in point stories, not the norm of growth. Second they seem to have an element of grieving in them not the issue of maturity forcing someone into a self imposed exile from the church. Spiritual Maturity is to be like Christ, to imitate Christ. This is the overwhelming goal of God's grace as stated in Romans 8:28-29. For us to write about maturity in Christ, to write about the church and to clarify our journey and not focus on the primary place we can gain understanding of these issues seems almost a bit arrogant and self preoccupied. I am not condemning anyone's painful walk or history. I just think the Bible has a bunch to say on this subject. What kind of thoughts from scripture can we share; I would love to learn from you in this matter.

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Dawn Enns

February 13, 2006  11:38am

I am not a pastor, but would like to share my story. I am going through a spiritual journey which involves stepping back from serving for a time. I believe God is using this time to refresh me, so that I will again be able to better serve him. I am battle weary, and need a rest. I know everybody may not agree with this, but I believe God has used this time to help me grow deeper in my walk with him, so I am better prepared for what lays ahead. I have taken mounds of gulit heaped on my head from fellow Christians who think I am a quitter, but I don't agree.I just think my spiritual tank is being re-fuelled for the next leg of the journey. D.

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February 12, 2006  6:17pm

I think Taylor's candid comment paints the picture most compellingly. Church programs are designed and made for the masses, even small groups are intended to serve 6 to 12 people at a time. But the maturing Christian's journey is not necessarily relegated to extended solitude, but it may well be helped by a spiritual director, or in the venacular of the day, a life coach. There's a relational and spiritual dynamic that can only be found in a dyad, and institutional churches rarely have the resources to provide that. Ideally, a church would not only have its large-scale and medium-scale programs, but also provide encouragement and even training for the deeper journey.

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