February 20, 2018

When Christians Change Churches

Some Christians remain in the same town in which they were born for their entire lives and attend the same church as adults they attended as children. Although this happens, I'd guess it is unlikely to be the norm. These days, people often move around a bit. For churchgoing Christians, this would mean that it is probably not uncommon to attend at least a few different churches throughout the course of their lives. But setting all of that aside, I'd like to address something I don't think I've ever written about before: Christians changing churches not because they move or a church closes but because they become dissatisfied with some aspect of their church.

I've known plenty of Christians who have done this. Over time, they grew dissatisfied with some aspect of their church and switched to a different church. In many cases, the source of their dissatisfaction was with the clergy. Maybe the church got a new pastor, and they didn't like what he or she brings. Several years ago, my parents told me that several long-time congregants left the church they used to force me to attend when a female minister was hired. In other cases, members of a church may tire of a long-time pastor who they perceive as increasingly out-of-touch with a changing world. Or maybe church leadership made a controversial decision unrelated to clergy with which they disagree. These things sometimes lead them to switch churches.

What I find most interesting here are the cases when the move to a new church is prompted by disagreement with clergy's interpretation of the Christian bible. Essentially, the Christian does not like some aspect of how the pastor is interpreting the bible and decides to go elsewhere. I cannot help thinking that the Christian is merely looking for someone who will reaffirm what he or she already thinks.

I saw this scenario play out when I was a child. The long-time minister was moderately conservative and fairly traditional in his sermons. He was also...well...I'm not sure how best to put this...scary for the children. I don't remember him ever doing anything to justify our fear, but we were frightened of him for some reason. He just gave off that "I don't want to get too close to this guy" vibe. He was getting old and planning to retire in the near future, so the church brought in a junior minister to work alongside him for a year or two and then replace him.

I remember that many congregants were apprehensive about the new minister coming in because he looked like a hippy. Actually, he looked like a shorter and somewhat heavier version of Megyn Kelly's white Jesus. I remember finding the hypocrisy of these Christians complaining about a minister who looked like Jesus quite amusing at the time, but most were willing to stick around and give him a chance as long as he remained in a junior role. Once he took over and began interpreting their bible in a more liberal manner than his predecessor, several people left the church. I really liked him and thought that his approach was exactly what the church needed.

When I noticed that several people had left the church and heard that it was because of the new minister, I was puzzled. I had read most of the passages of the Christian bible he referenced in his sermons, so I knew he wasn't making them up or pretending that they said something different from what they said. I couldn't figure out what some of my fellow churchgoers were objecting to. It would be several years before I'd realize that many Christians are not interested in following their "holy" book as much as they are in using it to support what they want to do. This minister emphasized different parts of the book, some of which conflicted with what they wanted to do. That was unacceptable.