Confessions to a Chronic Church-Hopper
I’ve been in pastoral ministry for almost 8 years and I’ve seen my fair share of church-hoppers. One of the most frustrating things as a Pastor is to have a professing believer visit the church, warm up to the ministry and people and spend a good few weeks seemingly settling in and then, out of the blue, they’re gone. Sometime later you hear through the grapevine that they’re settling in at another church. Now, leaving one church for another church is not necessarily wrong, there may be many good reasons (e.g. relocating). However, there is that curious case of serial church-hopping that has plagued the church and I have a few confessions for the chronic church hopper.
Allow me to preface this by saying there are those who are sincerely searching for a good church and this would require visiting a few churches. However, their aim is different; it is to find a good church to which they can commit and submit. I’m not speaking about that. Here the term church-hopper refers to those who believe that they have no obligation to commit and submit to any local church, and if they do decide to commit, their commitment is as shaky as jelly, with a slight move in any direction that does not please them, they are on their way out!
A church-hopper is typically a professing believer who is constantly on the move, jumping from one local church to another, as it suits their fancy. Perhaps there was something said they didn’t like, so they moved on. Perhaps there was something they said that wasn’t liked, and they moved on. It has become such a popular practice that even the urban dictionary has picked up this habit and supplied a definition for it:
This definition requires some qualification, as I think it assumes too much and says too little. Firstly, it almost makes church-hopping justifiable by supplying those supposed causes, there I think it assumes too much. Secondly, it says too little by failing to point out that, not only is it an avoidance of accountability but it is actually moving on to another church/churches despite failing to submit to accountability and leadership in the previous church/churches. In any event, the point I want to make here is that the term has ended up as part of our vocabulary and has even been supplied with an unofficial definition and that I think is lamentable.
One of the greatest contributors to this church-hopping epidemic is a low and unbiblical view of the church. I’ve explained and made a case for the importance of the local church in the life of the believer in my previous posts (see here part 1 and part 2).
Why is church-hopping a bad thing?
Well, simply because it is inconsistent with the Bible. There is an expectation in the Bible that believers are going to be committed to serving, submitting and sharing with one another in love within in a particular local church. Hopping from church to church serves no one but the person hopping; it is an act solely seeking the benefit of the church-hopper. Church-hoppers are not inspired by the interest of others (Phil. 2:1-4) but as a result of self-interest they decide to move on from church to church. Here are a few reasons for church-hopping with a few exhortations to help curb the chronic church-hopper.
Why Hop? and How to Stop!
1. Conflict with the saints
There can be a temptation to leave a church when there‘s conflict with one or two other believers in that church. I cannot think of an example now, but perhaps there may be some exceptional case where this could be justified, perhaps. However, as a normal part of church life this is not a good reason to leave a church. When unresolved conflict becomes a reason to leave a church we are setting ourselves a precedence that will see us evolve into serial church-hoppers.
Here’s why; we cannot run away from conflict, we will always encounter conflict. Christ the Head of the church knows this and in His grace and wisdom has supplied the church with the means to deal with and resolve conflict. Today, the church is flocking to all sorts of confliction resolution programs and typically in these programs the problem is considered from a psychological perspective and not a theological perspective. This is unfortunate, as Christ has given the church sufficient resources to effectively deal and resolve conflict The answers is not walking away from a church but walking worthy of our calling, which includes:
2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
In fact, the best way to resolve conflict is not walking away from a local church but in making use of the Christ-ordained resources found in a local church- Matthew 18:15-17. Jumping from church to church to flee conflict demonstrates a startling naivety as well as lack of confidence in the resources and means Christ has made available to the church to deal with conflict.
2. Differences with the leadership
Now, there are differences one can have with the leadership of a church that is warranted and even commendable. These differences can include, leaders who are entertaining serious theological error or are guilty of gross immoral behavior, which would disqualify the leader. I’d even venture to say that these are grounds to leave a church if leaders are unrepentant and persist in their error and immorality. Note, after much prayer and consideration, leaving an unhealthy church to find a healthy church is not church-hopping. However, repeatedly doing this casts suspicion over the validity of ones reasons and motives.
If a pastor is preaching God’s word faithfully and pursuing godliness in his life and ministry, believers are called to “obey” that leader. You may have differences with him and that is to be expected, but as long as he is not in violation of serious theological error or gross immoral conduct, the differences you have can either be resolved amicably or we can learn to live, serve and fellowship together with our differences. Not every disagreement with the leadership is grounds to break fellowship. What is needed many times is a good informed view of how to relate to leaders in the church and for this we have to consult the Scriptures:
1 Thessalonians 5:12–13
12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
3. Appeal of another church
If a chronic church-hopper is honest, he will admit one of the main reasons he is tempted to move on again, is that he has become disillusioned with his current church and has found the appeal of another church more desirable. The cause of this disillusionment can even be directly linked to the apparent appeal of another church.
So you are bored of your current church and things seem more exciting at another church. The problem with this however, is that eventually things will become boring and unsatisfactory to your high standards of excitement and the appeal of another church will get your attention, and here is born a church-hopper.
The remedy and answer to all of this is for believers to embrace a high-view of the church, a biblically informed view of church membership and a Christ-like character of humility, love and faithfulness that will sustain them within a particular local church. I trust this stirs you up to think about this matter, your insights are welcomed.