[NOTE: A year ago, I took blog break. I quietly stopped typing in order to turn my attention to other things. Today, I woke up from my long winter's nap.]
For the last several weeks, I have been preaching a series on "How Church Works." It's a handful of sermons that gets back to the fundamentals of why and how the church gathers. How do we listen to a sermon, take a communion , give, worship and connect with one another? Surprisingly, many Christians do church, but have never been taught how.
Last Sunday, I taught on how to leave. There is an increasing migration in and out of church--people who leave for a variety of reasons. Some reasons are "healthy" [career transitions, corruption in the church or God's ministry calling to a specific place]. Other reasons are less so [unresolved conflict, change, or conviction, to name a few]. While we talked about the "if" and the "how" of church transitions, the most important principle is unity.
In Ephesians 4, Paul commands the church to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received" [v. 1]. That is, to live a God-centered, gospel-saturated life that proves itself in the humble, gentle, patient, loving character of Jesus toward one another [v. 2]. These virtues protect our unity [v. 3]--a oneness based on the commonality we have under the love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son and the transformation of the Holy Spirit [v. 4].
While these principles are important to prevent people from leaving churches so easily, they are also important after the fact. We--the church--have a responsibility to maintain unity with those who didn't hold the same value. We "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" by speaking well of them, praying for them, honoring their memory and being ready to reconcile should their hearts turn home. Unity isn't something we experience only when we're together; It's the kind of heart disposition toward each other when we're not together that would make it possible for us to be together again.
This is how church works.