Five years ago, I was working full-time and heavily involved in a church plant in my hometown. I was also considering leaving that job and that church so I could move to North Carolina to attend seminary. As I worked through that decision, I can count on one hand the number of people I told about it, and none of them were in my church. In fact, I didn’t really seek counsel from anyone about that decision apart from the out-loud processing I did with my parents. I kept it a secret until I had already made the decision to leave. I thought it was solely my decision to make and I was afraid people might be upset that I was even thinking about leaving. I still remember the look of confusion on my pastor’s face when I told him I was leaving. He was one of the last people to find out. While he wasn’t mad about it, I look back now and wish I had conducted myself differently in that situation.
Four years later, I was in that situation again as my husband and I began to pray about moving to Houston. This time was very different than the last, though. Our church elders and small group leaders knew from the beginning that we were considering this move. It was 18 months between the time we first mentioned Houston and the time we left. Because we sought counsel from them at the start, these elders and fellow church members were able to pray with us and give us counsel. They encouraged us to go because they, too, felt it was the right move for us. As one who is averse to change, I can’t describe to you how much confidence it gave me to have our church affirm what we felt the Lord was leading us to do. The Lord confirmed this move to us through our own prayers, but also through the prayers of our church.
Unfortunately, the first scenario is more common than the last. I use leaving as an example because it is an obviously big decision, but this applies in all decision-making. Some, like me, worry about what people will think so they make decisions in secret to avoid pushback or perceived judgment. Others are far too individualistic for their own good and don’t realize the role of the church in decision-making. When we are secretive about leaving the church—even for valid reasons—we imply that the church is not welcome to help us make decisions.
In Experiencing God, Henry and Richard Blackaby say that God speaks through the Holy Spirit, the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways. I think most of us would agree that we are supposed to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and the Bible’s teaching when we make decisions. We would agree that prayer is the way to know how the Holy Spirit is leading. And, even if we don’t do it consciously, we use our circumstances to help us make decisions. But how many of us would agree that God speaks through the church? I don’t just mean in a sermon you hear, but through the counsel of fellow church members. Even if we mentally assent to the idea, many of us don’t put that into practice. We can blame this attitude on a variety of things: our individualistic culture, a lack of proper teaching about the church, pure selfishness, pure ignorance, etc. But instead of blame-shifting, let’s see how the Bible portrays the church and promotes a proper attitude towards it.
The Bible has a High View of the Church
Acts 2 tells us that the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, to fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. They had all things in common and the Lord added to their number daily. They shared with each other so that no one would be in need. When the believers were scattered because of persecution, they started new churches as they spread the gospel in the areas where they landed. Paul and Peter wrote letters to churches to encourage them, correct them, and remind them of their status in Christ. They encouraged love toward one another because of their commonality in the gospel.
The most obvious example of the church being involved in an individual’s big decision is in Acts 13. The Holy Spirit tells the church at Antioch to set apart Paul and Barnabas for missionary work and send them out. In fact, it seems the church knew about Paul and Barnabas’s call before even they did. So they went and periodically returned to report back to their sending church.
The Bible clearly presents a positive image of the church. Even when Paul wrote to some churches to correct them, he was writing out of love, correcting them for their betterment. These images should influence how we view the church’s role in decision-making. If we love one another the way the Bible tells us to, we should naturally seek out good for each other. We should spur one another on to love and good works, and this includes helping each other make decisions.
The Bible Has a Realistic View of Humanity
The Bible also teaches us about humanity. It tells us that our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). We are sinful and limited. Because of this, our perspective is skewed when we try to do things on our own. We can’t make decisions best by ourselves. But, we don’t have to do it by ourselves. The church can help us make decisions because they may see blindspots or weaknesses that we don’t see. I know that my church loves me, so if they were concerned about a particular decision, it would not have been because they were out to get me, it was because they were caring for me.
Unfortunately, there are leaders in churches that can be manipulative or out of touch with the Holy Spirit. They may be ill-equipped leaders and you may not want their advice even if you do agree that the church in general should help you make decisions. To you I would advise: examine your heart first. Are you resistant to the church’s help because the leaders are truly ill-equipped to help you, or are you resistant for the same reasons I was resistant at first? If it is the former, then seek counsel from fellow church members and other believers while praying for your leaders. If it is the former, consider how the Bible portrays the church versus how it portrays humanity. Humbly seek to be part of the church in such a way that you experience the blessing it is to have other believers helping you follow the Lord’s lead in your life.
Include the Church in Life’s Decisions
This implies actually joining and committing to a local church. I remember the first time I was asked if I would be willing to seek counsel from the elders of my church when it came to making life’s decisions. I did not have a high regard for the local church, and after dragging my feet for 6 months, I had finally joined and was talking with my small group leader about my plans to go overseas. He asked, hypothetically, if my pastors didn’t think it was a good idea for me to go overseas, would I still do it? I thought it was a ludicrous question at the time. I was convinced the Lord was leading me overseas and that’s what I was going to do. Why would I let pastors who may or may not know me very well be a part of that decision?
Thankfully, that small group leader taught me a less individualistic, more Biblically based perspective on the church. I learned the importance of doing life in community— not just spending time with other believers but actually allowing them to keep me accountable and seeking their counsel in decision making.
Making the decision to move to Houston was not the first decision I or my husband made with our church’s counsel and it won’t be the last.