Monthly Archives: February 2015
In Part 1 I argued that we shouldn’t be surprised that people leave our church and other local churches. Having said that, neither should we be okay with it. In Part 2, using three questions, I proposed the framework for a strategy to help people stay committed to a local church. This third and final installment is a bit of a catchall with regards to leaving church members. These questions may help broaden our perspective so we don’t jump to conclusions about why people are leaving, and I hope they help us think about how we might be a part of the solution.
- Is our perception accurate? If a person has been a part of a church for a good length of time, they may have seen a lot of people go. Maybe they have seen a lot of their friends go. But have they also seen a lot of people come? If people are coming and going frequently, is there a legitimate reason for that, or is the church not friendly, not preaching the gospel, deficient in an area, etc?
- Why are people leaving? Is it predominantly one issue, or is it a bunch of different issues? If it is one reoccurring issue that is not being addressed, then the leaders need to take responsibility. If the reasons are unique to every situation, then it may be that it is a reflection of our society or culture as was mentioned in Part 1.
- Is the leadership of the church honestly evaluating challenges? If so, what has been done to improve? Is there an attempt to make adjustments? As with all things, there is only so much that can be done, and when it is, we have to let it be.
- Have I done my part? Have I invited people to be a part of a Core Group? If someone has a problem or concern, have I encouraged them to go to the person they have the problem with, or have I made the situation worse by fanning the flame of dissension? There will always be things to critique, but be a part of the solution instead of throwing more dirt on the mole hill.
- Have I asked the leaders about whether they know that someone has left, or do I assume the worst? Maybe the leaders of the church don’t know, but you can’t be sure until you have asked. You might be helping them by asking, because they may not know.
- Is there something good to be gained from knowing so many have left? Ideally, no one would ever leave the local church you and I belong to, but the fact that we are aware is a healthy indicator because it means we are striving toward biblical and committed community. Maybe the reason we notice that people are leaving is because our church is working hard to love and care for people.
- Is the reason for leaving legitimate? There may come a time when it is right to leave a local church. Here are several reasons it might be time to exit: 1) Theological error, especially related to primary issues like the person of Christ and the doctrines of salvation and sin, etc. 2) If there is a doctrinal disagreement that has become divisive with regard to primary or secondary doctrinal issues, it may be time to move on. 3) The church is not seeking to be obedient to the mission of Christ to make disciples among all peoples. 4) The leadership is not biblically qualified (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Any of these could be used as an excuse to leave, so before determining that you have clearance to depart, it would be good and right to make every effort to clarify misunderstandings, talk to the leadership and only then do everything that can be done to leave peacefully.
- Who I am hurting by leaving? We all have our reasons for doing what we do. We will always justify our decisions. That’s what humans do (See Genesis 3). But have we treated others the way we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12), and have we thought about others and how it will impact them (Romans 15:1-2)? It hurts to be broken up with, and so it is important that we have been up front and honest with those we are close to, and we have made every effort to stay. If leaving is inevitable, it must be done with courage and honesty. If we are truly unified in Christ, why would we not make every to leave well by doing so with integrity.
- When leaving happens. If a person leaves, hopefully we can say they are a part of the Universal Church through Christ. Our local church is likely not the only church in our city that loves Jesus. If they become de-churched, we should be especially worried, because they may not be in Christ (1 John 2:19). May we always remember that the local church is God’s idea (Matthew 18:15-20) and the Church belongs to Christ (Matthew 16:18). Whatever we do, whether we come or go, may we do it all for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40; 1 Cor. 10:31).
In Part 1 of “Lots of People Have Left Our Church”, I suggested that we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people leave local churches permanently, or leave to attend other local churches. It doesn’t mean we have to like it, and we probably should dis-like it, but it in the United States of Many Choices, it shouldn’t shock us. But what can we do about it? What can we do to address this problem? Here are three questions that can be asked to help us begin to formulate a discipleship and shepherding plan that will hopefully stem the tide of leaving members.
First, what is happening at the front door of the church? When people become a member of a local church, there needs to be a plan to fully disciple them, and this means teaching a doctrine of the universal and local church. We should anticipate that people won’t stay committed to a local church if they don’t know what it is, why they should love it, how it is organized and works and for what purpose it exists. When people come through the front door of the local church by way of church membership, are they being taught about the church and the expectations of the church? Is there a class that informs and orients people toward the biblical importance the local church should play in their lives as disciples of Christ? One way to keep people from sipping out the back door of the church is by having a plan for the front door.
Second, what is happening inside the church? Once a person submits themselves to the biblical, borrowed authority of a local church through the process of membership, how are they being shepherded and discipled? Specifically, what systems are in place to follow-up with people? For instance, in the process of becoming a member, we highly recommend that people be in a Core Group (small group) so the Elders can work with the Core Group Leaders to shepherd members. If a person is not in a Core Group, it makes it difficult to care for them as a member, but when they are in a group, an elder has oversight of each Core Group by partnering with the Core Group Leader so we can have some idea of how people are doing spiritually and physically. We also go through our membership roles annually to try to make sure no one has slipped away. There must be a plan for pastoral care once a person becomes a member.
Third, what is happening at the back door? At the front door, we ask new members to tell us if they come to the point that they plan to leave, and because of this, some people will honor our request. If they do, we meet with them to find out why they are leaving. I am always grateful when people have the courage to do that. It is healthy and right. I have met very few people who have permanently left their biological family without making it known. When I moved out of my parents house after college, I didn’t just slip out one day without saying a word. Why does this happen so often in our faith families (local churches)? If someone does leave without making it known, we do our best to follow-up with a phone call or visit from a Core Group Leader, an Elder and Deacon, or both. If someone does leave without saying why, that may mean they don’t want to be contacted, but we usually try anyway to see if there is something that has gone wrong, and to see if there is anything we can do about it.
This is a simplified summary of what we try to do, and honestly, a good amount of people still leave for reasons other than moving to a new city. Do people slip through the cracks and out the back door? Unfortunately, yes. But we have a plan and process that we are constantly evaluating and refining. Not having a plan ensures that more people will leave and leave more frequently.
I have been in one local church long enough (almost a combined ten years as a member and then pastor) to see for myself, and be reminded by well-meaning church members that: “Lots of people have left the church.”
Truthfully, it stings when people leave, and it should. It is healthy to hurt over the departure of brothers and sisters with whom you have been living life. I don’t want to become callous about it, and I want to guard against building up an unhealthy, defensive justification that goes something like: “Well, it happens at every church.”
So how should we, whether as a pastor or church member, evaluate the problem of leaving church members? What can we do to prevent it, and how do we know if we have done all we can when someone does leave?
Again, we should guard against cobbling together evidence for an excuse like: “That’s just the way it is.” However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t forces at work that make leaving common. Here are three observations with regard to current trends, the Bible and leaving church members:
- We live in a leaving culture. Consider the divorce rate. Despite the fact that almost every wedding I have ever been to includes the vows – “For better or worse, til death do us part” – divorce is still common. Additionally, in a capitalistic society we are conditioned by options and marketing to shop around when we aren’t happy, comfortable, satisfied, etc. Staying is counter-cultural and requires conviction and discipline.
- We live in a transient society. Because of the ease of mobility and forces like job instability, people move frequently. This is especially true for our city. Stillwater is relatively small and has a major university, which makes it feel like people are constantly coming and going – because they are.
- Leaving was a frequent problem in the Bible. Adam and Eve left God’s covenant protection and the paradise He graciously provided (Genesis 1-3). Thousands left Jesus when the miracles ended and the going got tough. Paul rebuked those who abandoned the faith and God’s people (1 Timothy 1:18-20). John Mark left Paul in Paphos (Acts 13:13). Hebrews was written to warn against abandoning faith in Jesus and His people (Hebrews 10:24-25). John judges those who left (1 John 2:19). Is leaving a church sinful? With some hesitation, I would say no, and I hesitate because I am confident somebodies sin is always a part of the reason people leave churches. If there was no sin, why would anyone ever need or want to leave?
Sadly, we should not be surprised that people leave churches, but is there anything we can do to prevent it? If staying committed to a local church is an uphill battle, then how can we help people be biblically committed to a local church for as long as God has them in a particular place? I will look at those questions and offer solutions in a second and third blog, later this week.
It’s not always wrong to be angry. Remember angry Jesus in Mark 11:15 who turned over tables and disrupted the routine of the temple mount? Paul instructs the Ephesians and us: “Be angry, and yet do not sin.”
As a matter of fact, I would argue that if a person is never angry, then something is deeply wrong. After all, why do people get angry? They get angry because they perceive that they have been wronged in some way, or because someone they care about has been wronged in some way. Haven’t we been commanded to care about everyone; to love our neighbor as our-self? Think about all the abuse and pain in the world caused by people who wrong others. If you have a pulse, you better be angry because every single person in the world has wronged God and is in rebellion against the gracious and holy King. And when we wrong God, we inevitably wrong others. So be angry, but do not sin.
Let’s be honest though, the problem for most people, if not all people, is not that we are never angry about injustice. The problem is that we are angry about wrong things, or that we sin when we are angry. Anger is not wrong, but sinning because of anger is. I suspect this is an everybody kind-of-problem.
How can we know if our anger is sinful? Most of us probably know when our anger is sinful, especially if we are a Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin. When I am angry as a parent and I see that my children are truly in fear of me, then I know I have crossed a line. Control of anger is important, and sometimes I let it control me. That’s a sin. What then are some other indicators that will help us diagnose when our anger is sinful?
In Anger Management, Richard Baxter offers 11 ways to know “when anger is sinful.”
- When it opposes God or good; as in the case of those who become angry with us because we seek to win them to the Lord or separate them from their sins.
- When it disturbs our reason, and hinders us from thinking rightly.
- When it causes us to act unbecomingly, so as to use sinful words or actions.
- When it causes us to wrong one another by our words and deeds, or to treat others in a way in which we would not like to be treated.
- When it is mistaken and with no just cause behind it.
- When it is greater in measure than that which provoked the anger.
- When it makes us unfit to do our duty to God or man. (James 1:20 – “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.”)
- When it hinders love, brotherly kindness and the good we might do for others.
- When it encourages malice, revenge, contentions, division, oppression of those under us, and dishonour to those over us.
- When it lasts too long, and does not cease when it has accomplished its purpose.
- When it is used as a means to further our selfish, carnal, and sinful ends. When we are angry because of our pride, profit, enjoyment, or fleshly will is crossed.
Which one was most helpful to you? What would you add to the list?
My ten-year-old, Luke, is reading Unbroken. I told him that he should read it because there is a lot to learn about character, redemption and forgiveness from the life of Louie Zampereni. But, as is the case with all people, there is a lot that Louie Zampereni did and experienced that I would like my son to avoid.
According to the book, and to the amusement of Luke, Louie Zampereni began smoking at the age of five. When I condemned this nasty, expensive, disease-causing habit with: “That’s not good!” He quickly reminded me of the time when I was eight and smoked a whole pack of cigarettes with my five-year-old brother – a funny story 31 years later.
Uh-Oh! What have I done?
Immediately, I started second-guessing myself and hoping my good intentions don’t eventually back-fire on me. I hope my son doesn’t conclude, “Well, Louie and dad had a few rebellious moments and they turned out fine, so what’s the harm in trying? How bad could it be if dad and Louie did it?” Unwittingly, did my attempt to help my son see Godly and manly things, also open the door for harmful things?
Parenting can paralyze, causing us to second-guess every strategy, word and action. Parenting can also turn us into tyrants, causing us to try to control every detail of a child’s environment.
Both extremes are mistakes that will likely do far more damage than good.
As I was pondering the pitfalls of parenting and my own fears, I began recovering and articulating some core parenting convictions that I have used as guides. I think these are especially helpful when I encounter “Uh-oh moments”.
- I do not want to make self-righteous moralists. I do want to be used by God to make God-glorifying, Jesus-treasuring, local church-loving disciples. The first thing to say here is that a true disciple will want to glorify God, treasure Jesus and love His Church. The second thing to say is that my part is to be a willing and faithful vessel that the Holy Spirit uses to accomplish this. If I rely on myself and try to do the work of the Spirit and use Jesus so my children will be good little boys and girls that stay out of trouble and don’t use drugs, I will make behavior-driven pharisees. If I abdicate my responsibility as a willing vessel, I will produce narcissistic consumers. Churches are full of all three.
- I will embrace with urgency the privilege and responsibility to be the primary teacher of the whole will of God to my family. The relationships and programs of the local church are supplemental graces for equipping and training to do gospel ministry in the home, but I will not outsource and abdicate my God-ordained leadership as a man (Genesis 2:15-18; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 78:1-8; Ephesians 4:11-16 and 6:1-4). I will not singularly blame the youth ministry or the youth minister that my children don’t love God and the local church. When I critique and question, I will start with me.
- I will be committed to a long-term process of disciple-making. I will patiently and consistently sow the word of God in the lives of my children as a part of a long-term strategy. From the cradle to graduation, I will be diligent to consistently live what I teach. When I fail, I will repent and seek forgiveness. I cannot afford to squeeze years of missed opportunities into one talk because of a parenting crisis. I will be proactive, not reactive.
- I will not panic. When my children disappoint or rebel against God, I will not panic. That does not mean I won’t live with urgency and do hard things and have hard talks, but I will not act as though God is not faithful. I will not manipulate and use fear to control a situation that is beyond my control. I will pray and trust God to do what only He can do, and I will be ready to speak and act when it is clear I can glorify Him as a parent.
- I will value the importance of prayer. I will see the challenge of parenting as sanctifying grace from God, and pray to Him for wisdom and strength. I will trust God’s promises and believe that He is using all things, even a parenting crisis, to refine me and grow me for His glory. I will also never give up hope that God can reach my child. I recognize that if I ever stop praying, I have stopped believing. I determine to never quit praying for my children so that I am ready to speak to them when God gives me the opportunity.
- I will share my life with others. God has saved me to be a part of His Church through the local church. I will seek the wisdom of those who are ahead of me, and I will pass on what I can to those who are behind me. While my family is my primary responsibility, I also have a responsibility to share life with people to make God-glorifying disciples. The local church is not optional. I need others and they need me.