Category Archives: The Local Church
What is a local church and what does a local church do? Topics: Baptism, Membership, Leadership, Purpose, etc.
It was one of those up-and-down Mondays that pastors sometimes face with above-average discouraging moments. But the Lord was gracious and He encouraged me in an unlikely way; a church member unexpectedly came to tell me she might be leaving for another church.
The truth is, most of the time when people leave your local church for another local church, it stings. It is unpleasant. It can be really discouraging. But this sister came and told me she was considering leaving and I considered it to be good. As a matter of fact, it brought me joy.
Are you confused yet?
In our Elder’s meeting the day before, I had mentioned to my fellow pastors that I had not seen the aforementioned woman in a while and asked them if they had seen her. They said they had not and so I told them I would contact her during the week. So when I heard a knock on my office door and learned that she had come to see me, I was glad to see her.
She came to tell me that she had been visiting another church during the summer. She went out of her way to say she loved Eagle Heights and had grown a lot during her time with us. It was apparent she was sincere in her affirming words.
She went on to explain her daughter’s family had committed to another church and that she was attending with them. And while she still wanted to gather with Eagle Heights, she really wanted to enjoy the season of experiencing church with her grandkids. She wanted to have conversations with them about reading the Bible and following Jesus. Though she wasn’t one hundred percent sure she would be leaving Eagle Heights, what I heard her saying to me was that she was going to another church for good reasons. She wasn’t leaving disgruntled. She wasn’t mad at anyone. She wasn’t upset as a consumer. She just saw an opportunity to be a part of what God was doing in the life of her family.
She let me know that she was worried about having this conversation. She was concerned about whether she could come back to Eagle Heights if she left. I assured her that she could come back and that I was happy for her and her family. I thanked her for doing the hard thing and coming to me to let me know what she was thinking and doing.
It’s never easy when someone leaves your local faith family, even though they still might be a part of the Universal Church Family. But if this woman does end up leaving, how can I be upset? How can I not be glad for her? How can I not be joyful about the way she handled it.
I only wish that more people would leave this way. She told me she might be leaving, and when I found out why, my discouragement was turned to joy.
In the last month many were horrified when they learned the details of sexual abuse that has taken place in Southern Baptist Churches across the United States. The Houston Chronicle released a three-part expose detailing the reality that over 20 years there have been at least 700 victims of sexual abuse.
For many this has been a massive wake-up call as it relates to making sure that everything possible is being done to protect children and everyone else from the threat of abuse. I am glad to say that our own church, Eagle Heights, already had many safeguards in place. But it is always good to take a crisis like this seriously and do some thorough review and self-examination regarding protective plans and execution of those plans to make sure we are doing all we can to prevent something so evil and tragic.
Our church family has policies that protect both children and volunteers. For example, we have regular training times, which includes a recent video that we have put together about what to avoid and what to be looking for as it relates to abuse. And of course, any person who works with children or youth has a current background check. Additionally, the Elders and church staff are presently working on evaluating and addressing any gaps in our plan.
But as a church we take one more step that might be undervalued as firewall against abuse: Church Membership.
In his book, On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church (2014), Deepak Reju argues that there are three reasons that church membership “can help decrease the likelihood of sexual offenders infiltrating your children’s (and youth) ministry.” (All quotes below are from Reju.)
- Church membership done thoroughly helps us to identify whether a person is genuinely a Christian. Before a person can become a committed and active part of our faith family and serve, they are required to meet with an Elder and answer four questions: First, what is your testimony of being saved? Second, what is the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ that alone can save and transform? Third, have you been baptized as a believer by which you publicly identify with Christ? Fourth, what is the evidence that the Spirit lives within you? Are you bearing much fruit showing you are really His disciple (John 15:8)? Now of course we know we can’t ultimately judge the the true spiritual condition of a person, but if we are going to let people teach the gospel to our children, and give them the responsibility of physical and emotional care over them, it only makes sense that we do all we can to reduce the risk of spiritual and physical harm. Church membership helps identify genuine believers, and Genuine believers are less likely to abuse those under their care.
- A church membership process also gives the pastors, the staff and other members the opportunity to know people before they are given responsibility as a part of the church. We have started presenting prospective members to the congregation for consideration a week in advance before the church affirms them. We know this can be uncomfortable for some, but if there is a concern, we want to deal with it up front. A church membership process prevents “immediate access to the church and, consequently, the church’s kids.” (Reju) I trust most parents wouldn’t let someone watch their children if they knew nothing about them. If a parent vets a babysitter, why would a church be less diligent and careful?
- “A church membership process causes pedophiles to think twice about joining, especially since there are other churches that don’t require this and will give them almost immediate access to children.” Reju writes, “Anyone can come to church, but not everyone who comes should have access to our kids.” We want the struggling and hurting person to come to our church, but we also want to make sure hurting people don’t hurt others. Reju is surely right when he suggests that a sexual offender, or potential sexual offender, is more likely to gravitate toward a church that has less protection and a “low wall” of accountability. And frankly, it saddens me to think there are churches who have such a low standard for protecting their children.
There is no plan that is completely foolproof, but there are ways to reduce the possibility of abuse. It is better to have tried and failed, than to have failed to try. We must be able to say that we did all that we could to prevent abuse. Believe it or not, church membership can serve as a useful preventative tactic. It is just one piece of a safety wall that may protect our church from a disaster that hundreds have experienced over the last twenty years. May God give us the wisdom to do all that we can to love people and protect them from evil.
As is the custom of the people of Eagle Heights, we will have our quarterly Member’s Meeting on Sunday July 29th at 9:15 am in the worship center.
Our Member’s Meeting is a time to:
- celebrate the work of the Lord in our midst
- communicate what is coming up so we can do ministry together
- conduct business when necessary
- answer questions from the members of Eagle Heights and pray for those who are spiritually and physically sick
It is very important that every member of Eagle Heights make every effort to be there. If you can’t be there, please ask someone what was said and done.
By the way, if you have questions for the Elders or staff, please feel free to email them to me: firstname.lastname@example.org We always want to do our best to communicate with our faith family, and we sincerely want our brothers and sisters to ask any questions or express any concern as it relates to our trusting and obeying all that Christ commanded.
Here is a summary agenda for our time together at 9:15 am on the 29th of July.
(3 min) Welcome and Prayer (Pastor Brent)
- We gather in committed community to communicate and celebrate what God is doing because of what Christ alone has done. We do this for God’s glory together.
- I love this faith family and I love our commitment to biblical fidelity.
- A brief reminder of why it is important to participate in these meetings.
- We communicate the work of the church, celebrate what God is doing through the church and conduct business as necessary.
(3 min) Update from Notie Lansford, Chairman of the Personnel Team
- Notie reported that the church has graciously responded to the request for funds to send Brent and Lacey to Israel. So far, $7,100 has come in.
- Brent and Lacey had to postpone their trip because the trip they planned to go on was canceled. They will attempt to go in 2020.
(3 min) Membership Presentations (Pastor Brent)
- Present new members to be affirmed next week.
- Blake and Lauren Abbott, Shelby Hackett, Truby Mackey, Leah Muriel, Danny, and Jenny Sherman Please let us know if you have a concern about any of these folks being members.
- Briefly explain what membership means to the people of Eagle Heights
- Briefly explain the process (Class + Interview + Congregational Affirmation)
- Introduce New Members
- Elder: “Do you commit to helping us glorify God by trusting Jesus and striving to obey all that He commands?” New Members: “We do.”
- Elder: “Do you commit to strive to know and build these new members up in love for God’s glory and your joy?” Church Members: “We do.”
(4 min) Youth Ministry Report (Parker)
- Parker communicated what to expect for the youth ministry moving forward and invited parents to a meeting on Sunday, August 12th at 9:15
(4 min) Ziegler Family Seminary Commissioning (Pastor Brent and Pastor Dan)
- Matthew will explain their plans.
- Their last day with us is August 5th. They will be moving to Kansas City for two years of seminary and hope to return to us with the capability to address counseling needs in our city.
- Pastor Dan will come and pray for them.
(4 min) Elders Update (Pastor Kevin Moore)
- Trustees Update – Per the constitution, the Trustees have not been rotating off every three years. In December, Bob Dixon will rotate off, then Charlie Cooksey the following year and then Terry Bidwell. We will be looking for people to fill the role of trustee as these rotate off.
- Constitution Revision Update – The Elders are currently combing through the constitution to make sure it is clear and helpful for the governance of our faith family. We will be presenting revisions at our next Member’s Meeting in September.
- Membership Material Update and Review- Because of teaching we have done, we are currently updating our membership material and plan on filming a new membership video in the near future.
(4 min) Missionary Commissioning (Pastor Brent and Tyson)
- (Names have been removed for security reasons) will explain their plans.
- They are still fundraising to leave in the next few months to go to the Middle East to do language training in Arabic.
- Pastor Tyson will pray for them
(4 min) Children’s Ministry Update (Pastor Ryan)
- Wacky Water Night on August 8th as outreach with mailers – we are sending out over 2,000 mailers to specific parts of our city.
- Children’s Camp – Children’s camp went very well and we had several professions of faith and one commitment to vocational ministry.
- We need Volunteers as school starts –
- Dearinger’s school supply partnership – we are partnering with Dearinger’s Printing and have contributed to the funds to give rulers with our brand and a message on it to every first grader in Stillwater
- Promotion Sunday is coming up on August 12th and AWANA starts Wednesday the 29th.
(4 min) UPWARD Update (Pastor Brent and Jonathan Harrison)
- Jonathan and Amanda Harrison have decided, after a period of evaluation, to continue UPWARD one more year, but only for Kindergarten through 2nd
(4 min) Preparing for August (Pastor Brent)
- Servant attitudes and Seating and Parking
- Brent asked that we please serve each other and those who will be coming to our church. If anyone has questions about why we do what we do, please come directly to us.
- University Ministry
- Brent explained that we will not be hiring an intern for the Fall Semester, but will run the university ministry through a team approach for the time being. Brent interviewed two candidates but it didn’t work out.
(4 min) Ward Commissioning (Pastor Brent and Pastor Nathan)
- Colton and Lauren will explain their plans.
- Colton and Lauren plan to leave in the next few months to go to the mission field to share the gospel and plant churches. They are still raising funds to be able to go.
- Pastor Nathan will pray for them.
(3 min) Staff Updates: Jason Denney (Pastor Brent)
- Jason Denney will no longer be serving as the part-time minister of international students or core groups. He will be working full-time for Greater Europe Mission. August is his last month serving in this capacity.
(3 min) Ministry and Missions Giving Update
- –Brent reported that missions giving is going very well, but encouraged everyone to continue to give through $18 for ’18. He said summer giving has been slower but overall the budget is strong.
Q&A with Elders if time permits, and Prayer
- Prayer request: Cindy May, mother of Karen Privott who is a former member, unexpectedly died at the age of 56. Praying for the family.
- Prayer request: Two EHBC members are leaving for mission’s training school in Mexico for 10 months. This can be a challenging time of learning and growing.
- Prayer request: Sevi is the four-month-old nephew of Cayton Jones. He has been critically ill with heart and brain issues. Cayton also lost his mother this year to cancer. Please pray for strength for this family and the healing of Sevi.
- We ended with a brief time of prayer.
Life experience is really important, and it is one of the realities that makes the local church so important and practically helpful. We would do well to learn from the people who have gone before us and experienced the ups and downs that life will throw at us. A multi-generational church is a gift, if we recognize it and embrace it.
Tomorrow morning at 9:15 a.m. in the worship center, I have asked four empty-nester couples to share one parenting strategy that they successfully employed when they were parenting. But I have also asked them to share something they wished they would have done, or something they would do differently. We will then have 20-25 minutes of Q&A.
If you are a parent of any age, with children in the home of any age, I highly recommend you make the effort to join us and learn from the life experience of others in the body of Christ.
07.11.18 – Below is the video from our time together.
During the month of January we preached, taught, discussed and listened to five sermons on how a local church can love each other even when it is hard. And it is hard to love one another because we live in a broken world of broken people – people who are prone to wander away from God into sin.
Here are summaries for the five sermons:
- Sermon 1: Jesus commanded (Matthew chapters 5-7) and did hard things (the cross). If we truly love Jesus, we will obey all He commands (John 14:15 and Matthew 28:19-20), because we understand that He is trying to protect us and do good to us (Matthew 7:24-27). Love is wanting and doing what is best for others according to God’s word, and Jesus did hard love the best. If we love Him, then hard love we will do.
- Sermon 2: Hard love is not just the job of the Elders and Deacons, but is the privilege and responsibility of every member of a local church (Philippians 1:1 and 4:1-3).
- Sermon 3: Hard love is first and foremost an encouraging arm around the neck, not a just a pointing finger. The culture of our local church should be one of ongoing, informal, loving discipline so that we can be honest about the sin in our lives without excusing it (Galatians 6:1-3).
- Sermon 4: There may come a time when one brother or sister has to start a formal process of church discipline if another brother or sister refuses to repent of their sin. After several steps of intervention, the so-called brother or sister may have to be treated as an unbeliever by the entire local church (Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). This is hard, but it is better to sternly rebuke a straying sheep than to let them be self-deceived (1 Corinthians 5:5). If they repent, we should restore them gently (Galatians 6:1-2).
- Sermon 5: For hard love to work, we have to discipline ourselves to be in close relationship with other Christians so they can encourage us day after day. If we are not willing to be relationally vulnerable then how will others know how to speak truth-filled encouragement into our lives (Hebrew 3:12-14; 10:23-25)?
Reflections on the Hard Love Sermon Series:
- We are striving to be a high-commitment church. I don’t mean this in a boastful way, or to be demeaning to other churches. But through the process of membership, we call people to be committed to Christ by being committed to His people in accountable relationships under the authority of God’s Spirit-inspired word. We do this because Jesus demands it for our own good (Colossians 3:15-16 and Hebrews 3:12-14). Jesus declares, without apology, that if any person wants to come after Him and have Jesus save their life, they must be willing to surrender their whole life to the One who gave His life for them (Mark 8:33-38). The way to gain your life is to deny yourself and be willing to give it all to Christ, and when you give your life to Christ, you become a part of His body through One Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6). How can a person be be committed to Christ if they are neglecting the very body they are a part of? I think you know the answer. It is right and loving that we call people to be committed to Christ by being committed to a visible local church. I don’t know how you obey all that Jesus commanded without calling people to a formal commitment (See Matthew 18:15-17).
- Our faith family embraced these hard love truths. Now the truth is, we will find out how much we trust and love Jesus when we have to actually do what we have He has commanded (John 14:15 and James 1:22). But the affirmation we have received from so many has been truly encouraging. There are many reasons this is such a hard pill for many professing Christians to swallow. For example, maybe some have been in church all their lives and never seen it done. Maybe others have seen it done really poorly. By the way, it could be done well and still not go well. Sin complicates things. Additionally, this whole idea of calling people to repent goes against the deeply entrenched belief that no one has the right to judge anyone else. Of course, if someone claims this, they haven’t thought much about their conclusion, because they have just made a very real judgment about how it is wrong to judge. We can’t live without making judgments, but we can strive to judge righteously (Matthew 7:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13).
- It took us eight years to explicitly teach on this, but maybe that is for the best. I say eight years because that is how long I have been a pastor of Eagle Heights. I have been convicted for a long time that we need to involve the church if we were going to fully obey Jesus – provided it had to come to the final step of church involvement of putting someone out (Matthew 18:17). But as one of my seminary teachers used to tell us: “You need to teach before you reform.” Having said that, on several occasions the Elders have done most of Matthew 18:15-17, and as I told the church in sermon four, we once almost brought a guy to the church, but praise God, he repented. That instance and a few others made the Elders realize that we had to involve the church and explain that we must be willing to obey all Jesus commanded. It took us a while to get to this point, but now it has been explained and we need the whole church to be willing to pursue straying church members – if that is what it must be done.
- I don’t ever want it to come to Matthew 18:17, but I trust Jesus’ words more than I trust the words of anyone else. None of our Elders enjoy wading into the entanglement of confronting a stray sheep and unrepentant brother or sister, but we have seen that there is sanctification in it and we have seen the joy of seeing a professing Christian repent.
- I hope and pray more local churches will begin to pursue obedience to Jesus by practicing informal and formal church discipline. All that we do must be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14), but we cannot love God and wink at the very sin that sent Jesus to the cross. It is not loving to let people run headlong toward the destruction of sin. Yes, we must be careful not breed a culture of self-righteousness that nit-picks at every faith-fail and misstep, but we must call the church to the unrelenting pursuit gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered holiness. The church must be in the world, but not of the world. The church must be distinct in our love for the things that God loves, if we are to be attractive witnesses to the world. I remember distinctly an instance when a woman was telling another Elder and I the story of how her husband abandoned her and how she begged the leaders of their church to do church discipline on her straying husband so that he might bear fruit in keeping with repentance. I remember how she wept over the fact that they did not act and pursue him. That has stuck with me. I can’t shake that conversation. We may botch the Matthew 18:15-17 commands of Jesus, but it is better to have tried to obey Jesus and failed than to have failed by never trusting enough to try. We can’t live in paralysis because of the fear that something might go wrong. If someone is sinning unrepentantly, then something is already going wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right. We must trust and obey our perfect God and King who died for His imperfect body.
I thank God through Jesus that our church was teachable and willing to receive this. May we always be willing to hear the word of God and trust Him, no matter what hard thing He calls us to do.
Motivation matters. It is the fuel that drives a person to initially take action, and it is often the single greatest factor for sustaining an action. Some people never begin to serve, and many don’t continue to contribute, because they have never thought about why they do what they do.
Children’s ministry can be very rewarding, but it is not always easy and fun. It’s hard to work to love the little children that Jesus loves so deeply – especially when they are not your own. (And sometimes it is hard to love and serve your own.) Our local church has many volunteers who love and serve children every week, and here’s what our volunteers said when they were asked:”WHY DO YOU SERVE IN CHILDREN’S MINISTRY?” Read and be motivated.
- Seeing kids smile and laugh is a joy and sharing Jesus with them is a blessing.
- I love serving in Children’s Ministry because I get to teach and reach children that are not in my “friend” group. It keeps me young and I love their openness and honesty when talking about Jesus.
- I love serving in children’s ministry because they are the future. They exemplify child-like faith more than anyone I know. Children provide examples of trust, love and eagerness for the gospel. I want to have an impact on children because they are the future hands and feet of Christ.
- From working in the nursery, I’ve enjoyed getting to know my fellow workers and learn baby tips and tricks from them. I also like loving on the babies and giving their parents a little break.
- I serve in Children’s Ministry because I didn’t hear the gospel until I was 17 and I want to make sure kids hear it before then and know the love of Jesus.
- I love babies so I serve in the nursery the 2nd Sunday of every month. God has given me the opportunity to serve. It’s a privilege and honor to serve God in this way. I am thankful and grateful.
- I serve in our children’s ministry because I’ve been blessed by my own kids involvement and I want to give back! (Plus, kids are fun!)
- God called me to work with His children and I love it.
- It is important! It is effective! I get great joy from working with these kids!
- I love to see the kids grow up and then they start to serve in children’s ministry.
- I love children and I believe God lets me take care of these little ones. I enjoy meeting the parents. Without this option, I would just be another member.
- I started as a sub for Ronnie & Stephanie. Now that I am permanently Ronnie’s helper, I enjoy it. I have always loved working with children (former teacher). The Lord has given me a love for them. I look at the K-2nd grade class as “my kids.” I love building relationship with them so I can share Jesus.
- I serve in the nursery to provide love to babies and a time mothers can go and listen to God’s word without concern.
- I serve with children because I know the outcome children’s ministries can bring from my own experience. Also, I just love kids!
- Children are precious and important. Coming to know Jesus at a young age is a gift. I want that for my kids and all kids we serve!
- I serve Eagle Heights children because I am a child-convert (at 6 years old). God saved me at a young age and I want children to know He can save them, too.
- I serve in the children’s ministry for a way to give back to Eagle Heights for all they’ve given me.
- The children always make me laugh and it reminds me of the joy we have in Jesus! J
- I started working in the 2-3 year old room because that’s where there was a need and I was here both services since my husband plays music in church. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know both the kids and their families. There is so much growth between the ages of two and four and I love seeing them grow.
- I love to see the kids learn. I love to see them grow one step closer to knowing Christ. I love to plant tiny seeds in their hearts. I love the kids and I want them to know Him!!
- I get fulfillment in watching and helping transform “rowdy”, unfocused, young minds into those that strive to memorize verses and begin to seek to know God and desire to learn His words.
- I enjoy caring for the kids while their parents learn and worship in the service.
- I love learning alongside the kids and being reminded of the richness of the simple gospel truths. I love being able to disciple them and teach them some of the life-changing things I have learned about following Jesus.
- I enjoy working with babies and serving the parents of small children.
- It is such a joy and honor to have conversations with children about Jesus and share the gospel with them.
- I love getting to love on the little ones that come to our church. I also feel like it is a good way to get to know other church members and to serve the body that I am part of.
- The love that has been poured out on my children in this children’s ministry has been monumental. I serve because I want to pour that love back out to other children. There is no greater joy than watching children come to know Christ. If I can be a small part in helping with that, I will count that a blessing!
We are thankful to all our volunteers who love and serve children.
Thanks to Jill Daugherty (Children’s Director) and Becca White (Sunday Morning Coordinator) for leading our children’s ministry and sharing this with us.
Thousands of years ago on this very planet, there was a small group, and as it turns out, this friendly little get together turned out to be the most destructive small groups in the history of the world.
Who was in this group? There was one man, one woman and one serpent.
I am sure they didn’t mean any harm, but the questions were flowing that day. They were innocent questions. It was just a conversation of inquiring minds, wanting to address a few concerns and clarify some things.
Here is a small sampling of of some the questions that were uttered that day: “Is that really what was said?””Are you sure that is really what will happen if this is done?”
Of course, the facts about who had said what were a little murky, but after all, it was just a sincere conversation between neighbors. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, after Genesis 3:1-7, what went wrong was all hell broke loose, to quote a summary statement by my friend Ryan A. Smith.
Not much has changed. How many church small groups have started with an innocent conversation to clarify concerns about what somebody allegedly said or didn’t say? How many informal meetings have led to all hell breaking loose in a church because there was a snake who was stirring things up under the cover of seeking understanding, or some other passive-aggressive tactic?
Author, Jared C. Wilson, with help from an insightful blog (How to Rescue Your Church in Three Weeks) by Pastor Ray Ortland, tweeted out at least three ways divisive people subtly raise hell in churches by leveraging influence in smaller spheres of influence. He tweets: “You are being a sinfully divisive person if one or more of these apply to you…”
- You spend more time talking *about* people than talking *to* them.
- You spend a lot of time trying to gather support for your position against people from other people.
- Your small group, friendship circle, or other church-related get-togethers amount to little more than grumbling sessions.
I personally have not seen this blatantly happening in the church I pastor, and I hope I never do. But I have heard about this sort of thing happening and it is confusing and destructive. It turns trusting people against each other and it creates angry mobs. After all, just as it was for the most destructive small group in the history of planet earth, it’s hard to know what the truth is when the people you are talking about are not a part of the conversation. If only Adam would have declared the truth that God had entrusted to him. If only Eve would have asked God. If only…
Some people don’t really want their concerns addressed, because if they did they would go to the person they are concerned about. Some people don’t want answers, they just want their way, and the best way to get their way is to cause trouble by asking questions that cause small group conversations. It seems innocent, but it is devastatingly deadly.
Let’s speak truthfully about God and each other, and when we don’t know if we have all the facts, let’s get the whole truth from one another. If we do this, we will glorify God together and love each other, instead of the opposite.
I was recently reading an article (Starting Over) in World Magazine and realized that many of our Iraqi brothers and sisters face extreme challenges that we can only imagine, but at the same time they are just like us.
Here is a sampling to illustrate: About 25 people meet in an apartment to study the Bible in a city that is just 30 miles away from the “present threat of ISIS.” A majority of those who are a part of this gathering have been displaced from the ISIS takeover in and around Mosul, Iraq. They are led by Pastor Malath Baythoon and they read the book of Romans together and discuss pride and humility. They share their experiences of fleeing the jihadists, leaving all they owned behind, not knowing where they would go. One woman asks for prayer to have the courage to pray aloud. A man asks that the group pray for a sick Muslim girl who lives down the hall.
Some of this is unimaginable to many of us: 25 people gathering in an apartment that is not far away from the trigger-happy terrorists that forced them from their homes. In this way we are worlds a part. But a lot of it sounds just like the kind of experience many of us commonly have in the United States. We come together to know God’s will by reading the Bible. We share life and pray for each other. We exhort and encourage each other to keep following Jesus in good and bad circumstances. They are not so different than us after all.
The common ground found in Jesus gives us cause to pay close attention to their example. On the other hand, the differences serve to challenge our western and cushy circumstances. The author, Mindy Belz, writes:
Baythoon asks if they are learning in the midst of their suffering and everyone nods, yes. “This thing has made me know God more. I am praying three hours a day,” says one. “I have time to read my Bible I never had before. It is new to me,” says another. “I am learning that church is not just a building. You can bomb the walls but not really destroy the church,” says a third.
What a challenging example! What an encouragement from brothers and sisters who are half a world away and living in a very foreign situation to my own.
It is not that American Christians don’t have trials and difficulties. We do! But it is always helpful to see the diversity of difficulties that people face, while also seeing that they are just like us; striving to glorify God together through Jesus.
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.