This church stuff is a weighty topic, thus the reason it has taken me much longer than anticipated to write this – not as though I don’t love weighty topics, but I want you to hang out with me because this post is going to need some “‘splaining to do” said in my very best Ricky Ricardo voice. I am asking God to guide me as I write this post in particular because I want my posts to convey truth in a compassionate and graceful way to anyone in leadership over me or otherwise. Let’s dig in.
In the last post, I mentioned have it your way church, and we looked at driving thru. I told you that in this post we would look at the ones being served as we drive thru. We want to be noticed when we are served. We don’t want to drive-thru mindlessly without eye contact in the face of faster and more, more, more.
There is an art to leadership that has been lost in the face of bigger and better for the kingdom. Shepherding a flock of believers is no longer enough for many leaders today. They make provision in the name of God to do “BIG things.” In our faster paced culture, we’ve lost the art of contentment, and being “small” is often not enough. Shepherds need book deals, speaking engagements, and numbers to drive their ministry.
Anything done in the name of the Lord that the Lord does not desire us to do is vanity. If I say I write this blog because God directed me to do so, but in fact He did not, I take the Lord’s name in vain. Only Jesus knows the hearts of His shepherds, but is everything genuinely done for the Lord?
Feeding your ego or gaining a following as a result of ministry is not new. There have always been superstars for Jesus. To reiterate my last post, are these men contrite? Either way, are we not one in the body? All equal members united in service and purpose? If it seems leaders make much of themselves, something may be amiss.
Selling Members and Losing Sheep
If our leaders are driven to do more by us or of their own accord, they inadvertently sell their membership. If we are going for bigger, better, faster, more, what pastor has time to develop personal relationships with his congregation? If a pastor or shepherd does not know his congregation, how can he shepherd them? At times, it seems to be a tradeoff – find the lost men and reel them in or care for the ones in your fold. We must not do one at the expense of the other. We misunderstand the parable of the lost sheep when we do. We must feed the body and allow it to work together while searching for the lost.
Some shepherds are so busy trying to attract more sheep that they are busy losing part of the original flock, and sadly, many are not actively searching for the sheep who become lost. No earthly shepherd is the Good Shepherd. He does not know if the ones leaving are part of the lost or part of the flock. As in the parable, a shepherd makes sure the 99 are safe, and then he starts out on a potentially life threatening path to reach the one lost. If an earthy shepherd does not know if a sheep is part of the flock or part of the lost, how can he assume that a church member who leaves is going to a safe place? He must treat those who leave like lost sheep, care for them, and bring them back to safety. Until they’ve rooted themselves into a new church body, they are still his sheep to seek after and care for. If he doesn’t know his flock, he will not realize they are missing. He must be intentional to build relationships over agenda. This needs to happen before sheep stray. Otherwise, the sheep will not know if the shepherd is safe when he seeks to bring them back into the fold.
Losing Sheep due to Image Building
If a pastor is into image building, he may make changes to his business model which cut out members of the church body. This is where wounding of the church body occurs. This causes sheep to scatter. You all know stories of staffing changes that cause mass turnovers in the church body. Staff changes do become necessary, but they must be done in a way that does not promote image building and that administers grace to the fallen sheep and the wounded body affected by business models. Otherwise, we self harm the body of Christ, and while Christ does tell us to cut off body parts in the case of recurrent sin, self-mutilation is intended to be a last-ditch effort. Ultimately, we are to be healed and to keep one another from wandering away. If grace is not administered, chaos and disorder abound instead. We must consider James 3:16, which says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26
If we are members of one body, why do we think it is okay to sell one another? cut one another off? and stand in opposition to one another all for the sake of an image? My friends, this cannot be. It is grievous.
Shepherding without Integrity
Pastors may sell out their congregants when they are seek self gain, either in the eyes of the world, church growth, or their own denominational leadership, or because they’ve forgotten ethics. Consider Mark Driscoll. He bought a marketing strategy that allowed him to be a best-selling author. His integrity was compromised, he regretted his decision, and he retracted his best-selling status. Leaders are being taught that marketing the gospel is good stewardship of the message itself. I know because I have heard this message, and I bought it for a while.
When God began opening my eyes, there was a news article going around at the time about Stephen Furtick and Elevation Church. I don’t know anything about Stephen Furtick other than this article. I’ve never read any of his books or listened to his sermons, and I don’t know whether he used people to manipulate mass baptisms. However, the document produced by his church did seem to imply that he would set up people in the audience in order to create momentum to spur people to baptism. He denied the claims and said he was being persecuted, but it was nevertheless concerning to me. The thought that using manipulation to maneuver people into following God truly is scandalous and reprehensible. I agree that when we as believers follow God whole-heartedly we will receive criticism and persecution, but our integrity should stand alone. When it is called into question, we need to take an honest look at whether or not our integrity has indeed slipped.
I once heard a leader say he had the worship service down to a science in how to get people to respond, and indeed he did. He said that some people call it manipulation but that he saw it as stewardship. Why does a leader need to defend whether he is manipulating someone in the first place? A manipulator will manipulate his point to the death.
An Example for Shepherds
“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Brother Lawrence
Today I heard the story of Father Damien. He was a missionary to Hawaii in 1864 to 1889. He died when he was 49. Some would say his life was too short or that nothing could be accomplished in such a short span. When he came to Hawaii, there was a health crisis, and many men and women were moved to Molokai to a leper’s colony there. He was the first priest to volunteer to serve and live among the lepers. You might guess that he too became a leper. He accepted a death sentence, and lived, died, loved, and served among the least of these. His life is an example of reaching down and washing dirty feet. He lived and died as Christ. What would it look like if our leaders were willing to die for us? And what would it look like if we in turn died for them? Are we not Christ unto one another? Through dying, we bring life to one another.
While this list is not exhaustive as to why church members leave, what if they leave because they’ve inadvertently been taught to dine at the next fast food church? or what if they leave because they are tired of being sold by pastors in favor of whatever bigger and better thing the shepherd seeks? What if they are hungry for a real meal? and what if they want to know they are accepted at the table? It is important to seek the lost, those outside the faith, but it is equally important to care for the body when it is sick, as it is.
The solutions are not complex, but may be hard to practice. Stop giving people fast food. Give them a real meal on which to feast. Slow down and get to know the people God’s given you to shepherd. Practice contentment within your local body of believers. Stop marketing the gospel, prostituting the body, and tear down idols. Do not cut off members for the sake of your church image. Offer love in all ways at all times and always continue to administer grace.
What if there was a return to the church, a revived interest in truth, because “they will know we are Christians by our love”?
A Note to Scattered Sheep
Express your concerns before you leave. Try to follow the model of forgiveness Jesus has laid out for us. Consider your heart – how might you love your enemy and lay down your life for your church body? If you must change church bodies, look for a place where grace is taught, rest is valued (you will need to heal), and entertainment and self idols are cast down. Ultimately, look for a place that loves the gospel so much, marketing it is not an option.
Do not give up on the institution of church and stop going altogether. We need you. You are a kingdom asset. Serve the broken. Feed the body. It might just be that you out of all of us understand how to do this best. Remember that never once has Jesus stopped being your Good Shepherd. Church is broken because we are all fallen sinners. If she is sick, she is also healed, because as sinners, are we not declared righteous as well? In Christ, the bride of Christ is broken yet righteous. So come home.
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
1 Corinthians 12:18, 22-25