Five (Seemingly) Well-Intending Sentences That Are Hurting the Church

Have you ever received a backhanded compliment? Just beneath the veneer of a compliment lies a stinging insult. It may not register at first, but then you feel the pain.

“Congratulations, I didn’t expect you to get the job!”

“You are so independent; it’s no surprise you haven’t found anyone yet.”

“You really look nice on Instagram.”

“I wish I could be as relaxed as you about all the clutter in the house.”


Several sentences spoken about churches today seem to be affirming on the surface, but they have a negative connotation. I try to give the person articulating these sentences the benefit of the doubt by calling them well-intending.

But they may not be well-intending at all. 

1. “The church is not the building; it’s the people.” This sentence is the most common of these five, and it seems to be coinciding with attendance declines. It is biblically true on the surface, but it usually means that fewer people are gathering in the building. It is also a convenient excuse for someone who does not gather with other believers regularly.

2. “Our church is a discipleship church rather than an evangelistic church.” In other words, our church and its members are not reaching people with the gospel. But we will pretend it’s okay and say our members are growing more deeply as believers. The New Testament clearly affirms that a maturing disciple is an evangelistic disciple.

3. “Jesus and I get along just fine by ourselves.” No, you don’t. Jesus wants you to get off your idle posture and connect with other believers. From Acts 2 to Revelation 3, the Bible is about the local church or written in the context of the local church. The local church is God’s plan A, and he didn’t give us a plan B.

4. “It’s not how many are attending; it’s how many we are sending.” Yes, sending people is important. Indeed, it is the mission of the church. But sending is never put in opposition to attending in the New Testament. It’s both/and, not either/or.

5. “We need to grow in discipleship before we start a new church or a new campus.” The challenge with this sentence is that the level of discipleship growth needed is never articulated. Lack of discipleship becomes a convenient excuse for not starting a new church or a new site. You are never fully ready to start a new family. You are likewise never fully ready to start a new church. You will have to depend less on yourselves and more on the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul was clear that the life of a Christian would be challenging, even painful. Among other things, Paul was beaten, imprisoned, confronted by angry mobs, shipwrecked, worked to exhaustion, forced to endure sleepless nights, and deprived of food (see 2 Corinthians 6:5).

Our life is to be one of obedience. The five sentences above are usually clever verbiage to cloak disobedience.

Posted on August 29, 2022

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I majored in Art starting in 1965 at The Art School of The University Of Washington, in Seattle. After finishing the 5 year Professional Fine Arts course of studies, I as well as most other Art majors, never prepared to make a living as a Fine Artist. There were no classes in Art Business, or Arts Marketing, or anything. This was a major mistake!!! I graduated in August of 1970. I had made plans, applied , and enrolled as a full time Seminary student at Warburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. I spent the first 2 years and my 3rd year as a Vicar (Intern) at First Lutheran Church, Galveston, Texas. I returned in August for the one month New Testament Greek. Then my senior year, and graduation in May of 1974. It was The American Lutheran Chuch, now the ill fated Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA is the cheapest excuse for a Church. Since the 1960, Lutherans in The American Lutheran Church, and now The ELCA, have drifted farther away from The Bible as the Word of God. The OT and NT are merely taught as Religious Fairy Tales. The historic Lutheran Confession, a Reader’s Digest of Christian Beliefs, Theology, Conduct of Christians. I served as a licensed lay Pastor in Minnesota and accepted my first call to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. I was Associate Pastor, then Co-op Pastor from September 1975 to September of 1986. My next parish was in a small town an hours drive West of Minneapolis/St. Paul. I only lasted two and a half years. Why? I followed a Predatory Pastor, who in the guise of Pastoral Counseling, seduced and had sexual relations with at least 12 female parishioners. He did the same thing 8 years before in Lake Wilson, Minnesota. Be the l Lutheran Church members wanted him back. The Bishop Carols H. Berkman , now dead, covered up all the sexual crimes of the Rev. Larry R. Houg. Bout was deffocked, and worked as a SEx Addiction Counselor before dying 10 years ago. Both The ALC and The ELCA covered every thing up, until one of the female victims brought a lawsuit against The Rev. Larry R. Houg, Bishop Darold H. Beekman, Be them Lutheran Church, and of course The ELCA. Bishop Berkman was deemed a major ELCA liability, so he resigned his Bishopric, and was President of The Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the oldest Lutheran Seminary in America. Apparently, incompetence, in the ELCA is rewarded. The only good to come out of my short pastor are at Bethel, was that I married one of my parishioners on February 5, 1989. Disenchanted with the ELCA, we started Minnesota Art Business. I rejoined Be them Lutheran Church in December of 2016. It is a 200 member parish, yet only 50 people ever show up for wpWorship. the Women run the parish, they along with the ELCA, have been wageing War on the Men and Boys. Why? Because the ELCA believes that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both Female, and God is NOT our Father, but Mother/Father God and Godess. This is more than I can abide. Two months ago I told my wife Roxanne, I would no longer be part of Be them Lutheran Church. The pastor of 5 and a half years, left at the end of April 2022. There are not enough pastors available. That fact, along with the retirement and death of Lutheran pastors, only makes things worse!!! The lack of strong Biblical, Oastoral, Orthodox, Evangelical grounded Pastoral Minustey, and a return to our Biblical Roots, will make a new Reformation a reality. No one at Bethed seems to care about my experience and skills for faithful pastoral Ministry. I know how they can grow, but they do not care! We need to Gather for Wirship, Grow in God’s Wird, and Go out to Witness. It sounds so simple. But without a will to repent and change durection, The ELCA is selling everyone A One Way ticket to HELL!!! Perhaps were can talk more about my ideas, sources and resources. I have some Baptist friends. I am still an Ordained Lutheran Pastor, Professional Artist and a Professional Actor. I could help design books and curriculum. Michael

  • I agree with you on #2, but I think we also have to be careful to avoid the opposite extreme. I recently read the book “Franchising McChurch” which warns of this trend. Some churches are so obsessed with numbers that they’ll do anything to boost attendance, even to the point of deemphasizing the Gospel. A watered-down Gospel message saves no one. In other words, I agree that we shouldn’t emphasize discipleship at the expense of evangelism, but neither should we emphasize evangelism at the expense of discipleship. The two go hand-in-hand.

  • We’ve had to remind people of #1 because of the hallowed status many long-term members have placed on the facility. It has become something that severely limits growth as the facility is extremely old. People place more importance on the building rather than the people. So, we’ve had to remind folks that people are more important that things and stuff. Even buildings.

  • Don L McCutcheon says on

    Love the article and especially the thoughtful answers to those who default to overused cliches. Praying for you, your family and ministry now, my friend.

  • William A. Secrest says on

    Number one is the one that I hear the most. You are right that I often hear it from people who have chosen to make their church attendance optional.

  • The opposite of #2 is also heard: “Our church is an evangelistic church rather than a discipleship (or teaching) church.”