“Once one realizes they are entitled to nothing, they become grateful for everything.”
I never planned to write the book.
It began as a midnight attempt to get a 500-word blog post done for the next morning. I called it “I Am a Church Member.” When I closed the keyboard that night, I had zero expectation of any significant response.
I was wrong. The blog post went viral. It hit a nerve in congregations around the world. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a little book by the same name. It became a number one bestseller and has sold 1.5 million copies to date.
My premise was simple and basic. I went to Scripture to delineate the characteristics of a healthy church member. The responses to the book and the blog post gave me an acute awareness of the dearth of healthy church members in many churches. The opposite of a healthy church member is an entitled church member. He or she sees the church as an organization that doles out perks and benefits somewhat like a country club. The church, therefore, exists for the members rather than the members serving sacrificially as the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12).
What are some of the negative consequences of this entitlement mentality? Let’s begin with six of them.
- More conflicts and church fights. When church members have an entitlement mentality, they get angry when they don’t get their way. It thus leads to conflict and even church fights.
- Pastor and staff perceived to be hired hands. Forget the idea of the pastor/teacher equipping the saints to do the work of ministry. Entitled members view them to be workers paid to all or most of the ministry. “After all, that’s what we pay them for.”
- Keeps the focus off the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Entitlement is self-focused. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment are other-focused.
- Creates unhealthy alliances. Entitled church members often form alliances with other church members of similar unhealthy mindsets. They are called cliques and power groups. They can be members of an extended family, or they can be a diverse group of members simply determined to get their own way.
- Turns giving into dues. The money given to the church is not done so with open hands. It has strings attached, and those strings will jerk the money back the moment entitled church members do not get their way. (See my earlier post on giving versus dues.)
- Turns the church facility into a shrine. When members insist on getting their way, the church facility becomes an object of their own desires. The fight could be over a color of paint or carpet, a parlor or bride’s room, chairs versus pews, or the pulpit itself. The sad possibilities are endless.
I have a burning passion to see churches revitalized. In many ways, it’s really about the revitalization of the hearts of church members. And those hearts must transform from me-centeredness and conditional to other-focused and unconditional.
Then, and only then, will our churches experience true revitalization.
Posted on September 17, 2018
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.
More from Thom
Church members are very entitled and critical. That kind of critical attitude about whatever you do toward non-staff members is from class difference. And it is very entitled. You do not criticize people just because you are a staff member. They also keep a vigilant eye on whether you donate money to church. These people are very entitled. I eventually stop going. I don’t like criticisms. I think it’s about entitlement. You have a bigger ego, and that’s why for you people other than you are always bad in your views. They do not like criticism, but when they criticize you they could become very self-righteous. Church have a narrow-minded view. And it goes without saying you are good, and others are either wrong or bad. It’s ok if they hurt others, but if they feel hurt, they become very angry, while preaching that others are not forgiving. They talk from a higher position and complain that you bully them. Well, I was criticized by you, and you told me that I bullied you. This kind of discomfort abounds, when I was in church. After I left church, at least I have less uncomfortable situations like this. I am so happy that I left church. Nothing can make me go again. It’s so uncomfortable.
For a long time, as they continue to decline badly, you have been writing articles about the condition of what I would call the “institutional” church (the state defined and controlled 501c3, religious, non-profit corporations) and the negative actions and attitudes of their “members” / attendees without offering substantial and effective answers for how to reverse their decline.
The purpose of this note is to request that you please prayerfully consider whether it is now time to begin to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God and the next reformation of that Kingdom, which will be initiated by the seeking out and helping to bring into covenantal order and relationship an initial network of overseeing Kingdom Elders as described in my website, https://kingdomelders.net/. That is, please consider that is now God’s will in this sabbath millennium after creation for His People to take on our increasing dominion role on earth to re-form the Church, the Kingdom’s overseeing component.
Thank you for considering my request,
Age 72, “retired”
Rochester, Oakland County, Michigan
Thank you for sharing the members entitlement and negative mentality. The staff and leadership mentality works the same way. From the get go in our “church” model there is a culture set up that is unhealthy. The pressure is on one man to be the central preacher/teacher no matter how it’s looked at. From there the salaries, and the benefits of staff/ leadership creates a one up one down atmosphere. This looks nothing like Jesus leadership or the book of Acts. The model comes from the Catholic model and it’s in every church that we see. Like Greek culture has many aspects in our present day society with days of the week wording and other examples. Our culture in society can be lived out in by our Constitution and Declaration of Independance but when “church” sets it self as a model of government it takes on a whole different animal. Leaders are to be servants and from 33 years of being a leader and pew observer it’s leadership delegating the workload to the “laity” to do 80% of the work. The church growth mentality like Walmarts business model has turned the once hoped for organizable into a business organization. Thank God we are seeing the “church” the people born again believers going out to the parks and hedges and highways with the leadership of the Holy Spirit doing the work of the ministry. Nothing wrong with a fellowship for equipping and corporate worship but the model we see is and has created a multitude of dysfunction and stifle in @church” members which is a country club (member) word to start with. The word “service” used to describe what’s about to take place exposes the whole event that’s about to happen. The people are being serviced to what ever agenda the leadership has put into place for those members and then they get a weekly service or more to keep the thing going. My hearts opinion.
Good stuff. But you did forget to include the entitled pastor on the list. Staffers are church members too. #retiredpastor
Very great post. Sadly, this isn’t new to the church. I remember 20 years ago having an event at the church that I was responsible for and then the much older ladies in the church all showing up to “help”, but really they were there to tell me HOW I HAD to set it up and run it. It was frustrating and crushing because the squashed my gifting and they didn’t care. It left such a lasting impression on me that when I have been charge of anything, I make sure that I allow others who are helping to shine! Because we should be encouraging and setting others up to go out and succeed. And we don’t always have the best ideas or the best way to do things!
My solution? Start kicking them out of the church. If Paul was prepared to ex-communicate a greedy person and a reviler (1 Corinthians 5:11) – an entitled church member will manifest something worth church discipline.
I blame pastors for enabling the behavior. We have provided every single creature comfort to our parishioners that these things have come to be expected as entitlements. This is not love – this is job protection.
Kick ’em out like Paul said to do.
I call them welfare Christians. These people are getting something for nothing. They come to church, sit in the pews and at the end of the service walk out until next Sunday. To be the church you must act like the church. Involvement in missions and ministry should be the spiritual and emotional and physical reaction to the gift we have received. James said it best. Show me your acts and you show me your faith.
First I should say I am not a pastor, so I realize I am not really the audience of this blog! But I did see it and it hit a nerve so I just wanted to ask a question, not as a shepherd but a regular (not very good ) member/sheep. If I am in a long or even a permanent season that I can’t hardly give anything back to a church–like hypothetically (ok maybe not hypothetical!) if I am a working mom or maxed out taking care of a special needs family member or sick or just if all my other regular survival responsibilities give nothing leftover to offer to a church or the ministries–should I just not be a member? Or just attend but just not assume I am entitled to the “perks” like to have a child in Sunday school or youth group? Or would it be ok as long as I don’t sign up to be an official member? I don’t want to be just a taker or entitled but I think there are a lot of us in this position so I thought I would ask. Is it wrong to be a member if we have nothing to give a church compared to others that are working so hard? And is there some other alternative besides just not coming?
Sheep, I feel compelled to respond. I don’t presume to know the situation(s) you are referring to. But these are the thoughts I have.
Being a member of a church does not require that we have an officially titled ministry and serving within the church. Perhaps one’s role is as an encourager to others who are serving. Perhaps the ministry is being God’s light in the community, a person who represents Christ and your church well. Perhaps it it is in inviting others you come in contact with to come worship with you. There are many other unrecognized ways we can serve. No matter our situation or physical condition, we can always pray for our pastors, those who are physically serving, and for the communities they are reaching out to.
And, if your church offers a ministry for children, your child’s presence is the encouragement they want and need.
Rainer refers to I Cor 12 in his book, Being a Church Member. Verse 22 says ”But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary.” HCSB
Sheep, I just read this today, and felt compelled to respond. Of course you should attend church even if you can’t serve or give back at this time in your life. God wants to uplift your spirits with worship and the hearing of His Word. And you can absolutely use the childcare and youth ministries, they will be a blessing to your children. People go through seasons and will likely find the chance to give back/serve later. I don’t hear any entitlement attitude in you whatsoever. I also agree with A Rose, your prayers for the ministry and inviting others to come is a way of serving. Be blessed!
I’m the pastor of a church that committed suicide by entitlement.
My parents were saved out of the world here, married here, and I was born here.
When I was a child there was a power struggle between the old order who founded the group, and the children of the old order who were in the starting families phase of life.
There was a pastor with a clear call to come to this church, but the old order rejected him because of a large family, and a special needs child.
They kept their building, but lost the next generation.
I was called as the pastor in time to bury the last of the problems, and God has begun a miraculous recovery and growth in the church.
It only meant the loss of 30 years of being a real impact on the city.
Thanks Thom for your words. Confronting the consequences of entitlement has been my constant struggle in my 30+ years of pastoral ministry. But I am relatively new to the resources found in blogs, YouTube and the like. If I would want to have a strategy to help a church change its culture and values from entitlement to missional, where do I start? What resources do you suggest? What authors do I look up?
I’ve spent time journaling today on my own commitment to an inward focused church with an ineffective board. My sermon this Sunday will be trying to invest members in committing to a positive change. We do not have a pastor, just a service committee and no credentialed speakers. Just members, two of us are in pastoral tracks with our denomination. This blog post is a very big mirror. just in time to make me reevaluate my tack. Thank you. Pray for us.
Bravo! One of my pet peeves is when church members complain that their “needs aren’t being met”. Jesus said He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. Many church members seem to have it the other way around.