The confrontation was probably one of my more sobering moments as a pastor. The woman, a long-term church member, used the classic moment right before I preached to tell me God had spoken to her. He told her under no uncertain terms I was supposed to leave the church.
My first challenge was to figure out why God had told her and not me. It seemed like direct communication would have been far more efficient.
My second challenge was framed in a simple one-word question, “Why?”
She responded with smug certainty, “Because all of these new Christians are messing up our church.”
Of course, I am not alone in dealing with this perplexing reality. Many church members really don’t want to see their churches grow. Some of them are content with sufficient growth to pay the bills, but none thereafter.
I have learned from countless pastors and members over the years why this seeming Great Commission disobedience is so pervasive in many churches. Here are six of the most common reasons.
- Relational patterns are disrupted. Growth brings new members to ministries, groups, and church social functions. Leadership may shift with the incoming new members. Many members are simply not comfortable with new attendees changing long-term relationship patterns.
- Many are too comfortable with the status quo. They would rather obey the perceived mandate of the Great Comfort than the mandate of the Great Commission.
- Some have a me-centric view of congregational life. Thus, the church exists for me, myself and I. It’s all about my worship style, my programs, my ministries, and my pew. The church is more like a country club where I pay my dues and get my perks. If the new people get in my way as the church tries to reach them, I will raise my voice loudly.
- Church members may want the pastor on call to take care of them. Too much growth spreads the pastor too thinly. If my pastor can’t meet my needs 24/7, we have too many people in the church.
- Others are simply uncomfortable with any emphasis on numerical growth. The pendulum has swung too far. For many years, many churches over-emphasized numerical growth, so much so that it seemed like the number was an end in itself. Today, many church leaders and members resist any emphasis on numerical growth, often to the detriment of Great Commission accountability.
- New people are different. New Christians and non-Christians are particularly different from most longer-term church members. Their presence can make churches messy. Some members don’t like messy churches. Kind of like the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus relating to messy people.
I recently wrote a blog post about church members who are heroes and heroines in their local churches. Pastors remember them fondly for a lifetime. They tell stories about them. They thank God for them.
But pastors also remember church members who are harshly negative, like those who resist Great Commission growth. My story took place a quarter of a century ago. I have moved on, but I have not forgotten.
Let us be church members who gladly obey Christ’s command to make disciples as we go into our communities. Such obedience will likely result in growth. And that’s not a bad thing.
Posted on January 7, 2019
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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We have this going on in my congregation right now. The newer people in are far more active in reaching out as well. Hard work.
From my experience it’s an issue of control. Deacons/church members want to stay in charge keeping things the same. The bean counters want to prevent growth to keep the status quo. I have been told before being asked to leave a church that “they loved me but soon those joining would soon outnumber the longer time members and they couldn’t have that.”
Just to add one more in the train of thought above …
We have also made the modern pastor as a bundle of many roles which ought to be rightfully filled in by many different people in the body, as in Eph 4:11 – “And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;…”
The senior and older members ought to have been built up to take up these roles. But we tend towards hero pastors, while settling in the pews and preferring to “consume” their services and performances.
There is something very rotten in the state of … as Shakespere would say.
Some of the points need to be more nuanced and look at all sides of the story. And one of the core problems is that the Great Commission is about making disciples, not just converts.
For example, high people / pastor ratio adversely affects pastoral care. Existing members feel the brunt of it.
Secondly, church teaching generally gravitates to the lowest common denominator. Spiritual growth is compromised; again the older members are mainly affected.
Pastors should actually make many more new pastors of the older members as the church grows, and delegate. We have tended to make pastors a profession, connected with seminary education and all.
In our day and age we need to seriously reconsider “church”. Why do 2000 people have to gather under a single roof? Is the effectiveness of praise and worship purely a function of the state of civil engineering? Why can’t we train numerous pastors through apprenticeship? Do they all need to be full time? And many more …
I feel my tongue is lost after reading this article. It is a timely article as I go through this same situation right now. I feel so inspired by the contents of the article and may God bless you richly.