Monday, October 1, 2007

Fearing They'll Leave

During my time in ministry, I think I may have obtained a reputation for running a few people out of the church.

An eleven year old boy overheard me talking with another adult concerning the origins of many traditions we do at Christmas (this was after I had given the youth a lesson on the origins of Halloween), and the discussion I was having with the adult concerning Santa Clause popped the little eleven year old's bubble. He finally learned the truth and mom and dad were so angry that they stopped coming to church regularly and the child was forbid from coming to youth group. Now, if the child had heard the same thing from their teacher at school do you think they would have pulled the kid out of school and started homeschooling them? Doubtful! Yet, somehow it's convenient for us to just leave the church.

Every person that I've "ran away" has been a case very similar to that one. Can you see where something just isn't quiet right there? How does a person in ministry dodge such things? How do we do the job of shepparding and avoid those kind of things from happening? Is it wise to teach ourselves to be more sensitive and give in more to their demands in order to avoid running people off?

Lately I've been hearing this one, "Fine! Well I just won't come to youth group anymore!" (or "Fine! I'll just leave and not come back!") That's one I frequently get when I say something, privately, to a youth (or their parent) about the disturbance they cause when they walk in 15-20 min. late; youth group is nearly halfway over and I'm roughly halfway into the lesson by that point (and of course I'm not talking about the first time visitor that may have gotten the time things start mixed up). Or sometimes I get that when I'm doing an illustration or game, that relates to the lesson, and it requires everyone in the room to participate, but there's some kid that doesn't want to do it. So the moment I even hint at them joining in with the rest of us they're quick to say, "no thanks, I'll just leave."

They're trying to drive into me the "fear that they'll leave" and "I have done something greatly wrong". This is a sentiment I have encountered since I've been a Christian. I've seen people doing it when I was in Campus Crusade for Christ (not to me but to the other leaders), the Presbyterian church I attended while in college, my church back in Louisburg, and the church I'm currently serving in. In fact, there's another church locally that just went through (and may still be going through) a major problem of the same kind, where a family that gives a significant amount of the church's income was threating to leave.

Now those of us who try to minister, whether we're pastors, elders, deacons, or members of the church, how are we supposed to handle this? Should we give in? Can you see how nasty and real of a problem this is for the Church, that so many are willing to leave for such trivial things.

You know what though, it's not really a problem. In fact, it's rather normal. It's what you get when you're working with a large number of people who aren't making a serious attempt to walk with Christ and are handed membership to a church. They're given their "God's membership card" and now they can make their list of demands, and if you don't meet their demands they'll pull out their arsenal of guilt and they'll rally the crowds to say how horrible of a person you are to run someone out of the church.

If we want to avoid this do we give in? Do we meet their demands? Absolutely not!!! To do so would rank right up there with giving in to the demands of terrorist. Bending in a direction that in the end only causes greater harm. Eventually they try to force something to not be taught, more entertainment and less meat, some activity to not happen, a lot of talk and so little action, some shifting of finances (away from where God's work can really be accomplished), something to not be spoken of, some absurd public apology that must be made, etc. The cancer begins to take root in the church and slowly spreads. Then they want the leadership to bow down to their whims; still using guilt, still using the crowd. And if the leadership agrees and gives in to their demands then they become part of the cancer and at that point, the cancer will spread more rapidly.

To be continued. . .


MilePost13 said...

You don't decide who leaves the church, but you can decide when they leave. If somebody leaves for a lame reason, it's simply because they've been looking for a lame reason to leave. IMO, it's a good thing they found one...

Rick Lawrenson said...

Is the kid who came in late habitually late? If so, you're right to mention it to him/her/parents. If it's a one time thing and you want to make an issue of it then you need to practice a bit more grace.

But most likely what you're experiencing is a part of your church's culture. If people are allowed to show up whenever for scheduled events and aren't held accountable then the problem will only snowball.

On the other hand, if the church starts (and stops!) on time consistently it will develop a culture of respect. It's all about leadership.

And if you let people threaten to leave or withhold their finances, you only allow them to hold you and the church hostage.

Time's too short and the need to develop true Christ followers too great to play games with those kinds of people. When they threaten to leave just smile and say "God bless you as you find a new church".

Don't play their games.