A church that is going nowhere is one of the most painful things to watch. Forward motion had stopped a long time ago but no one noticed. There is always enough blame to go around. By this I don’t mean everyone has a part in the problem but instead everyone is blaming someone with the hope they themselves won’t get blamed. As numbers dwindle, the push to look outside for new attendees starts; but what type of church will they end up attending?
If you want to continue to be important to people in the church don’t join it.
I guess I’m about to lose some readers when I say this but it is not that far off from what I have experienced in many churches. I have observed numerous churches in various stages of stagnancy and decline and there has been one common undesirable trait, the lack of love for the people in the church. Even more concerning about this trend is the way people are treated when they bring up this issue. Those who feel the church is not loving or caring for their needs are often called selfish traditionalists and emotionally needy people who are not interested in reaching the community around them.
We are not at church to get something out of it, we are there to put something into it.
I have heard this in sermons preached at churches that are trying to grow in numbers and it takes everything for me not to stand up and shout, “if I am not at church to get something out of it then sit down and shut up, you’re wasting both of our time.” Church has rationalized its lack of love by telling the people church is not there for them. Let me get this straight, we love the people in the world, meeting their needs through church programs so that they will experience the love of God through us, want to follow Christ and join the church. Once they join the church we tell them that the church isn’t there for them, it exists to love the people of the world, meeting their needs through church programs so that they will experience the love of God… I think you get the idea.
Many in the church who seem uninterested in showing God’s love to the community haven’t been shown His love in the church.
There are many reasons that lead to a church being unloving but in the majority of cases there is one reason they remain unloving. The church takes on the personality of their leadership. Leadership often takes on the personality that best protects them from the way they are treated by those in the church. When no one is willing to break the cycle, there is no way to move forward. The leadership often looks at the rest of the church as the reason that people aren’t joining the church. The rest of the people look at the leadership as the reason they don’t want to bring people into the church. Everyone is blaming someone with the hope they themselves won’t get blamed. Love is not shown by the protective leadership afraid of being attacked by those they lead. Love is not shown to the protective leadership by those they blame for causing the decline in the church. The church is stuck going nowhere.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)
Programs are started to shore up the falling numbers. Sermons are preached to inspire the congregation. Bestselling “how-to” books on church and outreach become the blueprint for success. Lost in all of the drive to survive are the people who have been most effected by the stagnation of the church, those who are already attending. If I start programs and have not love, if I preach inspiring sermons and have not love, if I adopt bestselling “how-to” books on church and outreach and have not love; I do a lot of stuff, make a lot of noise, copy a lot of ideas but the church is still going nowhere.
Leaders leave before you can no longer love.
Do you love your church? We know what the right answer is but do we know what the right answer looks like? From out of context Bible verses to sudden prophetic revelations, I have heard this type of manipulation used to get the church in line with the leadership. From leadership diagrams to small group care ministries, I have seen structures designed to insulate the leadership from the people. From denominational practices to local constitutions, I have dealt with systems that preserve those in leadership regardless of how effectively they lead.
I am a pastor. I am a human. When I allow my human side to guide my pastoral role I will view my life in terms of position not calling. I will use worldly means to maintain my position and worldly measures to define my leadership. When I embrace my calling in light of the One who has called me, empowered me and placed me in each specific leadership role to serve Him, I must love like He loves. It is not my job to stand alone where I believe God is leading the church, it is my job to stand with the church, loving them and walking with them as together we seek God. If I am standing alone I am not leading and I can’t be loving if there is no one with me.
I have heard so many church leaders define their position as one that moves the church in the right direction as if the people were inanimate objects that simply needed to be pushed from point A to point B. I have heard leaders blame the congregation for the problems of the church and its stagnancy considering themselves to be great leaders with bad followers. What I haven’t heard is, ‘I love this church so much that I will go to where they are at, come alongside them and together we will grow into the people God wants us to be.’ If you cannot come alongside the people as a leader, leave because you are well on the way to being unable to love.
Church goers leave before you can no longer love.
Do you love your church? We know what the right answer is but do we know what the right answer looks like? From out of context Bible verses to sudden prophetic revelations, I have heard this type of manipulation used to get the church in line with the disgruntled church goers. From parking lots to small group care ministries, I have witnessed the conversations designed to create opposition to the leadership. From stubborn refusal to outright defiance, I have dealt with these behaviours aimed at destroying those in leadership. I am a Christ follower. I am a human. When I allow my human side to guide my reactions to leadership, I will use worldly means to attack those I do not agree with. When I embrace my calling in light of the One who has called me, empowered me and placed me at this church to serve Him, I must love like He loves. It is not my job to stand alone or form a group to champion the cause of where I believe God is leading the church, it is my job to stand with the church leadership, loving them and walking with them as we together seek God. If I am standing alone I am not supporting those who lead and I can’t be loving if there is no one with me.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4 (NIV)
This I know to be true, not all situations will be solved, not all churches will recover from stagnation. I know that the most loving leadership cannot stop a church from going nowhere. I know the most loving church goers cannot stop a church from going nowhere. Until leadership and church goers love each other, the church will be stuck going nowhere.
Is my church going nowhere?
- Is there genuine love and caring for the people who attend?
- Is there genuine love and caring for the leadership?
- Do new attendees seem to be replacing those who have left (people don’t stay once they get to know the church)?
- Are you serving those outside the church from the overflow of the love you have as a committed collective of Christ followers or just because it is what you have been told to do?
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:10 (NIV)