Article after article has cluttered my Facebook feed and my reading list over the past few weeks. You’ve probably seen them: “Why Millenials Are Leaving the Church” or “15 Reasons I’ll Never Go Back to Church” or “3 Reasons I Decided to Write 6 Articles Covering the 148 Problems I Have with the Church.”*
I’ve tried to be open-minded (I think I’ve succeeded) and read them to see if there are any positive takeaways from these articles. There have been some. Certainly we want to listen to people’s questions, problems, grievances, etc., but listening doesn’t necessarily mean we are to change what we’re doing. More importantly, there is a reason not covered by ANY article I’ve read so far that is above and beyond the biggest reason people hate you, your church, and Christians in general.
What You’re Doing Right
At some point in your life, you felt called to vocational(ish) ministry. I’m making that assumption right off the bat. Hopefully, you have studied, worked, honed the craft of preaching and teaching, followed God’s lead and direction, and are in a place where you are now leading a church that God has called you to lead. You are pouring into the lives of your congregation. You are doing the good work of being a shepherd.
But you’re concerned about growth, aren’t you? Don’t you want to see people saved, and baptized, and add numbers to your church? Sure you do, of course you do, and probably! So, how do you address that need?
Well, if you’re like a lot of pastors, you’re going to read books on church growth, missiology, and that kind of stuff. You’re going to go to conferences (if you can afford it), or you might do simulcasts, or even just watch videos on YouTube.
Then you’ll start to implement some of the changes that work in other places. Maybe you’ll ditch the hymnals you’ve been using and just keep the lyrics on the screen(s). Maybe you’ll add some cool lighting and smoke machines (because, let’s face it, those cool lights don’t work without haze. People need to get over it. Got lights? Need Haze.)
Maybe you’ll’ start using some of the new “relevant” terminology. People aren’t “lost”; they’re “unchurched.” You don’t have worship services; your church offers “worship experiences.” Your church no longer has members; it has “tribe members” or maybe they are the “[church name] community.”
Now, maybe it’s a month later, a year later, or even 5 to 10 years later. You don’t look anything like you did when you started, and everybody loves you!
Is that a good thing?
I don’t want to be misunderstood. A lot of what I have written so far is a little tongue-in-cheek laced with a tiny bit of sarcasm. However, that’s only to bring a little levity to what can be a very serious problem. You see, pastor, the danger of focusing on church growth, even focusing on number of souls saved can redirect you from and cause you to lose sight of your “why.” Why did God call you to the ministry?
Let me rephrase…
Why did God call YOU to the ministry?
What is that you can do that no one else can do? What unique thing is God looking for you to do in the Kingdom? You have to know what that is, because achieving THAT is success.
Let me put it this way: If God is calling you to pastor that group of 75 people in that little town because only YOU can help them to grow the way that they need to grow; only you can speak to them in a way that helps them to understand God and what He wants to do in and through them; only you can love them through whatever it is/was they are/were going through…
And you decide instead to try to grow that little church, pull in people from the outskirts and the suburbs of that town, you grow that church to a sweltering 500 and, in the process, lose your 75…
Then you have failed.
[NOTE: Sometimes people leaving is a good thing, and sometimes it’s necessary for people to leave so that mutual growth can happen. This is a subject for a future article.]
But Why Do They Hate Me?
So, let’s get back to what we’re really driving at here. Why are people “leaving the church?” Why do they hate us so much?
The idea for this article started when I realized that, of all these articles I was reading, not one of them I read (NOTE: “that I read.” I’m not saying there are NONE out there that addressed this, I just didn’t read it.) seemed to recall something that Jesus Himself said that spoke to this very issue:
If the people of this world hate you, just remember that they hated me first. If you belonged to the world, its people would love you. But you don’t belong to the world. I have chosen you to leave the world behind, and that is why its people hate you. Remember how I told you that servants are not greater than their master. So if people mistreat me, they will mistreat you. If they do what I say, they will do what you say. People will do to you exactly what they did to me. They will do it because you belong to me, and they don’t know the one who sent me.
-John 15:18-21 [emphasis mine]
If you’re doing what God has called you to do, where God has called you to do it, being who God has called you to be, there is a very real chance that people are going to hate you, that you might drive some away.
And that’s okay.
Don’t take my word for it… Jesus said so.
So, before you take a weekend to go to some conference or even pick up the hottest new book on church growth:
- Take regular time to reconnect to your “why.”
- Make it a point to cast the vision to your people.
- Don’t let failure dissuade you.
- Build your church and stop trying to build that guy’s church.
Not your church or business’s “why” but your “why.” Maybe even write it down and keep it somewhere prominent as a reminder to yourself (and even others).
Your team won’t know where to go if you don’t tell them, and your people won’t even know if they’re following. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” is still a true statement today.
This is not to say “don’t be teachable,” but if God is calling you to do a thing, then the onus is on HIM to equip you to do it and to grant you success in it.
As my friend, Ken Davis, is so fond of saying, “you’ve gotta be you because if you don’t do you then you don’t get done.” Stop trying to be Francis Chan, or Steve Furtick, or Jentzen Franklin, or Adrian Rogers, or whoever. BE YOU!
[reminder]How can you reconnect to your specific, individual calling? Are you ready to stop worrying, if only a little less, about why people “hate” you or your church?[/reminder]
For those who keep writing these “open letters” about hating/leaving the church, Whitney Capps has something very important to say to you.
* = Titles have been completely fictionalized to spare the innocent… and the guilty. 🙂