03 September, 2009

There Is Something to Say About Being Established

I had a conversation this week with someone about the whole idea of changing churches. They mentioned to me how a woman who both of us dearly loved and respected had taught how she believed that a person should change churches ever so often. Honestly, this woman and I had discussed this before her death and honestly, it was, shall I say, one of the sharpest disagreements that we ever had. She had challenged me with the notion that Paul never stayed anywhere for more than a year or two at the most. My counter was that while Paul was the church planter, he always established a church, gave them a pastor and moved on to his next destination. He never once took any of the church with him to the next destination, but rather he established a church where ever he went and he did all he could to quiet any division within a church, and his method was never about dividing the church from one another, unless it was over a sin issue. We never did come to an agreement, but I stand by my view that Christian's should become established in a church and stay there, working in harmony to build the Kingdom of God.

Let's back up a minute. I find the picture above not only humorous, but it speaks a universal truth about the way people (and apparently cows too) think... "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence."

Take a look at that picture. Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence? Maybe it is really that these animals are demonstrating a natural desire to have something which it seems we cannot have... something different. I don't know, but we can see that in this picture the grass does not appear to be any greener, nor is there more food available. So, what is it that is so alluring? What makes them want what is on the other side?

Let's be honest... sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes we just are not being fed, or what we are being fed is not good for us. Sometimes there is a need in another church and God is sending you to that church to assist. So, YES... there are times to leave a church.  In each of these cases, it is time to get to to the other side of the fence, no doubt. But we need to stop and evaluate just why we are wanting to get to the other side of the fence. Is it really that we are not being fed; or that we just want something different? Or maybe it is because we are refusing to submit to the leading of the pastor? Remember, pastor means "shepherd." What is a shepeard? A shepherd is one who leads, feeds and guides. The sad fact is that many may call someone else "Pastor" (or shepherd) but it is in title only and they refuse to submit themselves to the care of the pastor. Imagine a segment of a flock of sheep walking up to the shepherd and saying, "we feel led to go to this other shepherd's flock." Just doesn't happen. You belong to that flock and to the care of that shepherd."

Let me make an interesting observation, starting with a question. If you are being led, fed and guided then why are you wanting to go?" I've been a pastor for a long time now and I've seen and heard it all. I've watched literally hundreds leave for other churches over the years. On occasion I've actually had people come to me with very real, valid issues and I've agreed that it was time for them to go, and I have even helped them to find another church and pastor. But the vast majority of the time, it has fallen into one of these two categories: 1) I've just not being fed; or 2) I feel led to go. Let's look at both of these briefly.

1) I'm just not being fed. Can I say that this is just a lie? If the sheep are not being fed, then ALL of the sheep would be trying to bolt. In the natural, I promise you that if you try to hold an animal back that is not being fed and he knows there is food out there, he will do everything in his power to get to it. When a person or a small segment of the church says they are not being fed, what they are saying is either: 1) you're not preaching what I want to hear or 2) the guy down the street is preaching things that are appealing. Can I tell you that if you want to raise a healthy flock, you have to give them a balanced diet? You cannot preach only prosperity, or blessings, or only this or only that, but there has to be a balance of all that is needful. But people tend to have their pet doctrine and they will run to it.

2) I feel led to go. OK, I must admit that their are times that this is legitimate. There are times when God really is leading someone to a new church, for a specific reason. But I believe that is seldom. If this is happening, it is usually because that other church has not raised up the workers and God is sending in labors to that church. It is not just to go to the latest, happening church. That is man's doing and I don't think God is pleased with that at all. Most of the time when someone feels led it is because the are hearing things that tickle the ears somewhere else... OR... things are getting really uncomfortable and the Word of God is challenging them in ways they are not willing to go.

One last observation and I'll close this before it becomes a book.
I've noticed this for years, but I will use only the church where I currently pastor to make this point.
I've been at this church now for a little more than 5 years. In that 5 years I have literally seen more people leave us than what we have attending now. Of the original congregation that was here when I came, less than one fourth of them remain with us 5 years later. I've had numerous people tell me how much they've enjoyed the messages and teaching, even that they've never had a pastor challenge them and cause them to grow as they have under my pastorate. Yet... they left. In 5 years there are easily more than 100 who have left. Now here is the observation I want to make...
I would estimate that less than 15% of those that have left are established in a church today. Some have bounced from church to church. Some attend a church, but I'd be hard pressed to say they are established because they have NO involvement in that church. (In other words they are dead weight.) But the truth is that of those that left us here, MOST of them are not attending a church anywhere today. That's what happens when you leave the leading, feeding and guidance of a shepherd! A sheep cannot make it on his own.

Is the grass greener on the other side of the fence? Yes, sometimes it is. But just as the picture above depicts, most of the time it is not, but we just want to rebel and go for what we have been separated from.

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