Alright, ready for my latest rant? It's about people who leave a church and then still want all the benefits of that church.
One time we had a staff member that resigned of their own accord under less than good terms. They should have been fired after many insubordinate and inappropriate incidents, but my husband is an incredibly grace filled man. So, after resigning, they left but then seemed to still want all the benefits of the church, right down to people delivering casseroles to their house. The behavior was a bit puzzling, at least for the remaining staff members who were sane. The staff was thinking, "um, you are lucky pastor didn't wring your neck let alone send somebody over to your place with a casserole..."
So yesterday the staff was at lunch and we were talking about church people who seem to want the same thing. It's the strangest thing. Many of you who read my blog daily are pastors or pastor's wives and I know from talking to many of you that you have faced the same thing.
From time to time somebody will leave our church and go to a mega church, or at least one that is somewhat larger that they deem to have more "bells and whistles", if you know what I mean. Sometimes they leave on good terms, sometimes not so good. But the point is, they leave.
My husband often says he feels like he is the "most loved Pastor in Tampa." What he means by that is, he has had a lot of people leave over the years who have said, "I love you and Pastor Deanna so much...you have been so loving and kind to our family and truly been pastors to us, but...we are looking for something..."more." And with that, they go off to look for whatever latest greatest spiritual bang they can find that has more to offer than a mid-sized, loving, balanced church like ours.
To just break it down for you in a nutshell, our church is very spirit filled, but we aren't flaky. We aren't looking for the latest "woo woo." We are a church that is represented by about 22 nations, with very warm loving people. The gifts of the spirit move in our church and the Word is strongly brought forth. But you aren't going to find any gold dust floating around here or any of our pastor's wives with piled up pink hair and big false eyelashes or our pastors sitting on gold "throne chairs" or our pastors running up and down the aisles just for effect. Larry and I aren't going to approach the pulpit with a bunch of men in black suits wearing ear pieces and surrounding us as if Elvis were entering the building. Don't get me wrong, I believe we are the most exciting place in town! But I don't believe you need to have all the aforementioned to have that. We are spirit filled but my husband and I are absolutely committed to having a rock solid balanced church, built on the foundation of God's Word. We are also committed to being a loving, caring church family where the members are mobilized to care for one another. Our Care Ministry takes the lead in this, as our pastoral staff has trained them to do. Okay, so with that settled, let's go on...
Now most people reading this will understand that sometimes when people go to a mega church, they slip in and out unnoticed. I am not knocking mega churches, in fact I hope to pastor one someday! What I am simply saying is, if you don't make a serious point to connect in one, you probably won't. You can be another face in the crowd unless you make a point not to be. So many people go to a larger church and they make a point to cultivate new relationships and some don't - they just attend and coast for a while enjoying the fact that they are attending a larger church where they really don't have to "do anything." What a joy! They are initially elated that no one is asking them to be a greeter, an usher, a Sunday School teacher. Why, this is just bliss! They can attend...and just...ENJOY! But hold on, not so fast...
At some point they experience something difficult in their lives, and what do they do? They may not have made any connections yet in their new church. They are not in ministry, because many times they have just chosen to "soak in" all the blessings of their new environment and not really engage. Getting too involved or letting someone know your name means they might ask you to take a turn in the nursery. I mean, the pastor doesn't really know who they even are in many cases, except for maybe vaguely recalling their face from a newcomer's luncheon. So, being disconnected in their new church, they decide to call up their old church that they left, expecting the people there to run and minister to the need. And our staff's first question when they call is, "have you talked to your pastor?" The responses are rather interesting.
True case story.
A few years ago a woman left our church and said that while she loved Larry and I and the rest of the staff dearly and thought we were "so sweet" (her words exactly), she said she was looking for "something more" (don't you always love that?) and she started going to a bit larger of a church that I would describe as pretty fanatically charasmatic. She had to drive about 45 minutes to get there. It's the type of place where when they take the offering they might run around the room a few times with the praise music going and choir swaying. The type of place where the preacher probably jumps off the stage a few times when he preaches. Mostly every service a bunch of people are going down on the floor under the power of God. No problem, hey, whatever floats their boat. I'm not against any of that. But my point is, I guess this is the "something more" she was looking for.
She became a member there and was attending for about a year, and then one day she broke her hip. Keep in mind our church is probably five minutes from her house. So we get a call at our church office from one of her immediate family members asking first of all if we would visit her in the hospital and second if we could mobilize our care ministry with some meals, etc. I said, "she is no longer a member here. She attends such and such church and pastor so and so is her pastor..." To which they replied, "Yes, but they don't do things like that."
Was I hearing correctly?
So the family member goes on to tell me that this said church doesn't always do things like that for their members and that besides that, it's 45 minutes away, and the pastor or the staff would never come all the way over here to Tampa to do anything for this woman.
And meanwhile our staff was thinking..."and this has WHAT to do with us?"
The fact is, this woman has a new church and a new pastor. Whether they are, or are not what she needs is another story but the fact is - she now belongs to them. She has chosen them.
Being a member of a church is sort of like a marriage. My husband often encourages people when they first come to Northside to wait a little bit...date us...then get engaged...don't marry us too hastily...be sure this is the place for you, for it is a real commitment, this thing called church membership.
This woman calling for us to come is like saying, "my husband is not meeting my needs..." "he won't do this or that..." "he's not available..." so I'm going to ask this other man to come over here and do it for me. It's almost what I would call "spiritual church adultery." You would basically be two-timing on your new church with your old one because suddenly the new one is not meeting your needs.
When you marry your church, you marry them. And when you divorce them, it's no light matter. Leaving a church is a very serious decision and you better think before you do it.
In my opinion, when that woman left Northside, and decided to drive to a church for "more" 45 minutes away she needed to realize she was forfeiting being pastored by our church, receiving pastoral care or any of the benefits that come with being a member of our church. Having supposedly "more" can cost you sometimes. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. For you see, when you go through a hard time in your life and stuff hits the fan, your "mega church" may not respond in the way you long for them to. While running around the church to take the the offering, or seeing 50 people hit the floor on a Sunday morning may give you some momentary excitement, it's really not going to help you much when somebody in your family dies or you break your hip.
Just this week our staff was faced with another situation of someone who left to go to a mega church and now needs our help. This is what prompted our staff conversation yesterday and Pastor Linds quipped about not resigning and asking for a casserole. This week's person in question has made no real friendships in their new church although they have been there quite a while. Now, they are in need of help. They want our prayer chain to be mobilized immediately on their behalf. They want our intercessors standing in the gap for them. They want our care ministry to stop by the hospital. They are wondering why a bunch of ladies in our church have not called them to encourage. Aren't we supposed to be "the church that cares"? What about our Northside Pledge?
Are our staff the only sane ones who see this picture clearly?
When they chose to go to their mega church, they were saying goodbye to our intercessors, goodbye to our care ministry, goodbye to our prayer chain, goodbye to our ladies and goodbye to our pastors.
Yes, church membership has it's responsibilities but it also has it's privileges. One of the privileges of being a MEMBER of Northside is that you can count on our prayer chain to be mobilized on your behalf. You can count on our intercessors standing in the gap and pleading your case before God. You can count on our Care Ministers to visit you in the hospital or bring you a meal after you've had major surgery. You can count on our pastors to comfort your family in a time of bereavement. You can count on us to provide top notch wedding ceremonies and funerals. You can count on Larry and I to return your phone calls or to take them if you are a member. You can count on being able to make an appointment to talk to us. Membership does indeed have it's privileges.
Last year we got a call from a former church member who left our church to go somewhere that is currently about twice as large as our church. They boasted to many about all the great benefits of their new church. They even encouraged others to come. Oh wait...they actually took three or four people with them over there! Fast forward a year later and their mother dies. It really stunk for them that while their new church allowed them to have the funeral there, they don't "do funeral dinners." That's just too much for this large church to handle and it's their policy not to do them. Hmmmmm...what to do, what to do. So the phones started ringing at Northside, asking us to do the dinner because this new great church would not. Our office said no, that was the responsibility of their new church. But they didn't stop there. They just started calling our individual members asking them to rise up to the cause. The bottom line was, they had to call somebody they actually knew. Once the funeral was over, nobody heard from them anymore. And we probably won't until the next tragedy that their new church won't help with.
I've actually had people call the church who have left and they asked, "can we meet and talk with you and Pastor Larry? We're having some family issues and just need a pastor to talk to."
"Well, have you talked to your pastor?"
"Yes, but he/she doesn't meet with people."
I wish this was an isolated case but truthfully it happens all the time. A whole lot of people in our particular city left their more balanced Word based churches years ago for a pastor with a whole lot of charisma as well as fake teeth, fake boobs, (a fake face when you get down to it), a private jet, and a whole lotta "woo woo" but where has it gotten them? Embarrassed and on the front page of the paper, that's where. Some of those people are trickling into other churches now, realizing that the "woo woo" wasn't what it was all cracked up to be.
So, I know how most of my pastor friends feel about this, but now I'm going to talk to people who read this who are church members. I know a lot of you all the way from California to Canada to Russia read my blog (I see the stats daily) and many of you e-mail me. And I want to encourage you with this. Think twice before you leave a place where you have connections, friendships, and pastors who know you for a place that is a bit (or a lot) larger and seems to have "more" of whatever. Because you might pay a higher price for that "more" than you ever imagined. Sometimes "more" is simply not worth all that you have to say goodbye to.
"But shouldn't we just do all this as Christians?" is one school of thought. Shouldn't you just run here there and everywhere with a casserole in the name of Jesus? Here is my response to that. Yes, Christians should help one another, however God places us in a church body for a reason. Pastors and churches have enough on their plate taking care of their own flock let alone taking care of some other shepherd's flock. I do not believe we are called to take care of another shepherd's flock, in fact that would not even be appropriate in most cases. When people call me and ask me to visit another pastor's church member, except in rare instances I let them know that if this person is local and already has a pastor, I am not going to interfere with that. If someone has a pastor already, you do not try to pastor them too. That would almost be considered "sheep-stealing" in many cases. (I have heard before of pastors who actually try to do that and will run over to minister to somebody else's church member in a time of need trying to 'steal' them away to another flock. That is just plain wrong.) As pastors and church members we are called primarily to reach the lost. Then there are those who belong to our flock that we must arrange care for. And that's a big job whether you have a church of 100, 300 or 1,000. You can only do so much and God doesn't expect you to take care of another man or woman's flock.
Bottom line is this. For those who leave and expect to go to "more" and still have the benefits of their old church? You know what that's called? Wanting your cake and eat it too.
So when you leave folks, don't ask for a casserole. Count the cost of going somewhere else where you think you are getting a bigger spiritual bang for your buck.