When I was a little boy there was a kid that lived in my neighborhood who stopped by the house one day to show me the new kittens that his cat recently delivered. With excitement he took each of the kittens out of the basket he carried proudly showing them to me. In the weeks that followed each time I saw that boy he had arms filled with kittens, holding them tightly allowing the other kids on the street to play with them. As the days passed I began to notice fewer and fewer kittens with him. One day I asked him why he wasn’t carrying as many kittens as he had when he first came by my house, his response, “several have died.” I knew why they had died, this little boy had held them so tight for so long that he had literally squeezed the life out of them. If he would have simply left them with their mother they would have developed naturally, but because he insisted on holding them he “loved them to death.”
While that story is a bit macabre, it illustrates what I believe some church members are unintentionally doing to their church. It has been my experience that some people are holding their church so tightly that they are unintentionally squeezing the life out of it. When I speak with pastors who are having conflict with people in the congregation it is rarely with church members who have fallen into sin. It is usually a conflict with a very committed church member who cares deeply for the church and it is almost always related to a difference of preference. Most of these church members do not have nefarious intentions, but they feel as though they are the chosen one to protect the congregation. Truth is, they love their church very much, maybe a little too much. For them, the church has been the center of life where they trusted in Christ, were baptized, participated in their children’s weddings, possibly even had a few family funerals in the sanctuary over the years. As they walk in the church they see the paint that they put on the walls, the renovations that they helped to fund, the memorial plaques displaying the names of people who they have known and loved over the years. The church has become, in a sense, a museum of treasured memories, meaningful moments and cathartic events which together create a sentimental attachment. There is nothing wrong with having a strong emotional connection with your church, but as with everything there must be a healthy balance. Be careful not to “love your church to death.”
Ways we unintentionally kill our church:
- Emphatically protecting the legacy and history while neglecting future opportunities. Recently I was speaking with a church leader who serves a church with a rich history. As I toured the church I was awed by the historical events which have been a hallmark of the congregation through the centuries, however it struck me that nothing was said of how the church was doing in present day nor the vision it had for the future. I asked the question about present ministry and future opportunities and could tell that I hit a sore spot. It was obvious that the history of the church was such a source of pride that the congregation lacked a sense of vision for the future. Attendance was down, membership was aging and the church had become a museum of past accomplishments lacking hope for the coming decades. The church leader shared with me how difficult it was to cast a ministry vision to a congregation who continuously looked backwards for their purpose and meaning. If you are one of those who think only of protecting the legacy of “the good ole’ days”, you could be holding your church back from accomplishing the God’s purpose for the future of that church. My advice: Remember the past, Reclaim past glory and Relaunch a new vision! If you find yourself always referring to the good days of old, you may be unintentionally killing its future. It is hard to walk forward when you are constantly looking backwards, you will inevitably trip.
- Seeing new members and attenders as threats rather than blessings. While that may seem preposterous to some, I can guarantee that it is very real in many churches. When the church begins reaching new people there is a chance that someone might sit in your seat or take your place on that committee that you have served with pride for years. These new members might bring in new ideas, new ways of doing things or they might not share your fondness for annual church calendar events that you cherish. When we say that our church is a friendly church, we might mean that we are friendly to one another, but not necessarily to guests. Are you intentionally getting to know those who are new attenders? Do you honestly long for your church to reach new people? Churches can quickly become country clubs with a closed membership rather than Great Commission churches making disciples, reaching the lost and hurting. The difference is often found in the mindset of the long standing members.
- Having continual disagreements with pastors and staff. There are some members who feel as though they are the designated spokesperson for the church when it comes to protecting the congregation from the new ideas of the church leadership. When church leaders share a new vision for the congregation is your first inclination negative simply because you see new ideas as a threat to you? Many new pastors have had their passion squashed by well-intentioned church members who fear changes to the church might compromise their control. If your church has a history of short pastoral tenures it may point to the fact there is a systemic problem with church members who refuse to allow pastors to truly lead the congregation. In your effort to protect your church, you may be killing the passion of your pastor, thus slowly killing its ministries. Allow your pastors to lead. God gives the direction of the flock to the shepherd first, not the sheep. As long as your pastor is walking with Jesus, holding sound doctrine and is a person of biblical integrity, you should follow him.
- Withholding tithes and decreasing attendance. When you are angry with church leadership and withhold tithes while you simultaneously stop attending services you are only hurting yourself. Actually, you have fallen into sin because you are choosing to be disobedient to two biblical commands. You may think you are proving a point, but you are actually hurting your relationship with God and hurting your church through neglecting two key components of church membership. I have known some church members who have attended Sunday school and then refused to stay for the service out of protest. In each case, I can say that the actions hurt the person’s spiritual walk and created negativity in the life of the church. Neither is a biblical response. I have often visualized these people standing before the Lord trying to justify their disobedience arguing their “just cause” for disobeying two explicit commands of Scripture.
- Judging decisions on how it affects you rather than how it might potentially reach new people. When decisions are made which result in changes, are your first thoughts related to how it will impact you or how it might potentially reach people for Jesus Christ? Does your support of the decisions depend solely on your comfort? Our human nature is to be myopic in our support of changes based on how it will either positively or negatively impact us, but for the body of Christ this should not be the case. Our mission is to serve Christ, reach people, make disciples and exponentially increase the population of heaven while simultaneously decreasing the future population of hell. If you judge decisions based on this missional purpose, rather than personal comfort you will find a great fulfillment in seeing your church succeed.
I am struck with the words Luke uses to describe the mindset of the church in Acts 4:32, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” The success of the early church was deeply connected to a genuine desire to put personal preferences second and the Gospel first. The church in Acts loved their fellow believers deeply, but loved seeing the world reached for Christ even more than their own possessions and preferences. If we are going to reach our communities we must start with placing the focus off us and on our mission. Don’t love your church to death, but instead love the one who died for the church. Ask God to give you a passion to assist your church in doing whatever it takes to reach as many people for Jesus as possible. Don’t stop loving your church, just don’t squeeze so tight. Loosen up your grip and give control back to the one who died to redeem it.