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"Everybody is leaving someday!" When my pastor and friend of almost 40 years made that declaration, I was a bit shocked. He could see the look on my face, so he clarified, "We shouldn't get too bent out of shape when people leave our church because everybody will end up eventually leaving or dying."
If that didn't come from a guy who pastors a very large congregation, I might have suspected he was just bitter about a struggling church.
Frankly, I wasn't sure how I felt about that blunt statement then, but I know how I feel about it now. He's spot on; no one (except my wife) is with me until the end.
For years, I've read articles and books and listened to brilliant mega-church pastors tell me, "You must close the back door to grow your church! It doesn't matter how big your front door is if you're hemorrhaging folks out the back." In other words, if you don't have a dynamic small group ministry, an effective way to plug people into service and a strong discipleship program, people won't stay long.
For years I believed them, but not so much anymore. (Hang in there and let me explain.)
Of course, I value connecting people to others in the church and helping them find their ministry niche. Without question, I value discipleship and spiritual growth.
For a very long time, I've had a pastor of discipleship on my staff, and he's great at what he does. But over the past 12 years of ministry as the founding pastor of a fairly large church, I've discovered a few things:
1. Sometimes the most invested people in your church have the most unrealistic expectations. Their attitude is, "You owe me because of all that I have done for you." They look at church like I look at paying insurance. My premiums are paid. My deductible is met. So, I have a right to file a big claim when I need something. If the company (church) doesn't pay up, then I'm taking my business elsewhere.
Problem: Self-centered expectations replace selfless service and create an unhealthy and ungodly "What's in it for me?" attitude.
2. Sometimes the people who are the most connected demand a position of authority even if they don't have the character or skills to handle it. Unfortunately, they think their longevity (or the size of their tithe check) gives them the right to lead. If the pastor doesn't see it that way, parishioners seethe and eventually bolt.
Problem: It's not wise to promote the proud no matter how long they've been around or how much they've given.
3. Sometimes the people who are the most regular attendees gripe the most. Perhaps you've heard these statements from members: "How many times do I have to hear that vision message again?" "I'm tired of the same old money talk!" "Seems like you're recycling messages, and I'm no longer getting fed anymore." Sadly, they've lost their awareness and compassion for the harvest, so they move on to the latest hot church or newest pastor in town.
Problem: They suffer from the curse of knowledge, meaning they have forgotten what it's like to be new and to not know everything. Tragically, they've also lost their heart for the lost.
Two things are consistently taught in the New Testament:
Otherliness. In the kingdom of God, it's not about me. In fact, the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the one (Rom. 12:10; Phil. 2:3).
Outreach. The primary purpose of the church is to reach out to those not yet in it (Luke 19:10; 1 Cor. 9:22).
Let me repeat, I value discipleship and caring for the sheep. But I wonder if we sometimes worry too much about the back door when we live in communities filled with people on their way to hell who have yet to enter the front door. The harvest is still ripe. Where I live, nearly 80 percent of the people don't attend church anywhere. In fact, Washington is one of the most unchurched states in the union. How can I not focus on the lost?
I will go after wandering sheep that have lost their way, but I'm no longer going to worry about wandering worshippers who move from church to church. In fact, I'm going to do everything I can to have the biggest front door possible. I'm going to challenge the already convinced to actively and regularly engage in the lives of those without a relationship with God. I'm going to design our Sunday morning services for people who are not there yet.
That may mean some "church people" get frustrated. It might mean my once greatest fans turn into my greatest critics. I will still love them, and I understand, but I must "become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Cor. 9:22, NIV).
Frankly, it's all about a lost world God loved so much that He gave up everything to reach them. Everything. Perhaps it's time to stop worrying about the back door and make the front door as big and inviting as possible.
Kurt W. Bubna published his first book, Epic Grace—Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot, with Tyndale Momentum in 2013. Since then, Bubna has published three other books, including: Mr. & Mrs.: How to Thrive in a Perfectly Imperfect Marriage. He is an active blogger, itinerant speaker, regular radio and television personality and the senior pastor of a large and community-focused church in Spokane Valley, Washington.
For the original article, visit pastors.com.
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