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How to leave your denomination ... for all the right reasons.
Seven years ago, my wife and I felt God calling us out of our denomination into another network of churches. Being in connected relationships with like-minded pastors and churches was important enough for us to navigate the choppy watters of change.
Some said, “Stay and be salt.” Yet, I sensed no call to take my “salt” there. (I know of a Spirit-filled priest whose calling in life is “to save as many as he can before they kick him out.”) Albeit humorous, note how he is certain of his call. I could not say the same. My “salt” had been trampled on, and others who stayed to be a prophetic voice discovered that they were ignored as well.
It ought to haunt us that no county in the country has grown one percentage point in the last 30 years with regard to the number of Christians. The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization released a report in 2010 forecasting that by 2050, in the Western world, the number of Christians will drop far below the population increase.
Though some denominations seem willing to shift gears and make the radical changes needed to see that these projections don't come true, many strategic churches and pastors are being led by leaders who seem intent on doing nothing different.
Some say denominations are like The Eagles' song “Hotel California”-you can check in, but you can't check out. They view affiliation as a marriage-“'til death do us part.” Scripture does not support this rigid view of denominational affiliation, and there may come a day when paths and partners change.
The episode in Acts 15:39 among Paul, Barnabas and Mark makes ministry affiliation more like parenting than marriage. With his sights set on the city, a son may turn down Dad's offer to take over the family farm.
Every year, denominations graciously and openly welcome congregations who, for a variety of reasons, are leaving other faith families. Few are as gracious and open when one of their own congregations, for a variety of reasons, decides to transition out. Our denomination was willing, but not initially. More dialogue was needed to discern if parting company was even necessary.
As a pastor, I sometimes sit down with those who are not embracing the vision of the house to encourage them to find a fellowship more fitting. Perhaps pastors need this permission as well.
One faithful brother I know has been whining for years about “what they [leaders in his denomination] are doing.” His misery has damaged his ministry.
What spared us was a word from God to “'leave … your father's household … ' ” (Gen. 12:1, NIV). Abraham's father, Terah, was only able to go with him halfway to his destiny. Only when Terah died in Haran did Abraham enter the land of promise.
The booster rockets on the space shuttle are essential for the first leg of the trip into space. But they must be shed if the ship is to continue on to orbit Earth. In my case, the denomination was the booster rocket launching me into ministry. Keeping it strapped to my side for the next leg of the journey seemed detrimental to my destiny.
The issue of affiliation is a critical consideration, especially now, when God is strategically linking up people and churches to complete the Great Commission. Numerous pastors and congregations are finding themselves unequally yoked and are open to good godly counsel on what to do about it. How we go about positioning ourselves for greater kingdom usefulness is crucial.
Typically, severing denominational ties is an ugly endeavor-a drawn out bitter fight. People leave congregations hurt and unhappy, the local church spends years in recovery mode, and, most grievous, energy we ought to expend in mission is diverted to “discord management.” Yet, there is a gracious way to go-if God is indeed calling you to go.
We left with blessing because we behaved. Rather than lose people, we gained momentum. It was out of that experience I compiled this list of principles that I believe reveals what constitutes leaving a denomination in a godly way.
1. Stay in a place of prayer. For a guy who loves strategy, charting courses and figuring things out, this was the best counsel I was given. Getting with God will keep you from self-righteousness, high-mindedness and arrogance. Wrestling with God kept me out of multiple wrestling matches with people. Moses crossed the sea settling the hearts of the people with these words: “'The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace'” (Ex. 14:14, NKJV).
2. Stay gracious and humble. Before you point out the spirit of religion in the denomination, check for a spirit of rebellion in you. Spiritual superiority in you will sabotage any openness in them.
Affiliation is important, but do not blame the system over you for your lack of success. Chances are there are numerous stellar congregations in your faith family who are thriving under that system. The fourth fastest growing church in America is in the denomination we left.
3. Eliminate unethical options immediately. Taking the bulk of your congregation with you, and leaving a reeling remnant with the building and denomination is unethical and unhealthy for the body of Christ and the advancement of the kingdom in a city. Additionally, a spirit of rebellion will be sown into your new work. Disloyalty is an imminent danger for those seeking to sever denominational ties.
It is not right or fair for the beloved senior pastor to threaten to leave the church if the church votes to stay denominationally affiliated. Moreover, only founding pastors and pastors with a long tenure in a congregation can escape the accusation that they “stole” a congregation away from a denomination or wooed their allegiances.
Manipulating members will instantly lift God's hand of favor. We need to discern the difference between God calling us to go and God calling a congregation to go. If there is no way to exit ethically, God is not calling you to do it.
4. Stay put until God says, 'Go.' The Lord told Isaiah to “go out from there” but to not make his flight “with haste” (Is. 52:11-12). Allow adequate time. Relationships take time to develop and need time to change. As long as you are under a denomination's authority, submit to its rules.
For instance, setting up pastors in our church-plants, ordaining and overseeing them, were actions unallowable in the system we were under. Clearly God calls us to these things, but a higher call is to submit to those in authority over us. Following the correct sequence is the supreme consideration, and patience will be richly rewarded.
5. Use Scripture and prophetic words cautiously. Isaiah 52:11, partially quoted above, was a verse God gave me, but it was not a verse God gave me to beat the denomination over the head with-especially the part about “depart … touch no unclean thing.”
When God is calling us out, those with prophetic gifts will probably be the first to figure it out. Yet, we found that God wanted to speak to us about us, not speak to us about them. For sure, we treasured select passages and heeded several key prophetic words.
Both became pivotal in our decision-making process.However, putting them before the general population would have been inconsiderate and hurtful to the good people in the other denominational congregations in our area who simply had a different God-given assignment than ours.
6. Make sure it's a 'missional move.' A move out of a denomination must be more about who you are than about how bad they are. In the initial meeting of our congregation, I outlined every area of incompatibility with our denomination. Yet, I made it clear how there was really only one deal-buster: We were unable to fulfill our apostolic assignment under their governmental structure.
We made a choice to speak well of them, and though we would have been “right” (in our minds) about the other issues, we would have been “wrong” ultimately. Our mission was not to tear them apart in our people's eyes.
7. Make sure it's not a step away from accountability. People still tend to equate denominations with accountability and independent pastors with unaccountability. Though that is easily arguable, the perception is reality, and we are wise to go the second mile in showing we value and submit to genuine accountability. Those who have run from cover to go do their own thing have made it harder for those with nothing to hide.
8. Resist the temptation to react to rash words. Early on, a denominational representative told my elders I was leading them down a “disastrous” path. Though able to articulate how staying in the denomination would cap our potential in God and therefore be the real “disastrous” direction, the Spirit quickened me to let it go.
Months later, after he had time to really hear our hearts, he told our congregation the direction we were going was “different” and that we should not “pass judgment in disputable matters.” Without us saying a syllable, “disastrous” was downgraded to “different.” Time changed his tone.
Particularly frustrating were the arrows shot “in secret” (Ps. 64:4). These were rumors spread by people in the community-mainly half a handful of unhappy ex-church members who, with misinformation and half-truths, started a short-lived slander campaign. Let Psalm 64 be your guide. Let God vindicate you. Psalm 64:8 says, “He will turn their own tongues against them” (NIV). Bless when others curse. Be sure not to allow your own anger and hurt to influence responses.
9. Be above reproach. All church meeting notices should be sent to everyone well in advance with a courtesy invitation extended to the denomination so questions can be addressed from their perspective. Bylaws need to be reviewed regularly and followed precisely.
When an enemy launches an attack under the cloak of darkness, dropping mortar rounds all around you, firing back will only reveal your exact location and their next round will be a direct hit. In other words, if they were missing their target, try not to say something that will soon lead to your undoing. No cheap shots in anyone's absence. Stay innocent and blameless.
10. As a gesture of goodwill, return all monies given over the years. Honestly, you could faithfully carry out the first nine items on this list and still have a bloody battle on your hands. We found that money made the difference.
At the meeting concluding our affiliation with the denomination, we presented the denominational representative with a check for $156,452.87-the exact amount they sowed into us more than a decade ago at the planting of our church. God quickly honored this gesture by unexpectedly releasing double that amount back to us within three months through a land/building transaction.
We handed him the check asking that they use it to plant new churches in the region. They were delighted and prayed blessing over us-and we prayed blessing over them. The denominational representative then gave us a great word from God-a message about how we are first called to peacekeeping, then to peacemaking, if divisions do arise.
He said that his purpose in coming to our meeting was about the third step, a call to peace-giving. The spiritual power in our returning this money and his reciprocal giving of peace was inestimable.
Every church and situation is different, but these 10 principles are worthy of prayerful consideration. There are no guarantees except that God's favor is a given when we relate graciously to others in the body of Christ.
A brother once told me that when he left his denomination, he literally “felt claws come out” of his back when the decision was finalized and “the unholy alliance was severed.” Yet, on the night this transition was “official” for us, the denominational rep said to me, “So, you must be feeling pretty good right now?”
My answer was honest, yet unusual for a non-weepy guy: “No, I kind of feel like crying-I have 20 years with you guys. I feel a bit like a son who is going out to establish a house on his own.” It was bittersweet-they weren't “bad,” and I wasn't misbehaving. Since then, there have been no regrets, only substantial releases of power and anointing we attribute to the favor of heaven on how this was handled.
To interact on this topic and others covered in this issue of the magazine, visit www.ministriestoday.com, click on “Interactive” and go to “Pastors' Discussion.”
Steve Hickey is pastor of Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the author of Obtainable Destiny (Creation House Press). read more
Did you know fewer than 5 percent of church donors actually tithe? Strategic implementation of biblical stewardship principles can vastly improve that percentage in your own church.
If a congregation truly embraces the theology of giving, and if members manage their lives on the principles of Christian stewardship and tithing, then the problems of raising the funds necessary to meet the ministry's budget are generally resolved. However, this is not always the case. Statistics tell us that fewer than 5 percent of church donors actually tithe. The average donation by adults who attend Protestant churches is about $17 per week.
A stewardship-driven church is a successful church. The underlying principles of stewardship are the foundation for the whole structure of raising funds to run the church.
Fund raising is only one side of the equation, however. How the church spends the funds it raises is equally important. The congregation must give a good accounting of the money it receives. This includes its budgeting, its budget-servicing responsibility and its reporting.
How a congregation spends its money generally provides a good profile of the health of the congregation. Statistics show that the more a congregation gives away to viable and important mission causes outside its own operational needs, the more money it receives from the supporters. However, budget structuring begins with the dollars needed to operate the local church for each particular year. So what are the most effective ways to raise money for the annual budget?
Some churches do nothing but make their appeal for support and allocate the money as it comes in. Other churches will have an annual appeal season in which they inform the congregation of the needs for the next year and solicit pledges to underwrite those needs. I lean toward having a yearlong stewardship emphasis because it is vital to individual spiritual growth. I also advocate having an annual appeal, in order to inform the entire congregation of the real operational needs and the growing challenges of the church's mission.
Developing a capable campaign team is an important aspect of fund raising. The campaign team should set the campaign plan, materials and events necessary to make it happen successfully. An important factor to consider upfront is the theme for the campaign. The theme should vary each year in order to reach the set goals and to make the campaign exciting.
Incorporating the following four elements in your stewardship campaigns and/or overall fund-raising strategy will go a long way in successfully raising money to fuel your church's ministry call.
1. Communicate both verbally and in writing. Send a general letter to the congregation, signed by the pastor and committee, stating the theme, goal and timing of the annual appeal. In addition, sermons on stewardship should be given by the pastor, not only at campaign season, but also strategically placed throughout the year in order to develop the spiritual life of the church.
Create campaign brochures with charts, graphs and pictures representing new budget items, and questions and answers. Use creative video presentations to communicate with your congregation.
2. Hold cultivation events. Depending on the size of the church, the cultivation events may be a dinner or dessert meeting for the entire adult congregation. The program should be exciting, informative, persuasive and not too long. Focus on the stewardship appeal.
If you plan to ask attendees to make a commitment at an annual appeal or capital-campaign event, it's appropriate to tell them in the invitation or promotional material. Use campaign commitment/pledge cards, which they can return on a special "commitment Sunday."
3. Conduct stewardship education. Annual support of the congregation is extremely important in order to develop the spiritual life of each member and to generate funds needed to operate the church and its mission. Support for the church should not be optional.
The stewardship system should: begin with the Christian education curricula for children and youth; be a vital part of the new members class preparing for church membership; be put in written form and approved by the officers of the congregation, and distributed to each member; and include an occasional review of all members' giving records. Those who never support their church should be given an opportunity to declare their intention as in any other organization.
Of course, we are dealing with the members of the body of Christ. We must be understanding, sensitive and alert to all conditions. But we owe it to each member to let him or her know we care about him or her. Our caring includes their spiritual lives and growth, which includes stewardship.
Everybody can give something. A prayer and a token gift may be all some members can do. They should be made to feel good about their participation. Jesus praised the poor widow woman who gave the two mites (see Luke 21:2). Of course you cannot build big buildings and promote great programs with mites, but you can build good people who give all they can.
Gifts are important in both quantity and quality. All we should ask is for each member to do his or her best. The church should expect that. If that is done, the bills will be paid, the buildings and grounds will be built and maintained, and the mission of the whole church will be enlarged.
4. Remember people give because someone asks them to give. Inviting people to contribute to a cause is often the key to making it happen. It's so simple. If you want people to give, just ask them. This is so obvious, but it is the most unused key in the entire fund-raising procedure. We don't ask for the following reasons:
We are afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is that the donor prospect says no. In fact, the donor prospect usually starts off by saying, "Let me think about it." Now you have your foot in the door, and it would not have happened if you hadn't asked.
We're not sure the donor prospect will give. That's not the problem of the person making the appeal. Granted, we should not be asking for large gifts if we have reason to believe the resources are not there for the prospect to respond. That is poor taste. Generally we know our prospects, so we should inform, cultivate and then ask.
We think the timing is wrong to ask. Of course some circumstances make it untimely to ask for a gift. Timing is beyond our control. Many gifts have been missed because the donor wasn't given an opportunity to give in time. Their circumstances changed the possibility of a gift, or it went to another cause.
We are not sure of our cause. Seek help and get information. Once you are satisfied and have a prospect that is ready to be solicited, you should ask for the commitment.
We are lazy. Sometimes fund-raisers are lazy. Persistence also is very important. We usually don't get a commitment, especially a larger commitment, the first time we ask. There is great value in just "hanging in there."
Remember the parable Jesus told about the persistent widow? (See Luke 18:2-5.) Fund-raisers have much to learn from that parable. Just keep asking. Of course we don't recommend that you become obnoxious, but don't quit asking too soon.
A good rule of thumb is to keep asking until the donor makes a commitment or gives you a firm no. You must respect a no. You have done your part by informing, cultivating and soliciting. You hope the donor prospect responds positively. If you receive a negative reply, move on to other candidates.However, time and circumstances may even turn a no into a yes later on.
Statistics vary on how many times you should ask, depending on the purpose of the campaign, the size of the gift being solicited and the circumstances of the donor prospect. However, I know from experience that you often ask many times and in many ways.
Remember the old adage, "Rome wasn't built in a day"? Fund-raising campaigns take time, and leadership must be willing to devote time to accomplish the goal.
Remember, when you are soliciting, your focus is not on yourself but on the donor prospect. People are flattered to be asked to give. They may never know about your cause unless you inform them and ask them to give.
People want to be identified with a cause. And what better cause than one with eternal significance for the kingdom of God? If we budget wisely, educate people on the importance of stewardship, and conduct our fund-raising efforts professionally and with integrity, people will give, and God will provide. After all, He is the source of the supply.
Chester L. Tolson is a fund-raising professional and executive director of Churches Uniting in Global Mission, a network of senior pastors across the United States. This column was adapted with permission from Proven Principles for Finding Funds (Baker Book House, copyright 2003), a guide for raising capital and developing healthy stewardship practices in the local church. read more
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