Thursday, 11 June 2015

Surviving Separation from the Potters House Network of Churches

 “Reflections on a Separation from The Potters House Network of Churches”. 


Introduction:
I have been asked to share some of my reflections regarding the Jan 2015 separation from Potters House. Though at first unsure, thinking of the amount of pastors (and congregants) that have gone through their own separation from Potters House in the past, these reflections may be helpful for others in processing this journey.

The following list of 44 pastors no longer in the Potters House UK or churches shut down is not exhaustive and (does not include the amount of congregants that leave nor the multiple dozens of redirected pastors) is only from memory; however what it does show, is that statistically a significant number of current pastors will go through their own separation from Potters House within the next few years (when this post was written less than 3 years ago the number was 32 & has now grown to 44!).


Peter Bayerman – (Started Walthamstow - No Longer in PH);
David Vicary (Bury St Edmunds: Walthamstow - No Longer in PH);
John Galt (Bury St. Edmunds- No Longer in PH);
Dave Foster (Scotland churches shut down- No Longer in PH);
Neil Watts? (Started Cambridge - church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Trevor Bradshaw (Started Torquay - church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Jon Spurgeon (started Wembley church left PH - No Longer in PH);
Toks Odofin (Started Shepherds Bush, church left the fellowship- No Longer in PH);
Clement Okusi (started Croydon- No Longer in PH);
Kevin Brown (Dundee church shut down- No Longer in PH);
George Tafla (started Kilburn church shut down- No Longer in PH);
John Onelum (started Ealing; Manor Park church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Tony Ogunike; (- No Longer in PH)
Kelvin Roy-Palmer (started Tottenham; Ghana; Guyana; West Bromwich- No Longer in PH);
Kantz Mizra (Barry, Wales church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Craig Thomas (started Cardiff- No Longer in PH);
Everton Brown (started Watford- No Longer in PH);
Roy Hewitt (started Wandsworth- No Longer in PH);
Easton Wilson (started Bolton- No Longer in PH);
Jason Morris (started Wolverhampton- No Longer in PH);
Chris ? (started Woolwich- No Longer in PH);
Kodjo Abolou (Marseille church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Fola Oyediran (started Jos; Nigeria; & Dublin church - No Longer in PH);
Gary Taylor (Newcastle- No Longer in PH);
Michael Nicholau (Started Edmonton - church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Alex Amaku (Started Kilburn church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Nigel Davies (started Norwich- No Longer in PH);
Michael Lopez (Nottingham- No Longer in PH);
Jim Calhoun (sic) (Edinburgh church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Richard Tull (Started Merton &Clapham church - both shut down- No Longer in PH);
Topps Oluwatobi (Started Hackney - church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Andrew Martin (Brighton- No Longer in PH);
Clyde Planter (Bristol- No Longer in PH);
Emmanuel Okonkwo (Anthony Village Lagos; Nigeria- No Longer in PH),
Ashley Charles (Canterbury- No Longer in PH),
Paul Pritchard (Started Stockport church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Kosi Amesu (Manchester- No Longer in PH);
Yomi Oluwatobi (Liverpool- church shut down- No Longer in PH);
Juvencio Da Silva (Started Oldham church shut down);
Ephraim Morgan (Started Openshaw Manchester church shut down);
Christian Chukuwelu (Brighton- No Longer in PH);
Ben Baiden (Started Deptford - Church shut down);
George Oduro Mensah (Started Spelthorne - Church shut down);
Jonathon Beckford (Started Oxford Church shut down);


Freedom
When going through a separation from a heavy handed shepherding network, you can feel a tremendous sense of freedom and release from their standards and legalistic control. My wife & I were able to attend more Saturday evening restaurants, shows and family gatherings together in the first nine months out of PH then we did in the five years prior. The danger however, is that is in this ‘new found freedom’ you drop your guard, cross boundaries and enter into devastating sin. This is often, used by the network as an example of ‘look what happens when you leave PH’ to the extent there is an expectation that those who leave PH will fail.
Most have heard the adage do not throw out the baby out with the bathwater, but the challenge is recognising what is the bath water to be thrown away and what is the baby to be kept? PH do not allow TV’s, Cinemas, Beards, Alcohol, Brides to walk up the aisle on their wedding day, bible college, mixing with other churches and you have to sign contracts. Whilst most Churches do not have a TV or Cinema ban or contracts they may have views or standards on alcohol for example. The baby to be kept in Christianity will always be Prayer, Fasting, Bible reading, worship, and Evangelism.

Different people will take different amounts of time to process leaving a network like PH; some say it took them several years to readjust to balanced biblical living. For us the most challenging part was the first ninety days but gradually we began to heal and readjust to our new paradigm.

What to do?
Maintain boundaries and resist temptation, but generally unless something obviously needs to be changed immediately proceed slowly, give it at least six – twelve months before making major changes. For example we have not had a TV in our home for twenty years and though we have been out of the network for a year now we still do not have one (yet).


Faith
When you become a part of a church network, it invariably shapes your thinking & worldview, especially if you are ‘saved’ in it. You buy into their ethos and vision. In fact these might have been the very qualities that attracted you to them in the first place.

However the danger with this is that your Christian worldview may be limited or even distorted by your context. In other words you must believe that God is bigger, wider, deeper, higher and more accurate than you or your networks theological viewpoint. Ephesians 3:20 (TLB) says this: Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of-- infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. 

If your faith is confined only to the perspective of your network, then should you be separated from that network, your faith may struggle to adapt, especially if some (erroneously) equate separation from a network as separation from Christ, the will of God or the Church universal (Matthew 16:18).

This means you must have a reservoir of scripture and theological understanding upon which you can draw upon to help you move towards your God ordained destiny and future. You must know that your destiny is never limited to a network or leader but like Joseph and David, is bound up in the bundle of the living with God himself (Genesis 37-50; 1st Samuel 25:29).

What to do?
You must cultivate a broader viewpoint of Christianity, which requires you connecting with perspectives & people beyond your network. This may involve you reading other authors and perspectives than those espoused by your network. For others this may involve biblical courses and education (many can be done online). I obtained University degrees in theology whilst pastoring full time, which enabled me to get a broader perspective.

You do not need formal theological education to pastor successfully, but one of the things formal education does is teach you is to ‘ask’ and ‘answer’ questions’ about what you believe (1st Peter 3:15). Many controlling networks do not like people to ask questions or to think independently and this can lead to accusations of rebellion and independence.

Finances
When you become part of a network invariably your finances become entwined in it, by virtue of your giving into the vision of the network via tithes, offerings, pledges, love offerings, world evangelism, mission, conferences, etc. For example, many sincere congregants and pastors have made huge financial sacrifices in supporting their network.

Another way your finances are entwined in a network is if you are receiving your main income from the network by virtue of your role as a pastor, evangelist, or staff member. Pastors have families to feed and bills to pay like everyone else. Now being separated from the network becomes more than just a theological issue but one of economic survival, especially the older you get (Luke 16:3-9).

Ministers have been known to stay in a network they strongly disagreed with purely for financial reasons to the point of even compromising their conscience before God (Acts 23:1).

What to do?
You must be a good steward and develop income streams outside of the influence of your network. In Genesis 2:10-14 God puts Adam in the Garden of Eden. His job was to maintain the garden, yet God provided four streams (Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates) to help him to do it. This meant that if one stream dried up, there were other streams that enabled God’s work to continue.

Many of the national leaders that I have spoken to, have shared with me some of the multiple investments and income streams they had made over the years (Proverbs 10:5).


Friends
When you become a part of a network invariably over time your friendships become concentrated on those within the network. You become gradually disconnected from relationships outside of the network (especially those that are unsaved), because you become absorbed by the culture and work ethic of the network.

Should you then become disconnected from the network, you may also find yourself disconnected from those very same friendships. In other words you need to be aware than many of your current and closest relationships in the network are conditional upon you remaining in the network. It is not uncommon for long term friends who were best men and bridesmaids at each other’s weddings to be shunned later because of being separated from the network.

It often surprises and shocks people to find that what they considered to be genuine lifelong friendships and alliances are lost when they are no longer part of the network. Often the refrain is ‘righteousness over relationships’ (thank God he does not think this way otherwise we would be righteously punished for our sins, John 3:16). This becomes even more difficult when the separated one is painted negatively by the network.

Many years ago, I began to view the Church as being much broader than my insular sphere. This brought me into relationships with people that were outside of my network. This became critical when I was at my lowest ebb, because many of these friends (outside of the network) stood by me and my family, for which I am grateful for.

What to do?
You must build and cultivate relationships beyond the control and influence of your network. Proverbs 18:1 says A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.

Family
One of the common things upon joining a network is that you want your family to also be a part of that network. There are many instances where whole families have joined a network through an initial family member joining. However when there is a separation one of the early causalities can be family relationships. Stories abound of marriages, and families divided over network loyalty. One network founding leader even refused to attend the funeral of his daughter who had left the network along with her husband many years prior.

Unfortunately it is becoming more and more common for leaders tol target the wife of a man who wants to leave. Many times wives will have most of their friends & relationships in the network. This can be taken advantage of by the network.

In 1 Timothy 3:1-5 the order is not ministry first, it is family first. It is family that qualifies you for ministry:
1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)

This is a fundamental posturing of your life in relation to family and family relationships are not to be trivialised.

What to do?
View your family as a divine priority, spend time with them and do not neglect them.

Forgiveness
Being separated from a network can be painful. For some it is one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences of life. As a result you can feel betrayed, bitter & violated. Therefore one has to intentionally work at guarding ones heart. Proverbs 4:23 says: Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. 


Now this is not an excuse to tell those who have been hurt or violated ‘get over it’….. I believe God hears and heeds the bitter cries of his people (Exodus 3:9). In 1 Samuel 1:10 it was Hannah’s bitterness of soul that led her to cry out to God. This led to her vow of faith in dedicating her not yet conceived baby son Samuel to God.

Forgiving others does not mean you are letting people get away with it or ignoring the fact that you may have been treated unfairly. What is does mean is that you trust God who sees the bigger picture, whilst also knowing that our relationships are both vertical and horizontal. Jesus is clear that unforgiveness towards our fellow man hinders our relationship with Him (Matthew 6:15; Genesis 50:20).

What to do? 
Pray for and forgive those you feel have hurt you.

Facts
When separations occur there are often many sides and perspectives to the whys and hows of what happened. As people try to process whatever limited information they have, facts will be misunderstood, exaggerated and unfortunately twisted.

As Christians we are people of truth, often for us (at least for me) truth is black and white. So when we hear things that are not true (especially negativity about us) we want to set the record straight. Proverbs 18:17 says: Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight (TLB).

The problem is, you cannot respond to every inaccurate story or account. If you do, you are likely to end up frustrated emotionally and spiritually drained in the process. There is a place for recording your views and your side of the story, but once you have done that and made it available for those who need to hear it, then you must leave it!

This has been a challenge for me, because as those who have debated me know, I like to get my point across. And it has been a great lesson in learning to shut up! In Matthew 27:12-14 (TLB) we read of how Jesus responded to the many accusations against him

12 But when the chief priests and other Jewish leaders made their many accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.
13 "Don't you hear what they are saying?" Pilate demanded.
14 But Jesus said nothing, much to the governor's surprise.

What to do?
Examine your own heart, motives and actions, where have you erred? With integrity state your side of the story as clearly as possible, to the relevant parties and leave it to God to vindicate you.

Psalms 26:1(NKJ) Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the LORD; I shall not slip. 

Conclusion
Separating from a church network can be painful and traumatic, but it is survivable! You need to know that there is life, joy, purpose and destiny in Christ Jesus beyond any organisation.

My prayer is that those who find themselves going through a similar painful situation will come out of it with their relationship with Jesus Christ and their family stronger than ever, knowing their best years are ahead of them.

Rom 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

Shalom.......

Monday, 8 June 2015

Culture: Judging right & Wrong.

Culture has changed how we view right & wrong.

"Increasingly, we don’t want to judge others for anything, even if what they’re doing is destructive. But is being non-judgmental the same as granting tacit approval, even support?"

Monday, 1 June 2015



Christian Entertainment

AW. Tozer - wrote these words in 1955: For centuries the church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was-a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability. For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven.

Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theatres where fifth-rate "producers" peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defence of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Forgiveness is Tough!

Forgiveness is not an option on the buffet table of the Christian walk. Heaven is for those who receive forgiveness vertically from heaven and give it horizontally on earth.
Forgiveness requires sacrifice. To get to it from Heaven required the Lamb to lay down his life and for us to give it horizontally will require the sacrifice laying down of our hurt and desire for retribution

Genuine forgiveness requires this: devastating violating will always want injustice and hurt satisfied.

Forgiveness like this is not easy. It's not for sissy's or the faint hearted.

Like faith it needs to be constantly strengthened and build up, it like faith is tested and its then a focus of fight

Many times savage hurts and grievous wounds can creep back in unawares to seek a root of bitterness to grow troubling you and defiling many.

We must be on guard to let our faith not weaken to unbelief and our forgiveness to weaken to bitterness

Sometimes the initial decision to forgive can require many back up decisions to fortify it

Sometimes it will need the grace of God to undergird it as you will struggle in your own ability.

Many times it's simply unfair to forgive but because He has us and our sin and requires us to, we must.

Sadly many good and godly because of their unforgiveness to a violation have stopped growing, opened to door to darkness and potentially closed the door to heaven.

Yet the very people who violated them can go on and lead powerful live's because they got vertical and have given horizontal forgiveness

It's a dicy place to be in: calling someone unclean and worthy of judgement when God has declared them clean and pardoned because they have sought Him for it

To forgive doesn't mean you have to be someone's best friend or even like them it means you pardon them, let go of the violation. Sometime forgiveness will open a door for an even closer friendship than before. Sometime it won't and its impossible to even be on good terms because of the nature of the situation and the person. But it's important to pardon

Pardon doesn't always means there will not be consequences. You might pardon some one but have to go thru court or divorce etc

But the key thing is to move on obey and honour God and his precepts. I know people who hang on to stuff for years, I'm so sorry it happened to you but your lack of forgiveness is now the thing that is killing you,  others who seek out stuff to then use trip others. Stuff that God has pardoned and every one has moved on from

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Real Gospel (Way of the Master).

If you listen to most modern preachers, they will tell you how God can help you. He’s your friend and He’s there for your happiness. He has a wonderful plan for your life. However, with a spiraling world economy, the increase in global disasters, wars, unstoppable diseases, massive floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, tsunamis, and escalating violence, it’s not so easy to make the promise of a bliss-filled future for those who respond to the gospel.

Words mean different things to different people. While some preachers would say that a “wonderful” plan means that God will be with us in the lion’s den, they don’t mention the lions, and so they are disillusioned the first time a lion looks at them as lunch. God isn’t portrayed in Scripture as some sort of divine butler who comes at the beck and call of humanity. There’s no promise of perfect happiness in this life. The Christian life is rather portrayed as the opposite. The Bibles promises tribulation, temptation and persecution for those who live a godly life in this sinful world.

Consequently, skeptics are right when they say that the church is filled with hypocrites—those whose lives don’t reflect what we know they should. And our land is filled with those who think that they were once Christians who have fallen away from their faith. The following letter is typical of those in this category:

“Ray believes I was a ‘false convert’ and was never a ‘true Christian’ the entire time I believed I was a born-again evangelical Christian for many years. I spoke in tongues, had the many gifts of the Holy Spirit, laying-on-of-hands, the whole nine yards.”

He may have thought that he had the whole nine yards, but he was thrown a curveball. Sadly, this person (just one of very many) is almost certainly the product of the false gospel—the promise of an improved life. Notice the “evidence” he cites of his supposed conversion. It was that he possessed gifts, when the Bible says that it is by fruits (not gifts) that a Christian is known.

The Scriptures list the evidential fruits of conversion as the fruit of righteousness (always doing the right thing), the fruit of praise (giving God due praise for His kindness, etc.), the fruit of thanksgiving (having a thankful heart for the “unspeakable” gift of everlasting life, etc.), the fruit of repentance (living a life of holiness—no longer serving sin), and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, faith, meekness and temperance).

Instead of possessing these fruits, the false convert deceives himself, and plays the hypocrite. He doesn’t come to “know the Lord” because his sin still separates him from God. He holds onto secret sins (lust, selfishness, a covetous heart, bitterness, etc.), and it’s only a matter of time (as with Judas) until he is exposed as a pretender. Many hypocrites stay within the Church, sitting among God’s people—as goats among the sheep--and will be sorted out on Judgment Day.

The reason the false convert had a false conversion is that he didn’t find a place of biblical repentance in the first place. He never saw sin in its true light. That’s why the Ten Commandments should be used in our witness, and not the unbiblical “God has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life” gospel.

Instead of trying to attract the sinners to the Savior, we should rather do what the Bible does. It drives them using the Ten Commandments. It is similar to the way the police may have an amnesty for illegal weapons. They would say, “You are violating the law by possessing illegal firearms. If you hand them in before the end of this month you will not be prosecuted.” And therein is the essence of the message of the gospel. We have sinned against God by violating His Law. In His sight we are criminals. There’s going to be a terrible Day of Judgment, when God reveals His anger against all evil, but He is rich in mercy and offers amnesty. If we lay down our weapons of hostility, He completely forgives us because of the cross.

When we leave off the fact that sinners have violated God’s Law and are under His just wrath, there’s no reason for them to lay down their weapons. Instead of fleeing to the cross to be saved from God’s wrath because they have sinned against Him, they instead experimentally come to the Savior to see if His wonderful plan is better than theirs. There’s no fear of God, there’s no knowledge of sin (which comes by the Law—see Romans 3:19, 20, 7:7, 7:13), and there is no conversion to Jesus Christ.

A woman named Kim once wrote to us and said that her husband had our video series, saying that she mocked Kirk Cameron and me, calling us “The Hokey Brothers,” and naming the video series “The Won't Work Series.” In other words, she didn’t believe in the use of God’s Law to bring the knowledge of sin, and be used as “a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (see Galatians 3:24), and said,

“Late one night the phone rang and it was a very nervous man who said that a woman at Union Station (that's in DC) gave him my business card… It turns out a friend had … double parked, ran to a security guard and handed him my card saying, ‘This is the woman who will answer your questions about God’. He stammered on the phone telling me the story and then said that he had kept the card for a year, thrown it away several times only to dig it out of the trash. Clifton then went on to ask me question after question about scripture. My husband found passages so that I could read directly as I spoke to Clifton over several hours. Well after midnight Clifton was still questioning why he needed God and I went ‘full Ray’. ‘Have you ever told a lie?’ I queried. My husband was pounding the pillow laughing as I was mouthing to him to shut up. Within minutes Clifton's heart changed. He was crying at his need for God and saying that he never knew why he needed Him. We prayed and I never heard from Clifton again. My husband, however, never misses an opportunity to laugh at my now former mocking at Ray.”

So if you are a Christian, make sure you do what Jesus did when you present the gospel to a lost and dying world. If they are humble and have a knowledge of sin, give them grace (John 3:1-5). If they are proud and self-righteous, give them the Law to humble them and bring the knowledge of sin (Mark 10:17-22). Do what Paul did in Romans chapter 2. He said to his hearers,

“You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (Romans 2:21-23).

Imitate Paul. Do what Jesus did. Open up the divine Law as He did in the Sermon on the Mount, and show sinners the seriousness of sin and its fearful consequences. To fail to do so is the ultimate betrayal, the terrible repercussions of which will only be seen in eternity.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Mothers Day - Splitting the baby!

In the Old Testament, there is a great account of Solomon's wisdom, which also showed his heart. 2 Woman come to him with 1 dead baby and 1 living baby. Both Mothers claim that the living baby is theirs and the dead baby belongs to the other. Solomon understanding the heart of a Mother calls for a sword and for the living baby to be cut /split in 2 with 1 piece being given to each mother. The real Mother refuses and agrees to the 'fake' mother having the baby. The 'fake' mother insists on the baby being split. Solomon recognises that the 1st woman is the true Mother and orders that the baby be given to her.

Churches are God's children, birthed through the labours of pioneering pastors and wives. Humanly speaking they pay an often hidden price to see the church (baby) come to life. However there are others who wish to claim for themselves what they have not birthed or paid a price for. They did not serve and undergo the labour that comes with birthing a church. These 'fake' mothers, in order to get what they want they are prepared to split the baby (church), because for them, half a baby (church) is more than what they had before.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Is Church Growth All About the Pastor?

Common story: First ________ Church gets a new minister—Pastor Joe.
He’s not a very good communicator. People start leaving.
Within two years, attendance has dropped by half. Giving is down by a third. First Church descends into a malaise.
Eventually, Pastor Joe is fired and the search for his replacement begins.
A year later, First Church hires a new minister—Pastor Daniel.
He’s a great communicator. The church immediately starts growing. Happy days are here again. People love Pastor Daniel.
Why did this happen to First Church? Nothing else changed.
The building remained the same. The worship times remained the same. The ministry programs remained the same. The key staff remained the same.
The only thing that changed was the pastor.
Yet, First Church’s attendance and giving rose and fell in direct response to the quality of the preacher.
Can I be brutally honest?
When it comes to church attendance, nothing matters as much as the ability of the pastor to deliver good sermons.
If a pastor is good at his job, the church grows.
If he’s bad at his job, the church shrinks.
Sounds unspiritual—but it’s true.
It shouldn’t be this way—but it is. Each week is a referendum on the pastor’s ability to deliver an inspiring sermon.
Admit it: You’ve gotten into the car with your spouse and begun critiquing the sermon before you’re out of the church parking lot. Or you’ve been asked, “How was church?”
What do you talk about?
The sermon.
Let’s be real: Protestants judge the quality of a worship service largely by the power of the sermon to move them.
Nothing else comes close.
This is why the right minister can cause a church to sink or soar.
I liken it to a football team: An NFL squad has 53 men, but the team’s fortunes rise and fall on the talents of one man—the quarterback. If he can deliver lots of touchdowns, the team wins. If he can’t, the team loses.
Granted, the signal-caller must have good players around him, but as the Denver Broncos are seeing this year, a great QB means everything.
The same is true with church attendance. When it comes to numbers, nothing matters as much as the ability of the pastor to deliver engaging sermons. Preaching is everything.
It pains me to write these words.
In an ideal world, what SHOULD matter is prayer, the presence of the Spirit, the love of the people for one another and the church’s ministry in the community.
In that ideal world, a church should be able to take out one preacher and install another without a hiccup.
And while we’re at it, why does the size of a church even matter? Jesus would choose a church of 12 sold-out disciples over a church of 12,000 passive pew-sitters any day.
We can argue these points until Christ returns, but this blog post is about attendance. Numbers. And when it comes to putting men in pews, nothing matters more than pastoral quality. Every other consideration pales in comparison.
This wasn’t always the case.
In medieval times, there was only one church in a given area, or parish. If your parish priest offered boring homilies, you were stuck.
After the Reformation, sermons became the centerpiece of Protestant worship, as they are today. Some preachers were interesting, and others were boring.
But until the 1950s, that didn’t matter much. Christians were mostly loyal to their denominations. If you were born a Methodist, you attended the Methodist church in your area. If pastor was a lousy preacher, you endured it. You never even thought of going to another church because you were Methodist and that was that.
Fast-forward to today.
Parishioners are no longer loyal to their denominations.
Here’s my story: I was born and baptized Lutheran. As a young man, I attended an Assemblies of God Sunday school. I came to know Christ in a Free Methodist Church. In college, I joined a Baptist church, where I was married. I moved to Alaska and became a Presbyterian, and 10 years ago, I joined a nondenominational megachurch, which I still attend today (although I returned to a small Lutheran church this summer and loved it).
This kind of religious switching would have been unusual a century ago, but today it’s common. People move to new cities. They have automobiles that will take them to a church (and a pastor) they connect with.
People are less loyal to institutions.
Because parishioners now have access to better preaching (live or through the media), they are less willing to put up with boring, rambling, irrelevant preaching.
This has led modern congregants to evaluate their churches based on the sermon. They stay or go based on whether they “are being fed.” If the messages consistently lag, they seek out another church that offers them more.
Many of you are seeing red by this point. “Today’s churchgoers are so shallow. They treat God’s holy church like a product to be consumed!” you may be thinking. And you’re right.
But this is the reality in today’s world. People come to church expecting to receive something from God. If they don’t, they move on.
Can we blame them? People came to Jesus—and they always received.
Although we may condemn them as consumers, today’s parishioners choose a church with great care. The decision to leave a church is often a difficult one, fraught with emotion, doubt and uncertainty.
I have a friend in Texas (let’s call him Roger) whose church planted a “daughter church” in a nearby town. Roger and his family agreed to move to the daughter church to help it get started.
This “church plant” started with much enthusiasm, but quickly began to sputter. Attendance dropped by 75 percent as the fledgling congregation struggled with its music and preaching.
Roger attended faithfully. He volunteered. He prayed.
But the poor sermons exacted a toll on his walk with God. “Honestly, I wanted to be a good soldier and stick it out, but I finally had to be honest with myself—I was dying spiritually,” Roger said. “The worship was lifeless. The sermons just weren’t reaching me. In nine months, I didn’t hear anything from the pulpit I hadn’t heard a thousand times.”
Roger eventually made the painful decision to abandon the church plant and return to the mother church.
“I felt like a traitor,” he said. “But I’m regularly hearing from God again back in my home church. I know I’m being selfish, but I go to church to meet with God. If that’s not happening, what’s the sense in going?”
Here are some questions for you to grapple with:
What do you think Roger should have done? Was his decision to abandon the church plant selfish, or is it more important to do the things that help us grow spiritually?
Why do we go to church? For our own benefit? For God’s benefit? For the benefit of others?
Should a believer persevere in a congregation that does not meet his needs “because it’s not about him”? If so, for how long? Weeks? Months? Years? Decades?
Should Christians be “self-feeders,” or should they expect to be fed Sunday morning?
Should churchgoers expect to hear something new at church, or should they be content to hear familiar truths they’ve long known?
Should believers “tough it out” in a church with lifeless preaching?
Churchgoers give up a lot of time to come to church. Should they expect a return-on-investment for their time?
Is it right for churchgoers to change congregations based on the quality of the preaching?
Should a church live or die on the preaching ability of its senior pastor?
If a Christian decides to leave a church, what’s the best way to go about it? Should he simply disappear? Or should he write a letter to the pastor explaining his reasons for resigning?
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