Shabat Thoughts - A Gentle Rebuttal or How to Discourage Your Church Body
I read an article this week that was earnest and heartfelt. It was from a pastor who had face discouragement and wanted to share five ways to discourage your pastor. I agreed with him...and I didn't. Because I had a viewpoint from the parishioner's side. Here's my thoughts on how to discourage your church body.
1. Missing church. We were very faithful in our former churches. Due to John's work schedule he was already missing two Sundays a month; he had no control over that. We made every effort to attend church or synagogue on his weekends off. But between his work schedule and going to church there was no wiggle room for other things. When it came to family gatherings, special occasions, etc. on the weekends when he didn't work, we went to church. And I went even when he did work. Frankly, I wish we HAD missed church occasionally. Weddings, showers, family birthdays of now deceased family members, special holiday meals that fell on the weekend...We can't get those days back. I missed a lot of special moments with family and I regret it.
When we went on vacation, we planned it so that we were back and in church on Saturday for practice (later for synagogue). Or we left after church and came home on Tuesday. With a workday schedule that ran from Wednesday to Tuesday with a week off following that ran the same way, we had 3 days for vacation anyway we looked at it. It made vacation not the relaxing, restful time it might have been because we had to scrunch it in. Pack fast, rush travel, pack up and go home. Often it felt like just another thing to be got through instead of enjoyed.
It wasn't entirely all our own doing either, though we were prone to be a bit stubborn about being in church. There were others, in authority positions, who made us feel our faith life was not held in proper priority when we suggested we needed some time off. We weren't just warm bodies that were counted up on Sunday attendance sheets. We worked for our churches and we were faithful in our work. John was only sick twice in 8 years of service. I resented it when the pastor or worship leader or another key person who was esteemed as having gained heavenly favor by their dedication was on vacation when we'd been given such grief asking for time off.
What happened to us? We got burned out and I mean we burned out, to the point of not wanting to go to church. And we did it twice, sadly. It started simply enough with an overwhelming sense of tiredness, that led to arguments between John and myself as we'd head out to practice or work day or service, and it ended with us being critical of others, as well. We got ill and I mean in the sense of sick in a spiritual way. Like a cancer, the weariness and the burden of "ought to" ate away at our souls like cancer. It's a terrible thing to want with all your heart to serve and at the same time to be so tired and wrung out and so in need of REST.
When we began attending our current synagogue we agreed to approach this time while we were not working in the church differently. With three kids in state and four work schedules to co-ordinate if someone was off on a Saturday that John was off, we took advantage to visit and spend time together. We'd learned our lesson the hard way about these family times and how fleeting the moments to be together are. That's not to say we won't foolishly forget when we once again take up the mantle of ministry work.
I say if you want a church that shows up consistently and works happily, then make sure the people who are working get time off now and then. ENCOURAGE them to go on vacation, to attend family special events (and I am not talking about a ball game or golf tournament every Sunday) with their families. If you know a member is working more than full time or dealing with a long term illness in the family, rest is the best gift you can offer them. Find a way to minister to them through copies of sermons on CD or DVD, ask other church members to drop by with a meal or for study or prayer but offer the member the opportunity to rest above all other things.
I think the church has it all backwards when they urge their congregation to be in church for practices, classes, Sunday School, prayer meeting, business meeting, family day and two services a week. We MUST work. We NEED our church and we need to work for our church in order to feel a part of it, but we above all we must have rest.
2. Tithing. This is a fine line for pastor and congregant both. Most pastors will tell you they have no clue who gives what. In my opinion that is just as it should be. It behooves a congregant to keep quiet about what they give, too. I have shared here many a time that I tithe, but I've never told a pastor how much I gave or how often and I don't intend to change that. Tithing is not only important, it is a commandment.
Where does the pastor do the harm? Some have a tendency to look to the more successful among their congregation and court their favor, get chummy with them, are quicker to shake their hand of a Sunday, ask that they take a leadership position...But don't ignore those who don't look so successful or who don't have positions of influence and affluence. The truth is, the pastor that does this is making a judgement, assuming that the man who drives the newest, biggest vehicle, and lives in the better part of town and is the most public figure is also the man who is giving the most to the church. It might be true, and it might not.
I've seen two mistakes that are repeated over and over again. Either the subject of tithing is ignored entirely and the pastor rarely if ever mentions it, or he goes on and on and on and on about it. It's an out of balance approach. I think in one instance at least, the problem is the pastor himself didn't believe in the power of the tithe, which is merely doing what God commanded. In the other instance the weight of financial matters might be so heavy that the pastor is consumed by the burden. Gracious I get that way about my budget at times! Either way there has to be a breakthrough moment where the one learns that if he is to truly shepherd his flock, he himself must also follow his Shepherd's command, and in the other, the pastor should seek financial council from his deacons and directors and let them share in the burden.
Good churches, growing churches, tithe to other ministries. Let your church know that when they tithe, they are not only blessing the ministries in the church, but their tithing is an ever widening circle of support for other ministries and churches. I believe in the blessings of tithing 100%. God has proven over and over again that He is true to His word. Richard Roberts took over the helm of Oral Roberts University many years ago when his father retired. At that time the school was in debt to the tune of millions of dollars. One of the first steps the younger Roberts took was to examine where the money was going. What he noted missing in those outgoing statements was the tithe. The board members had, at some point, chosen to ignore the mandate to tithe due to the school's financial burden and ceased giving to other ministries.
Richard Roberts righted that mistake and though he did not bring the school out of debt, he did manage to raise funds to maintain the school and pay off a portion of the debt. The pastor who came to be president after him brought the school into a place of being debt free and built the first new building on the campus since it was completed by Oral Roberts. I believe sincerely that he'd never have done so if Richard Roberts had not righted the wrong of failing to tithe.
3. Discouraging Discipleship. One of the sweetest experiences of my life was a Wednesday night Bible study under a young pastor. Those classes were absolutely thrilling to me because as we went through a study of a book of the Bible together we shared equally in the insights and knowledge we'd each gained and we all learned a great deal. The Bible study grew to encompass nearly every adult who normally came on Sunday. The young pastor became more and more mature in his faith and we watched him grow as we grew ourselves. When that pastor left, the study time ended. The new pastor decided Wednesday night should be a sermon. The Wednesday night group fell away to a handful who showed up mainly because they had youth who attended the youth classes. Attendance for Sunday grew scarce as well.
I have had pastors who absolutely did not want their church members to hear any other but themselves preach. They were threatened by any form of outside study group, television evangelists, authors of Christian study books. They warned their members against this gospel group or that plan of study and those folks in that church across the road and even attempted to get their members to refuse to read the Bible except while in the service. They were so discouraging of any sort of growth within their church other than that which resulted solely from their own sermons that they restricted and soon retarded the growth of their members. And yet, these same pastors, openly lamented the lack of growth while attacking, sometimes viciously, those who were attempting to grow.
Encouragement goes a long way. If a church member comes to you with an insight, listen. Instruct as to why it is or isn't biblical. If they ask a difficult spiritual question, don't blow them off or think they are a threat and questioning your own knowledge. Encourage study, suggest books, scriptures. If you don't know the answer offer to spend some time researching and do it and let them know what you've discovered and where they can look to learn more.
Don't teach that discipleship is only going out to knock on the doors of the unknown world at large. Encourage your people to encourage others within the church, to be an example at work, in the home, in the supermarket. Not every single person is meant to be a disciple to the world. Some are meant to be a disciple in their kitchen, or on the basketball court or behind a cash register. Don't limit discipleship to your own ideal.
Please, above all else, teach about RELATIONSHIP with our Trinity. Show us God's wonder and fearsomeness and love. Tell how you grew in your relationship with Him. Without a relationship with God we can't get to know Him and we can't tell others about Him.
4. Fight progress and growth. I agree with this 100%. Church families that fight growth or progress are doing a disservice to the pastor and other church members. I saw it happen to a church that had promise of real growth. A move to a new property was made possible through a generous gift. Put before the church, half were all for it and half refused to move from where Mama and Daddy and grandaddy had all attended for the past umpteen years. In the end, the church didn't move and the members who wanted to see the church grow moved on. There's the land meant for the new church, there's the church in an underwhelming state of growth and there's the same few attending still wondering why things aren't as they used to be. Because NOTHING stays the same forever, that's why!
You know what else hurts a church? A pastor with a vision who lets time slip away. Procrastination kills trust and corrodes the belief that the pastor is indeed a leader. Getting a congregation excited over a change and then doing nothing at all for years on end causes a slow and painful death in any hope of future growth. I'm cautious when I walk into a church and hear that they are going to make this improvement and that, but discover these improvements have been on the table for 5 years. I'm just as cautious when I visit a church more than once and the same areas are in disrepair that were the last times that I visited...and continue to be each time I return.
On the other hand there are pastors who never cease to change things in an effort to simulate growth that isn't happening. Lack of focus and failure to follow a project through to completion before starting another project create a sense of chaos and confusion which leads to an ailing congregation.
5. Leave the church. Not every person who leaves a church leaves because they are offended, though I know too well that this does happen...I did it myself once for a foolish reason and thank goodness a son with a wise old head on his young shoulders encouraged me to return after six months. BEST thing I ever did in my life! I came back just at the moment to hear a sermon that changed me forever. Hardest part, confessing to the pastor that I'd let hurt feelings over a silly thing knock me off course. My discussion with him led to my being baptized and starting on this journey. I've never regretted it.
This pastor was very unique in that he encouraged his members to seek a church home that suited their stage of growth and spiritual maturity. He was wise in that he realized some grew beyond him and what he was best able to teach. (This same pastor was well known in his denomination as the 'stay at home' pastor. He encouraged his members to spend time together as a family, discouraged the zealous from taking on too many roles within the church, etc. As I said, he was unique and wise.)
Don't encourage a member to stay when it's obvious that their needs are not being met, but help them to discover what it is they are seeking. Find out why they feel it's time to move on. Perhaps it's as simple as finding a position they can fulfill within the current church or creating a ministry they can head that operates under the auspices of the church. Maybe they truly have grown beyond what your church is able to provide, and you can help them determine what church would better suit their growth.
That's my rebuttal and I pray that it helps someone else to identify why they might feel as they do in their own church or perhaps helps a pastor identify why he's not being encouraged. We need one another in order to really grow!