By Thom Rainer
The confrontation was probably one of my more sobering moments as a pastor. The woman, a long-term church member, used the classic moment right before I preached to tell me God had spoken to her. He told her under no uncertain terms I was supposed to leave the church.
My first challenge was to figure out why God had told her and not me. It seemed like direct communication would have been far more efficient.
My second challenge was framed in a simple one-word question, “Why?”
She responded with smug certainty, “Because all of these new Christians are messing up our church.”
Of course, I am not alone in dealing with this perplexing reality. Many church members really don’t want to see their churches grow. Some of them are content with sufficient growth to pay the bills, but none thereafter.
I have learned from countless pastors and members over the years why this seeming Great Commission disobedience is so pervasive in many churches. Here are six of the most common reasons.
- Relational patterns are disrupted. Growth brings new members to ministries, groups, and church social functions. Leadership may shift with the incoming new members. Many members are simply not comfortable with new attendees changing long-term relationship patterns.
- Many are too comfortable with the status quo. They would rather obey the perceived mandate of the Great Comfort than the mandate of the Great Commission.
- Some have a me-centric view of congregational life. Thus, the church exists for me, myself and I. It’s all about my worship style, my programs, my ministries, and my pew. The church is more like a country club where I pay my dues and get my perks. If the new people get in my way as the church tries to reach them, I will raise my voice loudly.
- Church members may want the pastor on call to take care of them. Too much growth spreads the pastor too thinly. If my pastor can’t meet my needs 24/7, we have too many people in the church.
- Others are simply uncomfortable with any emphasis on numerical growth. The pendulum has swung too far. For many years, many churches over-emphasized numerical growth, so much so that it seemed like the number was an end in itself. Today, many church leaders and members resist any emphasis on numerical growth, often to the detriment of Great Commission accountability.
- New people are different. New Christians and non-Christians are particularly different from most longer-term church members. Their presence can make churches messy. Some members don’t like messy churches. Kind of like the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus relating to messy people.
I recently wrote a blog post about church members who are heroes and heroines in their local churches. Pastors remember them fondly for a lifetime. They tell stories about them. They thank God for them.
But pastors also remember church members who are harshly negative, like those who resist Great Commission growth. My story took place a quarter of a century ago. I have moved on, but I have not forgotten.
Let us be church members who gladly obey Christ’s command to make disciples as we go into our communities. Such obedience will likely result in growth. And that’s not a bad thing.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on Jan. 7. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and ten grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.