That’s a phrase you will only hear in the modern, western church – particularly in the United States. In first century Jerusalem, if you didn’t like the music, the Pastor, or the amount of perfume Sister Bertha wore, you had to stay and work it out. Where else would you go? (Disclaimer: What I’m about to say has nothing to do with people who are far from God. I’m writing it to people who claim to know Him well. Read on.) I’m not promoting the idea of having only one church in every community. I think God is blessing a movement of multiplying churches that are helping to fill the earth with the good news of Jesus. But the side effect of our multiplying efforts is applying of the same church shopping mentality we use at the mall.
When you plant a new church in a community with a lot of churches, like northwest Arkansas for example, you come into contact with people now and then who are “looking for something new” because of the problems they encountered at their old church. I’ve heard plenty, including…
- We just didn’t feel connected… Sometimes this is a church problem. Sometimes it’s a meproblem. Some people will connect in one good church but not another good church.
- We didn’t like the ________. Plenty of words find their way into that blank. The kids’ ministry. The way they gave to missions. The way they asked me to be, like, generous and stuff with my money.
- We couldn’t get along with ________. The Pastor? The Deacons? Sister Bertha? Whoever it is, our inability to reconcile broken relationships with other Christians is a shame. It’s a bad witness, and going to another church never solves the problem. It just transfers it.
- We just weren’t getting fed. My favorite. As a Pastor, I usually translate this in my head into plain English… “We didn’t really like the Pastor, or the music, or the volume of the music. But the easiest thing to do is blame the Pastor for not ‘feeding’ us.” To this last one, I so often want to ask how long the person talking has been a Christian. If it’s a year or more, my next question would be, “When will you grow up enough to feed yourself?” Nonetheless…
If you, as a Pastor, play into these kinds of complaints, you’ve created a problem that will almost always come back to bite you, usually in a year or less. You’ve attempted to “sell” how much better your church is. You’ve hurt the brand of the church in general. And you’ve set the table for people with unreachable expectations, which is a Pastor-killing problem to begin with. Don’t do it. Instead say…
- Oh, I’m a big fan of your old church and your old Pastor! You may not know him, or them, but that’s irrelevant. We’re in this thing called the kingdom together.
- You may not like it here either. Because, if you complained about the music volume there, it will be the room temperature here. Here’s a secret worth remembering: church shopping complainers don’t like churches. At least not for more than a year, and that’s okay. Four out of the first five books of the Bible were all about how God feels about complainers.
- You should go back and work things out. This one isn’t my idea – it’s Jesus.’ He stated it in the sermon on the mount when he told us to leave our gift at the altar and go work things out. Reconciliation is a primary agenda to the heart of God. We can’t just skip it and hope everything will just work itself out.
- When will you grow up and feed yourself, you big spiritual baby? Just kidding. Don’t say this, because frankly and sadly, there are plenty of churches avoiding and watering down God’s truth. Still…
- You are welcome here, IF God is calling you to be on mission with us. At the end of the day, we respect the priesthood of the believer. I don’t presume to know God’s will for anyone, so everyone is welcome to discover it as they walk with God.
We have plenty of people that have helped us plant Grace Hills who came from other area churches. Most of them didn’t leave in a huff or after a split. They simply felt called to help and drawn to the vision we’ve continually cast. But our real heart, together, will always be for the broken, the sinful, the lost.
I don’t care why a person who is far from God wound up sitting in a seat in our movie theater on Sunday. I’m just glad they’re present. But for the scattered community of seasoned saints around us, I’d rather you stay put where you’ve been serving and resist church shopping unless God has called you to join the mission and embrace the vision of a new, multiplying movement of God.
Here’s the bottom line. The biggest problem with my old church… was most likely named Brandon.
This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.