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04/05/2010 / John Hanna

Dealing With Disappointment in the Church

This is from posts called Dealing With Disappointment in the Church by Kevin DeYoung:

How should church members respond when they feel unloved, unsupported, or like outsiders in their church? And how should church leaders respond when they are criticized for being unconcerned or the church is faulted for being unloving?

Pastors and elders, the next time you are criticized for being unloving or unconcerned, ask yourselves:

  1. Do we have some mechanism for personally knowing our sheep? As leaders, we will give an account for how well we watched over our people’s souls (Heb. 13:7). The Bible doesn’t mandate only one way for doing member care, but we must work to have some process in place. If we never ask, “How is the congregation doing?” or better yet, “How are you doing?” we should not be surprised to find lots of people falling through the cracks.
  2. Do we have some way of knowing when people are not showing up at church? You can eyeball it, check the friendship pads, or spy out the church mailboxes, but we need to have a general sense of who is not making faithful use of the means of grace. Our Book of Church Order stipulates we talk about it at every elders’ meeting. The first step to noticing who’s missing is to start looking and start talking about it.
  3. Are we confronting cliquishness in our church? The line between community and clique is often blurry. But if there’s one central difference it’s openness. A healthy community welcomes new people in. A clique finds ways to keep new people out. Pastors need to confront the problem of “closed circles” head on–in preaching, in structural decisions, and in one on one conversations. The leaders also need to make sure they are not in a closed circle themselves. Good friends are good. Good friends to the exclusion of everyone else is very bad.
  4. Are there easy, identifiable ways for the shy, the non go-getters, and the more culturally reserved to get involved and be known by others? The confident entrepreneurs will make their way in the church just fine. But well-advertised entry points and personal invitations are required for many others.
  5. Is it at least possible that we are more at fault than we think? Leadership doesn’t mean saying you’re sorry every time Mr. Sensitive feels offended. But it does mean always being open to the possibility that you’ve screwed up more than you thought.
  6. Have we made promises we didn’t deliver on? There’s nothing more deadly than well-publicized, poorly executed good intentions. The elders launch a family visitation program, but only make it to half the homes. A pastor agrees to follow up his lobby conversation with a phone call and then forgets all about it. The church promises every member will get a mentor, but it ends up there aren’t enough mentors to go around. Don’t set the bar so high you’re bound to crash into it.
  7. Are these critics generally critical? Pastors can waste their time with divisive grumblers. When they do so they are often too worn out to listen when a loyal member offers a thoughtful critique. We shouldn’t spend a lot of time on the squeaky wheels unless it’s an unfamiliar squeak. In other words, consider the source and remember “faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

As for the hurting and disappointed, before you criticize your leaders ask yourselves these questions:

  1. Did I ever ask for help? Pastors and elders are not omniscient. Even with the best shepherding strategies people will fall through the cracks. So if you really need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. I know everyone wants to be noticed. But it’s hard for a dozen guys to notice five hundred or two dozen to notice two thousand. Help your leaders help you.
  2. Have I overlooked opportunities to fit in and get to know people? Before you complain that you’ve been at the church six months and still don’t know anyone, think about ways you could get known in the next six months. Is there a small group you could join? Could you attend the smaller, more informal evening service? What about volunteering for the nursery next time the sign up sheet goes around? Have you tried the potlucks and picnics and prayer meetings? Giving love and being loved is 90% just showing up.
  3. Is it realistic for the leaders to give to every person in this church the kind of care I expect? It’s easy to think “All I wanted was one visit. You can’t tell me they were too busy to set aside one night for my family.” But remember you aren’t the only person at the church. If the general level of care you expect from your leaders cannot be multiplied by the number of people in the church, then you may be hoping for too much. If you expect everything, you’ll always be disappointed.
  4. If I really wanted to be loved and noticed why did I stop showing up? On the one hand, church leaders should know when their members have drifted away. Good shepherds keep an eye on their sheep. But on the other hand, if sheep want to be cared for by the flock, they shouldn’t stay from it. People get hurt when their church absence isn’t noticed. But I have a hard time feeling too much sympathy, unless you’re dealing with a shut-in or someone whose absence is not voluntary. Don’t run away if you want to be found.
  5. Am I willing to consider that I may be at fault more than I realize? If it feels like your leaders can never do anything right, maybe you’re the one making life miserable–for them and for you.
  6. Is it possible I’ve overlooked ways the body has cared for me because I was hoping a different part of the body would care for me? Sometimes church members will say, “Sure, my small group sent me cards but the pastor never called.”  Or, “Yes the pastors were very friendly to greet me after church, but no one my age ever said hello.” Or, “I know the elders care for me, but that’s their job.” Or conversely, “True, my friends prayed for me, but I never heard from my elder.” Before you get angry, remember the goal is for the body to care for the body, not for the shoulder to always get a special backrub from its favorite hand.
  7. In general have I found this church and these leaders to be unloving and unsupportive? If the answer is yes, and Question 5 is dealt with too, then you may need a different church. But if the answer is no, consider giving your church and your leaders the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just botched this one. We all get it wrong sometimes. I know I have. Maybe they were too busy and dropped the ball. Or maybe you don’t know the whole story. In any event, don’t let one misstep color your whole impression of their ministry.

For both sheep and shepherds the indispensable requirements for living together are love and humility. Love to treat others as we want to be treated. Humility to consider how we may be at fault. Disappointment in the church is bound to happen. But it doesn’t have to destroy the unity of the body. The Lord can use our hurts to make all of us slower to speak and quicker to listen.

~ Kevin DeYoung

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