Why are you still here?

A couple of days ago, a group of us were visiting with a prospective new leader in our church and discussing the issues surrounding the migration of a number of families away from our church in recent months. He asked why we were still here. Someone joked that we’re the lazy ones, rolling along with inertia, unwilling to make an effort to change. But that’s definitely not it. There’s a mega-church nearby, with all the attractiveness and excellence that such a large church can support. In some sense, it takes effort to not go there. I responded with what I learned from a wise pastor a long time ago when I asked him for advice on making a decision to change from my failing church to his alive and growing church. He said, “It’s not about where you can receive the best from a church, it’s where you can serve the best.” Another guy said it was no secret he’s a short-timer in town, so he knows there’s no long-term commitment to our church, but leadership here “is something I have to do.” That was his way of stating what was true for all us in the conversation—we perceive God has called us to serve here, and here we’ll stay until it’s clear God wants us somewhere else.

The fact that people so easily decide to leave a church when they become unhappy or discouraged is a result of the “I” culture and our failure as leaders to teach the biblical basis for what a church is and how it works. A few months ago, John Johnson wrote about “iChurch” on his blog, although perhaps the concept is more accurately “I-church.” Johnson says,

Sometimes I feel like our church is just one more brand out there. And I wonder if we have moved from a Christianity that was about relinquishing our desires, submitting to a community, learning to accept the blemishes and love those God has called us to love—to a Christianity that is all about meeting my needs, providing choices, and leaving if change does not happen on my timeline.

In the process of making our church attractive and non-threatening to visitors and the unchurched, we must remember to teach that church is a place to love and serve, not a place to consume for our neediness and be entertained. As Johnson says,

…the point of joining is to enter a covenant. A covenant that says, for better or worse, this is the body God has placed me in, and I will love the people and submit myself to those God has called to lead, and I will unleash my gifts, and I will sit at the table with everyone else and lead the church forward. And if things are not where they should be, I will stay at it until they are, or until God shows me differently.

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