Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Many SBC Pastors Cannot Say

Ed Stetzer puts his finger on it in his blog, Why I Have No Difficulty Helping "Issue Christians" to Move On.

What most pastors cannot say is that sentence that burns a bridge with a prospective or present church member:
Our church probably isn't the place for you.
Stetzer describes a visitor to his church who started talking prophecy and Israel on his way through the receiving line after worship one Sunday. After a few minutes he had heard enough and said, "We are not one of those churches that you would think talks about prophecy enough-- this would not be the right church for you, but I do hope your search for a church home goes well."

Gold star for Stetzer.

Many pastors cannot train their lips to say such a thing and lose a member, a family, or a group of people from their church. It is almost one of those things not done. After all, aren't 80% or so of SBC pastors in churches that are plateaued or declining? Do we really want to run folks off?

Yes, indeed, if we know what's good for us and for our churches.

I think I am a decent listener. I don't mind listening to single issue people, or obsessed people, or folks who have an intense interest in something that I am ambivalent about. But I also know that if I play with a hand grenade it will eventually explode and hurt me.

Over the years I run across people whose interest was focused on American foreign policy with regard to Israel, with homeschoolers, with national politics and policy issues, with charismatic gifts, with the eschatological positions, with abortion and other things.

While all of these are important (e.g. we are against abortion but don't feel compelled to picket abortion clinics, a thrust of many 15 years ago), I understand that some are drawn to one of these with such a focus that all else is secondary and where those of us who do not share this intense interest are unspiritual or disobedient. Hogwash.

On occasion, I've said, "You probably will not be happy in this church." Better to get it out and be done with it.

Who knows how much grief I've avoided by training my lips to say such things. I highly recommend it.

[Postscript: I once had a young man come very early one Sunday, 30 minutes before Sunday School was to start, to ask me about doctrine. Early on in the conversation I could see that Calvinism was his, uh, intense interest and, while I might have enjoyed spending time with him on another occasion when I had the time, I just said, 'We're probably not the kind of church you would be happy in but come and worship with us this morning. We will welcome you.' He left and didn't come back.]

[Another postscript: Stetzer has a day job. Most of us do not. Would I be wrong to say that sending a prospective family down the road, with their tithes and faithful attendance, is a degree or two harder for us?]


Anonymous said...

The worst was when a group of people would get mad and leave a church and then come to yours as a group. You'd better be ready to run from that bunch.

Just a small question: why does nearly ever post have to have something about Calvinists? They are not the enemy and are our family members after all.

William Thornton said...

"Every"? I think of my last couple dozen articles, one was on Calvinism and that from Frank Page. I have the material to do a lot more but am considerate of my Calvinist friends who may feel beleaguered. :)

I direct you to my article, "What I like about Calvinists" http://sbcplodder.blogspot.com/2011/07/what-i-like-about-calvinists.html

Anonymous said...

Gold star for Stetzer. Many pastors cannot train their lips to say such a thing

Actually, Stetzer, as a minister of the gospel should be embarrassed for his insensitivity and lack of helpfulness. Is there such a church that explores these issues more thoroughly? As a pastor he would probably know or know who to ask more so than most laity. After such an invite to leave, is there a greater chance the person would subsequently become less congregationally- oriented. For goodness sake pastors, educate yourself and don’t rely on the perceived inherent wisdom that must exude from the lips of one holding a position. When a void is created, take responsibility for creating something constructive to fill the emptiness. Gold star? I would vote to reprimand him. Taking a potential problem and making it potentially worse is not very wise or pastoral.

Dave Miller said...

I agree with Ed. We have become so consumeristic that we operate on the principle that "the customer is always right." I admire his courage in telling someone that "this church isn't going there."

I have done something similar with KJV Only types who have called the church. We aren't going to go there.

Perhaps the wording of the statement could be changed. Instead of "this is not your church" we could say, "This is who we are - if you want to fit in, fine."

Jonathan said...

I like Ed's comments but I also recognize that he can "afford" to take such an approach given his low risk relative to the pastors he is speaking to.

I'm my experience, the type of folks he's referring to are 1) prospects who are coming in with an agenda, and 2) current members who get supercharged by a particular doctrine or activity and then want to influence the other members of their church to follow suit.

It is likely that 2) happens more often than 1).

What then? It is a far different thing for a pastor to tell someone outside the flock that "this is probably not the right church for you".

Jonathan said...

And, FWIW, William is the most patient and graceful anti-Calvinist I've ever known. Besides, there are few more highly motivated (and stubborn and self-assured) folks than a newly minted Calvinist.

Tim Dahl said...

I've had a couple of people come my way in this manner. One was eschatological, and the other was worship oriented.

My responses were, 1) While I didn't vote for him; Obama is not the Antichrist. 2) at this time we offer Traditional baptist worship.

They never came back.


Ken said...

I generally don't mind people with pet issues, as long as they don't try to control everything in the church or promote divisiveness. I don't think I'd ever suggest that people find some other place to worship. If they don't like the way we do things at our church, they generally make that decision on their own.

"Anonymous" made a good point when he said you should beware of large groups coming from another church to yours. If people have caused problems in other churches, I don't want them in mine.

Ken said...

@Tim Dahl: Yeah, I think you handled those situations the right way. Just be honest with people about where you stand, and they'll make the decision whether or not to come back.

William Thornton said...

It took some years for me to get to the stage where I would say, "You will probably not be happy here." I rather enjoy some engagement with folks with various obsessions and take time to talk rather than immediately show them the door.

And, it's the truth. Such people will not be happy in my church. I will not make a bee line to their issue in every sermon. I will not allow them to dominate every prayer time or SS class with it. They will not be happy. Might as well say it.

Anonymous said...

As King James Only Mid Acts Pauline Dispensational Bible Believer, who once belonged to Bobby Welch's First Baptist Daytona, but now has resigned from the Southern Baptists, I know that I am better off listening to sermons at home by myself and financially supporting pastors I agree with.

Stephen M. Fox said...

As a further example, if Dave Miller were in my town I would never consider joining his church, and I'm sure he would be fine with that.
OTOH, were he to become a public presence in the community on the supremacy of the SBC or some such, then Katie Bar the door and God help the publisher of the local paper; especially if he has a faith and values section on the weekend.
I think I could be happy in Thornton's occasions, congregational singing with his church during a Revival or community service.
Still on the outskirts of Athens, Thornton, if not too time consuming or energy depleting coulda suggest the young fellow come back on a Tuesday evening, or Thursday afternoon for a discussion.
In meantime, I do hope Thornton and Miller will take a look at the Marilynne Robinson lectures at Duke on "Prevenient courage." And the next time a young inquisitor comes in put him on to Rachel Held Evans Evolving in Monkeytown and tell him you got three Tuesday evening sessions with him, maybe two and you'll take it from there.
Then again I never made a preacher.

Anonymous said...

Someone care to tackle this?

When we were in our early fifties, we visited a local SBC church with our grandkids in tow, one a teen and one an infant.

We visited because 1. Only SBC in that town. 2. Fantastic reports on the church re reaching teens.

Pastor made it very clear when we approached the door that seniors would not want to join.

We stayed anyway a few weeks. We found it a good preaching, good Bible teaching church. Music wasn't our choice but also wasn't at all bad--just light contemporary.

But we were increasingly given the message seniors were not welcome.

We left with our then and still unsaved teen grandson.

He wouldn't attend there without us--it offended him for us not to be accepted.


Robert I Masters said...

The problem with Eds post is there is nothing Biblical about his post.
Ed has a nasty habit of trying to control other preaches actions too.

Robert I Masters
From the Southern Baptist Geneva

Anonymous said...

Wait. You said "our church". yet, You were speaking for the church body when you said this is not the church for you. Why do you think the pastor has the right to make that decision.

It is not about where the pastor stands on an issue. But then, I am not a pastor.