The Eternal Need of the Person Who Is Perfectly Happy Now

This week I can remember a pastor on the radio sharing how someone had become flummoxed when he was attempting to share the gospel with an aged hedonist. He approached gaining an opening to share the gospel from the perspective of felt needs: an inner loneliness, emptiness and lack of a sense of fulfillment. Unfortunately, the hedonist came back with the answer that he was having the time of his life and couldn’t be happier. And that left the person who was attempting to share the gospel at a loss on how to proceed.

It’s simple enough to proceed, though, if you remember how scripture describes, “ . . . the pleasures of sin for a season . . .” (Hebrews 11:25). The question becomes, “How long do you think that will last?” And if the person replies, “Till I die” or “Until the end of my life,” simply ask, “And what then?”

At that point, after receiving whatever reply the happy hedonist gives,  it would be possible to go to the normal Evangelism Explosion questions. It’s always necessary to remember that whatever ‘felt’ needs a person has, he or she always has the eternal need of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And though Jesus and the apostles often used a felt need or a ‘hook’ from the situation at hand to get an opening to share the gospel, the eternal need will always be there, since, “. . . an hour is coming when all who are in their graves will will hear his (the Son of God’s) voice, and will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done wicked  to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).

Advertisements

Wicked Schemes: The Social Behavior of the Abuser

I’d like to recommend to every church leader the recent blog post of Boz Tchividjian: The wicked scheme of child offending church leaders: A house of cards. In it he describes what I’ve described elsewhere as The Social Behavior of the Abuser. It’s noteworthy that his description doesn’t apply just to child abusers but to those who formulate a wicked scheme to exploit another person or persons for their own wicked and selfish ends. And this wicked and selfish end might be no more than trying to make themselves look much better than they are at the expense of someone else. Though I’ve heard church leaders pooh-pooh that wicked and selfish purpose as nothing to be concerned about, it does add up to the transgression of the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

One thing that I’m sure of after forty years of following Christ and having had various levels of involvement with churches of various sizes and in various denominations: people do not run from a church where the church consistently shows them the love of Christ. They do run from intrusive and controlling people.

One thing that I have also noticed over the past generation: most pastors, elders and church leaders do not take Galatians 6:1 to heart: “Brothers and sisters, if any of you is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual straighten that person out in a spirit of gentleness, as you watch out for yourself, that you yourself might not be tempted.” For too many in church leadership, this seems to have devolved into – at best —  just watching out for those in egregious sexual sin and banishing and expelling them. But I would venture that it would include watching out and correcting the habitually intrusive and controlling person – the church busybody, often enough – or that person whom you see having the last conversation with a person before that person runs from your church. But again, the problem here might also be that a pastor or church leader may not realize that that person is himself or herself, and that you’ve been blindsiding, harassing and tormenting fellow believers with your wicked, self aggrandizing schemes – maybe even for decades. And unfortunately, so many at this point of realization may become embarrassed – but go no further. If you see yourself here, realize that embarrassment is not repentance, and it’s really not the godly sorrow that lead leads to a repentance that leaves no further regrets in its wake. It rather astonishes me that so many that I’ve known who have had the greatest chutzpah to interfere in the lives of others are the biggest cowards when it comes to setting things right when they are most blatantly wrong and hurtful – to repent scripturally and do restitution scripturally where possible. So then, if you see yourself here,  confess your sinful, wicked schemes before God and man with as many tears as it takes for as long as it takes.

Church Ministry and Murder Victims

*** I found this blog draft and do not know why I did not publish it previously. It does deal with one of the most heavy and frightful subjects this side of heaven, but unfortunately, one which many people have to deal every day. ***

Ever since I came to Christ in August, 1974, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and teachings, besides my own preaching and teaching ministry. I think that we only deal with the issue of murder when we’re going through the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. As it turns out, every year there is a National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims on September 23. Our churches do need to become aware of this issue that deeply scars many families. I also think that fellow pastors find may need to see this to be an issue that we naturally think of when we come to the place where we put together the application of whatever passage of scripture that we’re dealing with, though I would hope not too regularly.

The National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims is on the anniversary of the passing of Lisa Hullinger. Lisa might not be a person whose name is familiar with many people. She was a friend of mine in college, and she was assaulted with a hammer by her ex-boyfriend Bill Coday in September 1978 while she was in Germany. She lingered in a coma for about a week, and passed away.

Lisa was a strong believer in Christ, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, and I knew her through the fellowship of believers that we both attended. That time was a time of deep mourning for the loss of Lisa, and also a deep realization of the comfort that we have in Christ. In fact, her memorial service was announced as, “The Celebration of the Resurrection of Lisa Hullinger.” Her parents then went on to found the organization, “Parents of Murdered Children.” A fellow classmate, believer and friend of Lisa’s and mine wrote the following article several years ago about Lisa: Robert and Charlotte Hullinger fondly recall their daughter Lisa.

Several years ago, this issue was brought to my attention even more when I served as an alternate juror on a murder trial where the prosecution requested the death penalty. A wife was on trial for allegedly hiring a known murderer to kill her husband in vengeance for an act of adultery. When the jury was given a tour of the house, I was surprised by how many evangelical knickknacks were around the house. I don’t remember anything much about their church involvement or anything else about their professed Christian commitment, but they were both evidently exposed to evangelical Christianity and probably had made some kind of profession of faith in their lives.

The issue of murder does hit professed believers, both as victims, and, though we may not like to admit it, as perpetrators. Bill Coday, the murderer of Lisa, was a professed believer when I met him over a year before the actual murder, and not someone that you would have thought capable of murder. Both the husband and the wife in the trial where I sat as an alternate juror were professed believers and part of a local evangelical church. I can attest that this issue is not one which you can see approaching and avoid with a little wise scriptural advice and sin management. It’s one where when it hits you, you need all the comfort and strength of scripture, prayer, the fellowship of believers and above all the abiding presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Here are some things that believers and churches can do:

  • Understand that the human heart is capable of great evil that may not be apparent outwardly, and understand the capability of violence and murder within the wickedness of the human heart beneath all outward appearances.
  • Let what God says in the Bible so many times about hating violence and the value of other people made in his image touch your own heart.
  • Pray for and seek for peace among your family, friends, church and community at large.
  • Assess the kind of entertainment that you and your family may be seeing and whether it condones violence and treats murder and the value of human life lightly.
  • Preach and teach about the sins of murder during the course of any kind of preaching and teaching, when it comes up in the normal progression of  scripture.
  • Understand that dealing with anger and betrayal scripturally and with the love of Christ can literally be a matter of life and death where there is the potential for violence and murder in the human heart.
  • Understand that stalking behaviors are not a normal way of dealing with unrequited love, even if TV and movies depict it that way, and strongly counsel every believer to see these in themselves and to see the danger in these behaviors.
  • Understand that God does not condone using anger and violence to control another person and punish the sins of others or disobedience of others to one’s own selfish demands.
  • Understand the need for comfort and long term prayer and support that the family and friends of murder victims need from others in the body of Christ.
  • Above all, the greatest comfort that you can leave anyone else in the event of your own death is your own strong and unwavering testimony of faith in Jesus Christ that is backed up by a life of serving him. In Christ,

Here are some words from a friend of mine from California who lost her son and grandsons in a locally prominent murder case. I’m on an email list of friends who she emails when things get rough for her in her mourning, and while the trial of her daughter in law is underway. What’s below has been publicly posted on the Internet for others, so I’m not breaking any confidences in sharing these words. Something quite bizarre to me that she’s also shared that shows how ill equipped many people are to deal with the reality of murder is the first question they ask her: “What did he do to cause his murder?” The answer for him and his sons is, “Absolutely nothing. And it wasn’t something that he could have anticipated at all.”

“September 25, 2008 is the USA’s annual observance of the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. I hope you will make a special point of remembering and talking about Neal, Devon and Ian, and of educating others about the devastating effects of murder and it’s aftermath. I noted on an FBI website that a study in 2005 estimated the number of Americans who lost their lives to murder that year alone (not manslaughter, but murder) was more than 16,000! That’s an average of nearly 2 per minute! This is not acceptable, it’s outrageous, and people should be talking about it! Even one murder per year is too many, and can be utterly devastating to the families and friends of the victim. I know that many people assume that these are gang members and others who live a dangerous lifestyle, but you and I know that murder takes the innocent as well – even small children like Devon and Ian. So, please, when September 25 comes around, remember them and all the others who have had their lives and futures stolen by murder. I am always very grateful for your continued support. Jan Williams Mother of Neal Williams (27), Oma of Devon (7) and Ian (3) Williams murdered August 8, 2007”

“Murder isn’t over, you know, not ever – not for those of us left behind. In murder mystery books and crime dramas everything is wrapped up with a nice red bow right before the end, which usually comes just as soon as the cuffs are put on the suspect and their Miranda rights are read. The end. Cut to commercial. Show the previews for the next episode. It isn’t like that in real life. There are no quick, neat solutions. Forensics take months, investigations can be long and painstaking, and it seems to take forever for the trial to even start. And there is the pain of loss. That pain doesn’t go away, you don’t breathe a sigh of relief when the solution is presented or the trial ended. There isn’t even any real closure. You will never, ever, understand why someone felt they had a good reason to take your loved one’s life. No reason is good enough. And the pain is still there. The pain of loss is your life companion now. You may hide it. You many impress others with your strength, courageously build a new life for yourself, even find other happiness. But the loss is still there, the pain is still there, and grief just waits around the corner for a chance to trip you up again. “

**********************************************

Not too far from where I live, about a year ago the city of Cleveland, the nation and the world was rocked by the rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from their long, abusive and completely criminal captivity at the hands of a depraved man. Not far to the east, another house of horrors was revealed to the city, the nation and the world with the crimes of Anthony Sowell.  To all that I have written above, let’s add a strong persistence to remain in prayer for the rescue or revelation of the fate of those who may come up missing and for any perpetrators of any crimes which led to them becoming missing may be brought to justice.

The Culture Wars: Never As Bad As It Seems and Never As Good As It Seems

I’ve been hearing some evangelical leaders lately talking about how the evangelical churches in the United States have lost the culture wars. What’s the reasoning behind this? As far as I could tell, it was based on the current poll results for certain attitudes.

Yet it was less than a decade ago that I listened to a program from a major evangelical ministry broadcasting a celebration on how the culture wars were won. What was the reasoning behind this? As far as I could tell, it was based on the current poll results for certain attitudes.

I think that both perspectives are simply naïve, and they take poll results too seriously. From what I can see from the scriptures, though, and the mandates of Jesus in the New Testament for the church, there’s nothing that I can see with him giving the church a mandate to win or lose any kinds of culture wars. Rather, his mandates have more to do with the ministry of evangelism and disciplemaking throughout the entire world (Matthew 28:81-20, Luke 24:46-49, Matthew 9:35-38), and, while all this does have cultural implications, I don’t think that it can be boiled down to a war that can be won or lost with a national culture at large. Rather, there will definitely be battles with civil and religious laws and rulers as the church seeks to continue with its ministry of evangelism and disciplemaking, such as in Acts 4:1-32. And, as the idol makers found out in Acts 19, and the Roman empire found out in the second century, the more Christians there are in a culture, the more it impacts negatively those who had been making their living from oppression, superstition, idolatry and depravity.But all this doesn’t really add up to culture wars that can be won or lost, and especially not upon the results of polls of the general population and evangelical churchgoers. I do think that the results of the polls add up to more wise and diligent work in the areas of evangelism and disciplemaking more than anything.

Ultimately, though, the church will always need to have a real concern for any kind of attempts at governmental control and interference with beliefs and practice. This has been true of the church for ages past; usually the concern has been over governmental authorities that attempt to compel some kind of obedience in some way that compromises obedience to the God of the Bible.  This usually comes out of a greater environment where there is some kind of legal or extralegal coercion of strongly held beliefs and personal rights of conscience. Much more often than not, Christians have opposed such coercion of strongly held beliefs as a matter of unjust rulers and unjust laws.  This is why Paul gave these directions to Timothy, and through him to the entire church of Jesus Christ in all places and in all times, to make these requests part of our public gatherings for worship, prayer and scriptural instruction. Let’s never neglect this at any time in any place for any reason. Pastors, and especially senior pastors, please simply follow scripture in making this a regular and consistent part of public worship services.

“I urge, therefore, first of all, that prayer requests, prayers, intercession, thanksgiving, be made for all people, for kings and everyone in authority, so that we might lead quiet and peaceful lives in all reverence and solemnity. For this is good and acceptable before God our Savior, who wants all people to be save and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

(I Timothy 2:1-4)

On Minor Disagreements Among Pastors, Church Leaders And Other Believers On Passages of Scripture And Matters of Biblical Interpretation

During the times of my preparation for ministry during my seminary years and my preaching and teaching ministry over the years, there have been several, but mercifully few, times that I’ve had fellow pastors, church leaders and other believers take issue with my interpretation of a particular verse or passage of scripture. There has never been the least insinuation to my face of my ever having departed from orthodox evangelical teachings such as the Trinity, the full deity and human of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion, bodily resurrection and ascension, the personality and ministry of the Holy Spirit, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and so on, as stated in the Statement of Faith of my own denomination or the National Association of Evangelicals. Rather, it’s been more like taking issue with a view on a verse which I expressed which clashed with an interpretation which they had either heard all their lives or heard about from some other pastor, teacher, professor or author, and thus they classified that view as the ‘traditional’ view, and they were aghast that someone would have a view any different than what they thought was the ‘traditional view.’ Or it may be taking issue with my stating a different take than  a particular interpretation of a verse, passage or book which they had publicly stated in their preaching or teaching.

Here I’m talking about such things as:

  • Having a different view than someone else on what Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was
  • Taking a different view than someone else of a passage or book which had been viewed ‘traditionally’ as allegorical, such as the Song of Solomon
  • Taking a different view than someone else on what the ‘old Man’ and ‘body of flesh’ meant in Romans 6
  • Taking a pre, mid or post tribulational view of when the rapture is to take place
  • What it means for a man to ‘touch’ a woman as in I Corinthians 7
  • Taking a different view than someone else on who is the man ‘sold under sin’ in Romans 7:14-25.

In some of these matters of minor disagreement, they happened a number of years ago – for some of them, decades ago – and in some of them these disagreements were with believers and leaders who were chronologically older than I was then. The reaction – or rather, over-reaction –seemed from several to be that I was being rebellious and anti-authoritarian and casting off all the hard won and precious traditions of the church, and who was I to mention even the slightest disagreement with all that. Yet the truth is that I came to my own conclusions as the result of personal study of the scriptures, often in the original languages, and with due consideration of generally agreed upon guidelines for scriptural interpretation, and I could usually cite at least one, and many times more, prominent evangelical Biblical scholars and interpreters who held pretty much the same interpretation. I personally don’t remember ever having any idea as to the meaning of any particular passage of scripture where I didn’t find some other sound evangelical scholar who held the same view once I consulted the commentaries.

At some point, it seemed that for some I was violating another one of the unspoken rules that some in our evangelical churches seem to live by: “Thou shalt never disagree with a pastor,” or, “Thou shalt never disagree with this or that favorite teacher of mine,” or some other variations on that. Or it may be an unspoken expectation that a professor, pastor or teacher has, that his or her position as pastor, teacher, professor or leader insulates them from even minor questioning and disagreement after a respectful exchange of views. And questioning and disagreement may often be ascribed to ignorance or rebelliousness rather than a serious consideration of the scriptures, and even the slightest expression of disagreement, such as an offhand remark in a conversation or a discussion in a Bible study or Sunday School class may be blown all out of proportion into someone trying to undermine the preaching and teaching ministry of a pastor, leader, or teacher. But the truth is, in the matters which I just mentioned, they are all things on which sincere believers may disagree and still have a genuine saving relationship with Christ and be walking in fellowship with Christ with a full commitment to the Scriptures and not even the slightest hint of trying to discredit any pastor, teacher or leader.

But even more, here’s the problem with those unspoken rules and expectations: they are very close to the cultish view of authority and scriptural interpretation. The leaders and their views and interpretations are beyond disagreement and serious examination, and they exude a highly aggressive hypersensitivity to even the mildest question or disagreement. And the churches and leaders who take these kinds of views tend to take on very cultish characteristics in terms of dealing with their membership such as:

  • The leaders are right about everything because they are the leaders with authority from God.
  • The leaders have such absolute authority from God that they can micro manage and control the lives of any members as they please, and direct and guide in areas where they have no expertise or experience.
  • It is a sin to question and disagree and even more to leave if you disagree.

But I don’t see in scripture where God has given this kind of absolute authority, often verging on infallibility, to the particular views or interpretations of any professor, pastor, teacher or leader, so that they are to be accepted without question or that there cannot be disagreement where major doctrines of scripture such as the Deity of Christ are not at stake. That’s equating scripture with a very fallible human being’s particular views and interpretations of scripture. And it’s actually been said that what this amounts to is that a pastor or leader is treated pretty much as a Protestant Pope in the area of infallibility when making a statement or pronouncement on the basis of his office, and not on the Word of God reasonably interpreted according to generally agreed principles of scriptural interpretation. And even on the matters of major doctrines, the believer needs to have his or her views based on the authority of the Bible, as intelligently read, studied and understood to the best of his or her ability, and not on the authority of any particular professor, pastor, teacher or leader.

I would say, in the meantime, to anyone finds himself or herself in a church or ministry situation where leaders take consistently these kinds of positions or pick out particular people to ‘lord it over their faith’, please take a look at David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, The: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church and the website on Recovery From Spiritual Abuse. The kinds of problems that come under spiritual abuse seem to come from leaders who grew up in an addictive and/or legalistic home or who fit the clinical descriptions of pathological narcissism.

Let’s remember that scripture itself commends someone taking the time to examine carefully any leader’s preaching and teaching by Scripture. For instance, Jesus himself challenged the Jewish religious leaders, “You keep on searching the scriptures, because you think that in them is eternal life, and they witness about me” (John 65:39). And even after his resurrection, he took pains to demonstrate and explain that all that had happened to him was in accord with the Old Testament revelation of the Messiah (Luke 24:24, 47).  And, moreover, scripture compliments the Beroean believers that they examined all that Paul had been teaching them according to scripture (Acts 17:11).

So let’s take another look at what the epistle to the Hebrews had to say about regarding and following human leaders within the church:

“Remember those who are leading you, who spoke to you the Word of God, and as you observe the outcome of their conduct imitate their faith . . . obey those who are in leadership over you and be in submission, because they watch over your souls as those who have to give account, so that they can do this with joy and not laboriously, because this would be a bad situation for you” (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

So the manner of genuine leadership in the church is to be that of humility and responsibility to God as someone who stands under judgment of God, and as a servant of the Word, and of Jesus Christ and his church (Luke 22:24-27, John specially II Corinthians 4:5, “But we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants on account of Jesus” ). God does command his people to follow the Word of God and example of faith of the leaders, and to act in submission and obedience to leaders – but here they are described as responsible messengers of the Word who are looking out for the good of the people in their charges, and not for themselves nor acting in a despotic manner over anyone else. This means, then, that the pride of position which seeks to crush and quash even minor disagreement with the aggressive assertion of personal pastoral authority is fully out of line with scripture and with all that Jesus Christ commanded regarding servant leadership within his church, and is therefore an abuse of position and of people.

Let’s then address these kinds of minor disagreement according to what scripture says:

1. Let us accept one another as believers in Christ when we demonstrate full assent to the primary teachings of scripture regarding the major matters of scripture, such as the creation and providence of God, the Trinitarian nature of God, the deity and real humanity of Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, etc. Our acceptance of other believers as believers and into fellowship is not supposed to be an enticement into a situation where we try to give them a complete personal and doctrinal makeover.

“Therefore receive each other, just Christ has already received you, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7; see also Romans 14:1).

2. Let us not try to strong arm another believer into believing, thinking or doing the same kinds of things that we believe, think or do by the mere assertion of personal or pastoral authority, especially in matters where that person has already formed a conviction and is being guided by his or her conscience. The import of the following passage about dealing charitably with differences in personal convictions applies to leaders as well; there is no special rider attached that gives anyone who asserts church authority to try to override the sincerely held personal convictions and responsibility of someone else who has a minor difference in opinion or practice.

“Not one of us lives for himself, and not one of us died for himself; because if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So if we live or if we die, we are the Lord’s. It was for this purpose, that Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of the living and the dead. You – why are you are judging your brother? Or why are you holding your brother in contempt? For we must all stand before the judgment seat of God, because it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God.’ Therefore each one of us will give account to God” (Romans 14:7-12).

3. Let us avoid getting all worked up about minor matters and matters on which we are to show charity, acceptance and forbearance to each other, and never insinuate or exaggerate any minor disagreement to the level of a major doctrinal error or opposition. Even more, let’s seek to put to rest any attempts to blow minor issues so far out of proportion that they become prolonged conflicts which poison the loving unity of the body of Christ:

“I, the prisoner for the Lord, encourage you therefore to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, as you bear with one another in love, as you make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

4. Let’s deal with genuinely serious disagreements according to the guidance of scripture. I have never heard the following passage either taught in a seminary or explained in Biblical preaching and teaching as the scriptural guidance to dealing with serious disagreements and opposition. I think that the translation suffers from an unnecessarily added third personal pronoun, and I think that this distorts the application of the passage. The passage should not be twisted into dealing with personal disagreement as personal opposition to the pastor, but rather with those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18), such as Hymenaeus and Philetos (II Timothy 2:17-18), who were teaching such egregious error and disrupting the faith of others in such a way as to be legitimately described as being, “under the wiles of the devil.” Such people may not begin with personal opposition to the pastor but rather attempt to seduce him into their false ideas first, and then go into open opposition if the pastor refuses their influence. But in any case, the primary application of the following passage definitely does not need to be those who believe in and love Christ with all their hearts, who have full assent to all the major doctrines of the faith and to the Bible as the Word of God, and may yet have minor disagreements with a pastor or who respectfully demur where a pastor attempts to rule outside the sphere of his wisdom, expertise or authority, but rather those who are in really serious doctrinal disagreements and who are instigating serious schisms in the body of Christ. (And at the least it also is a command for the leader in the church to avoid being drawn into other people’s disagreements, controversies and battles. I’ve used it as the scriptural authority for me to avoid being drawn into other people’s battles in the past.)

“But swear off foolish and uneducated controversies, since you know that these breed battles. And the servant of the Lord must not fight, but must be gentle to all, ready to instruct and patient. He must instruct those who are in opposition, so that somehow God might grant them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth, and that they might regain their senses from the trap of the devil, since they have been taken captive to do the will of that one”(II Timothy 2:23-26)

Some Reasons Why People Leave Churches

The thought came to me the other day that no one ever walked away from an encounter with Jesus feeling personally violated or that Jesus had sinned against them. Often enough people felt that his call upon them for repentance and discipleship was too heavy, but no one felt that he had lied to them or was slandering them, or seeking financial gain from them, or seeking to enhance his reputation at their expense. During his ministry, the worst that the Pharisees could find on him was that he healed people on the Sabbath or claimed God as his Father, and during his trial all that they could get from the false witnesses they put up against him was that he made a claim that he could rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem in three days.

Unfortunately, it’s often not the same case with our churches. As a pastor who came into declining churches, where previous pastors had stayed for a year or two over a period of at least a decade, I had a chance to hear many people’s reasons for leaving the church, as I sought to reach out to those who had been disappointed or wounded and had gone on to other churches. One common thread that I often found was that when they left the church often enough they tried to maintain a forgiving attitude toward the people they had left behind but still they hated the way that they had been treated during the time before and often for years after their departure.

These are the  reasons where people left a church where the parting was more or less understandable and amicable:

  • Death.
  • Someone died and went to be a part of the church in heaven.

  • Marriage
  • Someone married someone from another church and started attending that church.

  • Relocation
  • Someone moved away and started attending a church in the community in which he or she was now living.

  • Doctrinal reassessment and changes
  • Someone had come to different doctrinal convictions and went to a church where shared that person’s convictions, rather than staying and possibly becoming a source of division.

    Here are the reasons which identify something toxic happening within a church:

  • Harassment due to rivalries and vendettas
  • Someone doesn’t like something about the person who eventually left, and stirs up a lot of trouble for that person and often for that person’s family.

  • Rumors
  • Someone starts rumors about the person who has eventually left that church, and what is being said is given more credence than the verifiable truth.

  • Neglect during personal hardships and crises
  • People neglect the person going through a time of personal hardship or crisis. They may throw a platitude or two that person’s way, but generally, when it’s time to stand with a suffering brother or sister, they are nowhere to be seen.

  • Over commitment and burnout
  • The person who left became involved in too many ministries or activities, and found it easier to leave than to reduce his or her activities and ministries to a more manageable level.

  • Unreasonable and unscriptural expectations
  • This is the situation where other people stridently demand things of another believer which simply aren’t scriptural. High on this list is where the demands for ever increasing involvement in ministries and activities are coming from other people – sometimes those who are not even involved in those activities and ministries themselves.

  • Pastoral flakiness and weirdness
  • Sometimes the spiritual, mental and emotional stability of the pastor may be in question through his words and actions over a period of time, and this may afflict certain members of the congregation more than others. These people may leave to find a safer church to attend.

  • Pastoral aggression
  • Pastors, as Archibald Hart has repeatedly said, need to work on dealing with their anger in a scriptural fashion. Sometimes they themselves may develop and pursue grudges against certain members of their congregation. Sometimes these are in response to genuine hurts that the pastors have received from these people; some times they are not. In the latter case the pastoral aggression often comes from things such as mild disagreements with the pastor to the pastor taking sides in intra church rivalries.

  • Pastoral doctrinal deviations
  • Sometimes pastors themselves also depart from scripture or denominational doctrines and directions in their preaching, teaching and direction of ministry in different ways, and this also may affect some members of the congregation than others. Again, this may make the people who disagree with the pastor the target of pastoral aggression, and they may leave to find a church of sounder scriptural basis.

    In cases where someone has left a church, sometimes it does leave a wound in the people who have been left behind. Sometimes, I’ve found that the deepest and most persistent wound is that of the person who has driven that person away, and in this case it is simply wounded self righteousness. In some cases, this wounded self righteousness continues to fester worse and worse for years. But this means often enough that the skewed and exaggerated picture which emerges of that person from those who are left behind is like this below:

    • This person was involved in this ministry or activity for years and years. (And sometimes that ministry or activities died with that person’s departure.)
    • I grew up with this person and shared some social activities and gatherings with that person. (And you wonder how that person managed to fit in for so long without any evidence of major friction during that time, and indeed, some evidence of some kind of actual friendship or Christian fellowship.)
    • This person said or did THIS. (or)
    • This person is THIS WAY or THAT WAY.(or)
    • This person has THIS or THAT problem.

    In other words, the very characterization of the person who left demonstrates a very deep and persistent anger, and often this anger will be denied, although it’s very plain in the description of the person who departed.

    The obvious conclusion is to take with a grain of salt someone else’s account of why a person has left a church, and to understand that someone else’s account may be full of self serving and self excusing falsehoods. Another obvious conclusion is that the church that the person ends up attending needs to take any stories of that person which come to them with a grain of salt. But the more scriptural thing to do will be for each person in these situations to pursue scriptural forgiveness – which is always possible — and reconciliation – which is not always possible, because many church leaders and attenders can get stuck in the role of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:28, 30) – sometimes for years and decades, with that attitude toward another believer, “You owe me this (petty little thing).”

    But the final conclusion is that these situations challenge church leaders and a church fellowship to be faithful to the New Commandment: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). After all, the expectation of our Lord and Master is not that we agree in every detail. Nor is it that we go around trying to fix other people. Rather, he has promised to set all things right and do all the fixing of our brothers and sisters in Christ that he deems necessary, now and in eternity. His command is that we give each other the same loving treatment he has given us, and when that happens, people will not be hating the way that they were treated  but recognizing the reality of Christ’s love in the fellowship of believers. After all, no one ever ran away from Jesus because he was loving them too much.

    “Let’s just get good ol’ Joe to do it . . .”

    Some years ago, at a church which had grown for a number of years previously, one of my friends from seminary corroborated my observation that it seemed now like the same people were being asked to take up all the new ministry responsibilities. For example, if they were looking for people to read scriptures during a service, it was from the same group of people they would find the ones to do it. And it seemed that the others who were in attendance and who would have been willing to take up new responsibilities were never even given a chance to know about them. All of a sudden, there would be an announcement that something new had started, and good ol’ Joe, who may have been teaching Sunday School, serving as an elder, singing in the choir or leading an outreach Bible study, had been the one tapped to lead or participate in that something new. So one person is probably being asked to do more than is either wise or within God’s will when others are willing and able to help with the load of ministry.

    That church had plateaued at that point. And the same kind of pattern is often found in small churches. The same core of the same people do the same things for years. They decide to try something new, and it’s mainly those from the same core who are tapped to lead and support the new activity, program or outreach. And the new activity, program or outreach dies, and the same people from the same core group of people keep on going with the same kinds of church activities and ministries that they have been doing for years. And there may be people who are in attendance who could but do not participate, support or lead the new activity, program or outreach because they are not given the opportunity, and they may eventually end up leaving the church because they get tired of being treated like spectators, or they feel like people trapped on the outside looking in.

    Here’s what I’ve seen happen: when people think of some new kind of activity, ministry or outreach, they may immediately think of someone to fit into the slot. And that person may simply be good ol’ Joe, whom they have known for years. It’s someone they know, may be comfortable with, and may think be capable of the job. But the problem is that they don’t stop, pray and ask God for the right people to fill the position. And then they don’t make the need known beyond the same core group. And if they do, the person is not given a chance to pray and think about it; it’s more like they are being forced into a slot or trapped into something.

    So, be careful to pray and be open to the leading of God first. Maybe there’s someone besides Good Ol’ Joe to take that ministry.