Cap's Corner: Don't make church about YOU

by Cap McIlnay

I cannot tell you how many times someone has told me since I moved here that they used to go to our church. I always ask: “Where do you go now?” and “Why did you leave?”

Never has anyone told me that they left because of the pastor’s theology. To tell you the truth, almost all of them have said they moved to another church because the other church had a bigger and more active youth group, and because they had more young adults. Personally, I can understand this. I don’t like it, but I certainly can understand it.

I want to share a secret with you. When a person that has been going to a particular church for a while either stops going to church or decides to go to another church, it personally hurts that church's pastor. We most often will not tell you this, and when we run into you around town, we feel just as awkward as you do. We want to say something to you. We want to ask you why you left, but most often, we don’t. We just smile at you and say “Hi” as if nothing had changed. When a person leaves, it is like going through a mini-divorce for we pastors.

I suspect that most people don’t think about this. Many might not consider it a form of rejection, but it certainly is. You might want to say that it is nothing personal against the preacher. You might say that you just wanted a better youth group for your kids. You might say that you wanted a church where the people looked more like you and acted more like you. You might say you wanted a church where the people were closer to your age, race, and economic status.

So, you ask, why are you pastors taking it so personally?

In order for a person to be able to fill the sting of rejection, that person has to open themselves up to the possibility of that pain. The only way of doing that is by loving that person. Think about it. If I didn’t care about what you thought or felt about me, then I wouldn’t care if you came to my church or not. Pastors are called to love their flock. You wouldn’t want a pastor that did not love his or her flock. So, when you start to come to our churches, we open our hearts up to you. We start to love you as your pastor, and when you start to love someone, you have just given them the power to hurt you in the form of rejection.

As I said, I can understand all of the reasons why a person might want to stop going to church or switch churches. I truly can. However, almost all of those reasons are not good theological or biblical reasons.

The best reason I have heard recently is that a couple started going to a different church because their family went there. I truly believe that any person that walks into our church was invited by the Holy Spirit. If you start to go to this church regularly, I would say that the Holy Spirit has planted you in that church for a reason. This is where it gets tricky. If God – the Holy Spirit – has planted you in a particular church, you had better make sure it is God that is telling you it is time to move on. Though I would say it is never God telling you to stop going to church all together.

This situation is not unique to our community. In fact, it is a challenge within our entire society. Switching churches without taking the time for prayer and seeking discernment for God’s will (not your desires, but His) is called consumerism Christianity. This is mainly an American problem, in part because we are such a consumerism society that we have let this seep into our churches.

There is, of course, a flip side. How would you feel if, after just a year or two, the pastor you love decides he or she wants to be moved to another church in another city because that other church is in a bigger town that has a good coffee shop and a movie theater? I would imagine that you would be wondering what all of that “church family” talk was really about. You would probably feel rejected.

Let us be reminded: I don’t love you, God, for what you do to me, whether it is filling my cup or just making me feel good. I don’t love you, God, for the gifts and blessings you give me. I don’t love you, God, for the ministry you do through me. If I loved you for just these reasons, then it is all about me and not you. I love you, God, when I don’t feel you, when I don’t need you, and when you are not using me. I love you, God, simply because you are God.

If God has planted you in a church, start asking God how He wants you to serve in that church. Don’t make it about you, but make it all about Him! And, if you do leave or stop going to church, tell the pastor why. At least give him or her that amount of courtesy and consideration. Don’t leave them guessing what they might have said or done wrong.