Tag Archives: marriage

I Am a Single Pastor

I just finished a book by author Preston Sprinkle titled People to Be Loved. The concluding chapter was very affirming to me as a never-married single. There is an often unspoken assumption that if you are single, well, you’re incomplete. In fact, it is an assumption held by many single people themselves. To this Sprinkle replies:

“But if you think marriage is the only way to say yes to life, yes to love, and yes to happiness, then you’ll not only be disappointed if you get married, but you will also forgo the cruciform joy that his possible in your singleness.”

Cruciform joy. Huh? Sprinkle is a Christian pastor and scholar. He is referring to the follower of Jesus identifying with Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. Joy? The joy comes when I endure suffering together with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. Sprinkle continues:

“The Gospel never promises happiness to married folk. It does promise joy for those who pick up their crosses and die with Jesus.”

Overwhelming joy follows when I identify with Jesus on the cross and thereby overcome sin and death as I continue to see myself in Christ’s resurrection. “For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). I am enabled to begin to experiencing eternal life (the Kingdom of God) now, even before I pass beyond this vale of tears to live forever with God.

I a single man, which is not uncommon. In fact, there are currently more single men and women in the United States than ever before, Further, the percentage of the population who are unmarried is on the increase. Where I am very different is in my occupation as a single. I am a pastor. I’ve never met another single senior pastor, although I’m sure there are others. I’ve considered that this could be keeping my church from growing numerically. Why, you might ask? Well, the expectation is that the pastor should be a family man. In fact, I wouldn’t be hired by the overwhelming majority of churches with pastoral positions open due to this expectation, and due to a misreading and misunderstanding of the requirements for a pastor listed in 1st Timothy and Titus (I’ll not cover the interpretive issue here).

So, are you asking yourself, “Hmm, what’s wrong with that guy?” Well, that’s how I feel sometimes, even though nobody who attends my church talks or acts like that. I do suspect most people I know would be relieved if I got married. And I suspect my church would grow numerically. Trouble is, I’ve never found anyone with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, and to whom I would surrender and sacrifice. Is that selfish? I won’t deny that I’m selfish. Aren’t you? However, that’s not the issue. I really believe that God has a specific will and purpose for every individual, and every married couple. I’ve believed and taught my entire adult life that if God wants you to be married, then there is an Eve for every Adam: God created the two for each other. I’ve simply never found someone like that, and never felt compelled by God to marry anyone. And I’m not compromising.

So, you may ask, “Well are you looking? Do you date?” I pray and keep my eyes open. I’ve been on a Christian oriented dating site on and off for quite sometime. I’ve been matched with literally thousands of women and met a few of them. No one has been God’s match for me.

Will I remain single the rest of my life? I don’t know, but I’m okay with that if it is God’s will. You see, that’s what I want. That’s what Jesus taught his students to pray for: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I’d like to have an intimate partner. I’d like to have kids. I think I’d make a great father and husband. However, I want to do whatever my Father in heaven wants, and he hasn’t shown me that is what he wants for my life.

The reason I share this is because I believe many single people feel like they are missing out, or like they are incomplete without a mate. Fellow single person, we are only incomplete if we have no relationship with God. A man or woman is a poor substitute and cannot fill your need for intimacy. It has been said that there is God shaped hole in everyone, which only God can fill.

God has a purpose for each of us. God has a purpose for me as a single pastor. I believe our church is perfect. I don’t mean we are without flaws. I am the chief of sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15), so that’s not possible. What I mean is our church is perfect for those whom God has called to be part of us. We have an amazing Teaching Pastor, who is married and has four wonderful kids. Our church has families with children and I’m certain they feel comforted and strengthened by his leadership and example. We also have a number of older single adults in our church, and I hope they feel they are not second class members. Perhaps they are comforted and strengthened because their pastor is single too.

You see, a church is a family, or it should be. We are the family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus warned his followers that they needed to be willing to lose natural friends and family and even their own lives for his sake and that of the Kingdom of God (see Luke 14:26). However, the Lord also promised better and greater relationships will replace that loss.

“’Yes, Jesus replied, ‘and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.’” (Mark 10:29–30, NLT)

I’ve thought our church might grow numerically if I were to get married. However, I believe I am who, and what, and where God has willed me to be, and I seek to become more like his Son. Our church is my family. I’m like a grandpa to all of these wonderful kids. I’m open to meeting someone, but it is unnecessary. That won’t fulfill me, or even give me more happiness, if it is not God’s leading and will.

Ashley Madison

Ashley Madison is not merely a fashionable woman’s name; it’s a website that promotes adultery. Their slogan is: Life is short, have an affair. It’s run by a couple who say this is just business; they’re faithful to each other (so they claim). Reminds me of drug dealers who sell heroin but don’t do it because they realize how addictive and destructive it is. Yet they don’t care how many people the drug ruins or kills, as long as they make money. After all, it’s only a business.

The reason I know about Ashley Madison is the same reason many of you do. Hackers stole their private client list and publicly posted it (not easily available unless you know your way around the web, however). The media has exposed reality TV Christian Josh Duggar, as well as Sam Radar, who hosts a  show with his wife on YouTube about raising their kids. Both have apologized. There is also a Muslim preacher, who has denied his involvement. Is it wrong to reveal these people’s private choices? Do you think this whole affair (forgive the pun) is sad? How should we feel?

What is wrong is that this service exists at all. What is sad is that 37.5 million married people have been using it to betray their spouses. I am not at all upset that any of them got caught. I am concerned about those who have harmed themselves as the result of being exposed, rather than seeking mercy and forgiveness.

Is this anyone else’s business, though, beyond the couples involved? Actually, yes, it is. Marriage is a commitment to one other person, but it is a public commitment. In a wedding ceremony promises are made before family and friends, and by extension to those friends and family. The promise is this:  I will remain true to this one person, he or she is mine and I am theirs for life. The cheater is betraying not only their spouse, but everyone else who has any kind of relationship with them. The betrayal moves out in concentric circles beginning with the spouse, then to the children, close relatives, friends, coworkers and so on. Adultery is the breaking of a promise made to everyone.

How should someone feel who has committed adultery? Ashamed. I mean it, you should feel bad about what you’ve done, or are doing. You feel guilty because, well, you are guilty. And I don’t mean just because you got caught. Don’t justify yourself; don’t make excuses. Alleviating guilt by rationalizing your choices won’t change anything. Shame and guilt are not enough, though. That will only serve to destroy you emotionally, and perhaps socially as well. You must feel and think, and believe and do something more. You must repent. That means you have an honest and real change of heart. So much so that if you could go back, you wouldn’t do the same thing again. Make no excuses. Just admit it’s wrong. Then seek mercy and forgiveness from God, your spouse and everyone else in your life. Change your thinking; change your ways.

You need to fear God. In my estimation, that is precisely what is lacking in our nation today. People don’t fear God so they do whatever they feel like doing… until they get caught and have to face the consequences of their actions. In the Bible there is an entire book called Judges, which narrates a time in Israelite history when the people did some pretty shocking things (even by our standards today). The book concludes by explaining all of the moral insanity: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The people had neither an earthly king, nor did they live in submission to God as their king, and so it is in our day.

Yet in the ancient world even those who had no faith or allegiance to the God of the Bible were made to realize that adultery was evil and posed grave consequences. Consider a situation that arose with both Abraham and again years later with his son Isaac (Genesis 12, 20 & 26). Both father and son were blessed with beautiful wives, and both stayed among foreigners whom they feared. Abraham stayed among the Egyptians for a time and called Sarah his sister (a partial truth) in order to protect himself from any who would kill him to marry her. Indeed, Pharaoh took Sarah into his harem and gave Abraham favor and many gifts as a result. However, the Bible reports: “But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” Pharaoh recognized that the calamity had come as the result of taking another man’s wife and returned Sarah to Abraham and sent them away. This happened again when Abraham lived near a king named Abimelech, then with his son Isaac and Abimelech’s son of the same name. In each case the reaction was the same: fear of God and repentance.

God offers forgiveness, even if your spouse doesn’t. You have to admit you are wrong. You must repent. You have to stop the affair. God forgives because Jesus died the death you and I deserve because of our wrongdoing. Too often, though, we want freedom from guilt and shame, but we fail or refuse to admit we’ve done anything truly bad. I believe that repentance involves a deep sense of guilt and shame. Then we lay our guilty selves at the crucified feet of Jesus and cry out for mercy. Because of the Lord’s grace anyone who repents and has faith in Christ will be granted forgiveness and set free!

So, even if you haven’t been caught cheating, stop now. Even if your cheating is only in your imagination, and via porn sites, it’s already adultery of the heart. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Cry out to God. Run to his merciful arms. Allow his Spirit to convict you of your wrong and to forgive you and raise you up and give you new life. If you feel that conviction now, don’t even finish this article before you pray…

Adultery is particularly confusing to children, and destructive to families. “Why is daddy with a different mommy?” The adulterer is teaching their kids that it’s okay to lie, cheat, steal, betray and break your promises. They are showing no respect for their family. So, what happens when those kids reach the teen years? They may be jaded. They may see the adulterous parent(s) as having no moral authority (at least in the sexual area). They may perceive that marriage has little or no meaning. A recent  movie called Trainwreck illustrates this reality. It is a cynical comedy about a woman whose father has taught her by word and example: “Monogamy isn’t realistic.”  She spends her adult life moving from one meaningless sexual encounter to another, until she meets a guy who tries to steer her toward marriage. As in this movie, the children of adulterers will be tempted to see sex as an end of its own, instead of the special expression of love to one other person within the bounds of marriage.

Adultery starts before you’re married. Moving from one sexual partner to another reinforces a desire for novelty and change. It also fails to develop genuine intimacy and the necessary skill to please one other person consistently for a lifetime. The hook-up culture that predominates in high school and college today fails to develop healthy relationships. It is pleasure seeking and inherently self-centered. Patience is essential in marriage. Any relationship that has sex as the primary goal will not encourage tolerance for the shortcomings of the partner.

What about married people who are bored with their partners? How about those who no longer feel the same attraction, or even love, for their partner? The marriage covenant is not based on feelings, but promises. How you feel at any point in time is irrelevant. You made promises. You are responsible to keep them. Marriage requires work, and that work doesn’t stop.

Communication

If you are having difficulty, communicate with your spouse. If things are going well, tell them how much you appreciate them. If they don’t think sex is as important any more, talk about it. If sex is no longer fun, talk about what made it enjoyable earlier in the marriage. Communicate with one another regularly and with detail. In order to communicate effectively, you must listen more than you talk. You must be empathetic. As Atticus says to Scout in the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Consideration

Say, “it’s not about me.” Now, repeat. “Let each of you look not only out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Selfishness destroys relationships. Love is inherently unselfish. Put your partners needs above your own.

Compromise

Finally, learn to compromise. Both partners must practice this important discipline for the relationship to remain strong. This applies in the sexual area as much as in any other. Many times one partner (often the husband) wants to have sex more often than the other. Studies have shown that women may have a lower sex drive after having children. This coincides with a time when many marriages end in divorce. If you are the less motivated partner, compromise is necessary to keep your spouse satisfied. On the other hand, if you are the partner who is more sexually driven, it is important not to treat your wife (or husband) as the object of your pleasure. She’s not your porn project. If your partner is not as adventurous as you want them to be, you will need to be understanding and patient. Above all respect your partner. There are some sexual acts that don’t belong in anyone’s bedroom.

Continental Divide

They’re dividing up Lord, dividing up
on both sides of the line
and they shout out their lines,
shout out without much thought about
the ends they have in mind.
They shout down or beat down or shoot down
anybody who doesn’t agree.
This is a zero sum game now
and nobody’s backing down.
What we need right now is empathy,
humility and compassion, even for our enemies.
Enough molotov cocktails and burning Tweets,
our incendiary tongues are burning
a once great nation to the ground.
The real enemy is rejoicing
at all the stealing, killing and destruction.
The sexual revolution didn’t set us free.
It made us slaves to our own depravity.
Now we’re eating the poison fruit,
willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwittingly,
and it’s defiling us and killing us.
God help us!
I recall You said once Lord,
“If my people, who are called by my name
will humble themselves and pray,
and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,
then will I hear from heaven,
and forgive theirs sins,
and heal their land.”
Let it be so, Sir;
make it so today.

Gay Cakes

The provocative title is more narrow than this editorial. I’m reading all of the rhetoric about baking cakes and making pizzas, and it occurs to me that some of you, at least, are on an agenda-driven adventure of missing the point. Completely.

There are several issues here. Some are civil. Some are religious.

Civil issue 1) Should a person of faith (or no faith) be required by the state to violate their conscience? I should say not. This is precisely what has been at issue since the Obama administration began to prosecute businesses that object to paying for abortofacients (drugs or other contraceptives that cause de facto abortions to occur). This is what is at issue when a business that bakes wedding cakes, does wedding photography or rents space is required by the government to do so for those who are plainly in violation of every religions traditional view of marriage.

Civil issue 2) Should a business person with any particular viewpoint be forced to trade or service those with whom they disagree. We see signs on restaurants (and similar establishments) that stay: “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone.” Is that acceptable? Not in the broadest interpretation, but it is done all of the time, and we don’t experience a media firestorm over it. That’s because this refusal is typically for an agreed upon good reason. For example, most of us would agree with a restaurant refusing to serve someone not wearing a shirt or shoes. However, there could be a civil rights lawsuit filed if the restaurant refused to serve someone because of their race or religion. This is the generalization that the left is seeking to make concerning issue 1 above. Refusing to serve a homosexual in your restaurant is not the same as refusing to cater their wedding. Anyone may enter a restaurant, order and eat. The restaurant is not perceived as condoning the lifestyle choice of every patron. However, catering a wedding may be perceived as tacitly or actively supporting, if not the couple, homosexual marriage.

Religious issue 1) From a Christian perspective, should I do business with openly gay people, adulterers, spousal or child abusers? I’m sure many will be offended that I’ve bundled these types of people together. For the record, I do not think consensual homosexuality is harmful in the same way as spousal or child abuse. What I want you to understand is, there are some people you don’t want to do business with because of their character or lifestyle. But should you? The argument I’m hearing from a number of Christians is the standard evangelical mantra. We should do it to witness to them. I would agree, if that’s your genuine motive. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, both groups despised by the religious leadership of his day. However, Jesus was never accused of either sinning or extorting money from people (as the tax collectors were accused of doing). The Lord taught the truth and spoke honestly about the need for both the religious and the irreligious to change their thinking and change their ways. Often when a Christian does business or befriends someone who is living a lifestyle that openly defies biblical morality, we just look the other way. And that is why we have a godless nation today. Develop relationships with everyone, even those who don’t think the way you do, even those who oppose Christianity, and then openly share love, grace and truth. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before people in such a way that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

Religious issue 2) Should a Christian caterer or photographer (for example) do their work for a homosexual wedding? I’m not asking whether they should have a civil right to refuse, but whether, from a biblical standpoint, this business person should participate in such an event.

No, I do not believe a Christian has any business (pardon the unintended pun) supporting something so obviously against Christian morality and the Bible, and beyond that against the time honored traditions of every civilization and religion for 5,000 years. As a minister, I would go to jail rather than officiate a homosexual wedding. Now, you may think that I shouldn’t be forced to marry a gay/lesbian couple because I am a minister in a church. The case I would make is, every Christian is a representative of Christ and every one of us are ministers. I have done videography. I would refuse to do a gay/lesbian wedding. But let’s say a homosexual couple, “married” or not, approached me to do videography for one of their children’s sporting events or birthday parties. Would I take that job. Absolutely. Look at Religious issue 1 again. If I baked cakes, would I do so for the birthday of a vocal homosexual. Again, yes… unless, they ordered some sort of sexually explicit decoration (which I would refuse to do for a heterosexual as well).

Christian friends, you need to stop allowing the culture to make up your mind about these issues. You must stop being swayed by the opinions of your friends and relatives. As a disciple of Jesus I am shaped by his teaching, the Gospel, the Word of God, which is in the Christian canon of the Bible. Speak the truth in love, and love the people of the world as Christ who died to prove his love for the whole world (Ephesians 4:15, John 3:16).

What Is Love?

What is love? Valentine’s Day makes this a pertinent question.  My favorite writer on the subject didn’t get married until he was 58, and even then it was for charitable, not romantic, reasons. 

C. S. Lewis married Joy Gresham in a government office to provide her with British citizenship.  A few months later Joy was diagnosed with cancer, and her condition deteriorated rapidly.  Jack, as Lewis was known by his friends, chose to love and care for Joy.  The feeling between them grew, and nearly a year after the marriage of convenience there was a hospital wedding presided over by a clergyman from the Church of England.  “Till death do we part” was a potent reality.  Joy left the hospital to convalesce.  It was not until this point that she moved in with Jack.  God worked and Joy’s cancer went into remission.  Jack and Joy lived happily for three more years, until the cancer returned and she died.  Jack wept.

C. S. Lewis understood love as no one else whom I’ve read on the subject.  At first this understanding was philosophical and academic.  He wrote The Four Loves, a magnificent work describing the different types of love and their corresponding relationships.  Lewis used Greek words to define each love.  “Agape’ “ is God’s unconditional gift love, exemplified in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  “Philos” is the love between family and friends, called “the milk of human kindness” by Plato.  “Eros” is erotic or sexual love, designed by God to exist between one man and one woman for life.  Finally, “storge’ “ is what we would call “affection”.  It is found in each of the previous three loves, expressing itself appropriately in different relationships.

Lewis’s relationship with Joy demonstrated the truth of his philosophical approach to love. Follow the progression through these Four Loves. Lewis began by showing Joy Gresham God’s kind of love (agape’). His actions were not based on passion or feeling. His decision to marry was something he did for her benefit, not his own. When she became sicker, Lewis continued to show compassion by helping her. The friendship (philos) between Jack and Joy deepened, affection grew (storge’), feelings became stronger. Even though Joy was at the point of death, Jack wanted to marry her “in the eyes of God.” They had arrived at a point in their relationship where they wanted nothing and no one else but each other (eros). They lived together as man and wife and presumably enjoyed intimacy until Joy died.

What is love?  It is indeed a “many splendored thing,” but fundamentally love is a genuine concern for another person.  Love is the commitment to act in the best interest of the beloved, regardless of self-interest.  So, the next time you are attracted to someone, ask yourself:  is this really love?  Then don’t act on the basis of your desire or feeling.  Do what is right, and what is best, for the one you love.

Give Them Space and Time

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People need space, time to make their own decisions. God grants each of us freedom; we must do the same for one another.

If you are in a relationship. You need to trust the other person. Don’t automatically assume the worst. If she hasn’t called or texted in the last hour, it doesn’t mean she’s cheating on you! If you cannot trust each other, why are you in the relationship?

Give him space to have his own friends. You don’t have to be together every free waking moment! When you give each other space, the relationship will mature and improve. If your partner is cheating, it’s a heart problem, which wouldn’t have been solved by keeping them on a short leash. In fact, untrusting relationships breed duplicity. If he’s going to cheat, he’s going to cheat. Give him space and you’ll discover it soon enough. Then end the relationship and give him all the space he needs.

When you are in a position of authority, it is important to seek to understand and maintain sensitivity to those under your leadership.

As a parent, you must lead your child, not dominate her. Teach, direct, punish when necessary, but give her increasing amounts of space to be her own person. This child is not your “mini-me.” He is a unique individual, created in God’s image. God grants people freedom, so you must allow your child to be free. The number and types of choices you offer a child should correspond to the amount of responsibility they demonstrate. 

You must allow a child to make mistakes, then let them deal with the consequences. If your student is not doing well in school, don’t jump to the conclusion that the teacher is doing a poor job. Discover if your student is making an effort to learn. Is he behaving respectfully? Is he doing the work assigned? is he listening in class? If so, find out if he has a learning disability. Does he need glasses? Does he have a hearing problem? Work WITH the teacher. Don’t fall for the common excuse, “That teacher doesn’t like me.” Find out from the teacher, apart from your student, if there is a personality conflict. If the teacher is frustrated with your student, they may need to express it more objectively, rather than letting feelings determine their actions. Either way, find out WHY this teacher doesn’t like your angel? Your student may be responding to the teacher with disrespect, which should never be acceptable.

If your teen shoplifts, take him back to the store and make him give the item back. If he is arrested, it is not the end of the world. If he sits in jail for awhile, he may be able to better understand that what he did should never be repeated. If you run to the rescue, the teenager may only feel that they are impervious to consequences. Most teens believe they are invulnerable any way, don’t reinforce this delusion.

If you are an employer or a manager, don’t try to resolve every dispute between your employees. They need to work things out for themselves. If a conflict persists, advise them, offer a range of options. Show your employees that you trust them to do the job for which they were hired. If you micromanage their work, refuse their suggestions, and act officiously rather than judiciously, then you are not treating them with respect. Even though you are the boss, you are not above them, they are co-workers and partners. They have a job and so do you. As the boss, you are not there simply to tell them what to do, but to equip, empower and enable them to do the work for which you have made them responsible. When they make mistakes, correct them, teach them. If they are incorrigible, fire them. They will learn from this too.

People deserve respect because they are made in the image of God. People respond best when you give them space and time to learn and grow and be who God created them to be.

Vindication, Part 6, Losing People

This is the sixth chapter in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first five parts at www.deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on www.Facebook.com/deorl.

 

It is not possible to make everybody happy, especially when you are called upon to challenge people and speak (all too many times uncomfortable) truth. It is also not possible to be perfect in this life. Sometimes we hurt one another, intentionally or unintentionally. I’ve made mistakes and offended people. Forgiveness is essential to any lasting relationship.

 

It hurts a pastor when people leave his church. At least, it hurts me. Sometimes difficult people leave. I should breath a sigh of relief when this happens, but still I feel a loss. Over 14 years as pastor of the same church I’ve seen people come and go. It is difficult to let people go when they have become like family.

 

I’m generalizing because I hesitate to tell the stories of people who are still out there. People whom I still love. Many of these live nearby. Some who have departed expressed a desire to remain friends. I have tried. Honestly, that’s a lot like dating someone, getting close to them, and then breaking up. We say, let’s just be friends. Yet, even without animosity, the friendship is nominative. We drift to become acquaintances at best. They might as well be in a different city. In fact, that would make it easier.

 

I’ve had leaders in my church leave. This doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts the whole community. They continue to maintain relationships with members of our church, while they are serving enthusiastically in a church down the street. This only leads people to question why. What is wrong with our ministry? It leads others to resent them. What is wrong with that former leader?

 

In two prominent cases, young people who had been in my youth groups in the past were involved deeply in our church, met their spouses at our church, had children whom I blessed, then left our church for larger ministries. Ironically, when you consider how they established their families, both of these former leaders cited a weakness in our children’s ministry as their reason for leaving.

 

I have a former student who is now the pastor of a church in another city. He posted on Twitter and I reposted what he said. It was something like, “When you leave a church for the sake of your children, what does that teach them about church?” The obvious answer is, it teaches them that church is all about “me”. I didn’t state the latter, just posted his quote. A prominent couple left when one of them saw that post as a last straw. I believe church (and family) should be focused on Jesus Christ, not on children… or youth… or single adults…. or any other group.

 

One of the reasons some pastors are reticent to have small groups that meet in homes is due to the possibility of the group going rogue. A cell group may have a leader who teaches bad theology. A small group may attract people who complain about the church, the pastor, or another leader. The group becomes a meeting of the discontented. The result may be that they all stop attending, or go to another church. We’ve experienced the latter several times in our history. Two of these groups were headed by leaders who had once been in an accountability group with me. In the most recent instance, every member of that group left our church in about a one year period.

 

Are we doing something wrong? Am I doing something wrong? Did I offend? I ask myself these questions each time someone leaves. I care about them. Why don’t they care about me and this body any more? What more could I have done. I beat myself bloody, and it does no good. I used to go after these people. I mean, that’s what a good shepherd does, right? Go after the lost sheep. Except, most of these people are not lost. They’ve simply moved to another shepherd and another flock. Most importantly, the Good Shepherd is Jesus. I’m just his helper.  It seems to entrench people in their decision when I try to dissuade them. So, I take a different approach now. When they leave I hope for the best and concentrate on those over whom I still have charge as a shepherd.

 

Divorce is rampant in our society. For too many people it is the go-to solution for marital problems. Why do people get divorced? Adultery: understandable. “We grew apart,” or “I don’t love you any more”: unacceptable. This is symptomatic of our unwillingness to work out our problems with each other. It’s easier to move on and start over. Sadly, if you haven’t worked out the problems that caused the previous marriage to fail, the next one may face the same challenges, and could end the same way. When you leave a church because you had a problem you wouldn’t work out, you are taking at least part of that problem with you to the next church. Relational problems always have at least two sides, and you are on one of those sides. Leaving, divorcing, doesn’t solve your side of the problem.

 

People’s relationship to a church is somewhat like a marriage. It is a commitment to a community rather than an individual. People are going to disagree, offend one another, fall short of expectations, and we must learn to work through it.  We have to learn to communicate with one another before the breaking point. The alternative is lost friendships, and lost love. People who move from church to church are demonstrating restlessness within themselves. When we shop for a church, rather than pray and let the Holy Spirit lead us to commit to one, then we’ve turned Christ’s community into a consumer commodity. Why are we are seeking to affiliate with an institution and identify with a brand, rather than joining ourselves to a spiritual family? Church is people, not a building, denomination, institution or brand. We are called out from the world, and we are called together in communities to help one another to follow Jesus, and take the Gospel to into our world.

 

There is no perfect church. You will never find one. We are imperfect people gathering together in communities, and we are perfected day by day as we encourage one another to become more like Christ. I pray that I may encourage our people to realize this, and stay until the Holy Spirit calls them away.