I appreciate the practical wisdom Ed Stetzer provides in a post titled: Why I Have No Difficulty Helping “Issue Christians” to Move On. Few seem to think this way in our consumerist church culture, where numbers are the only measuring stick of success, and faithfulness is but a tool to… well, numerical success – so long as it works. Pastors are under so much pressure to produce measurable “progress” that it is difficult for many to watch any living, breathing, potentially financial supporting body depart. Not so much for me – anymore. I’ve learned, through the pain of many mistakes, some folks just cost too much to keep around.
Does that sound heartless? Sometimes it still feels that way. But nevertheless, it is true. Not just for my sanity as a pastor, but for the unity and the peace, and the health of the church,,, some people should move on.
The people I mean are not the poor, or the unkempt, or the socially awkward or even outcastes. It is not my place to shew them from Christ’s church. Though the world may see no benefit of having such people around, these are exactly the kind of folks Jesus expressly instructs us he wants to be made at home in any church that belongs to him. The ones I have in mind are not the outcastes, but the self righteous: those who have stumbled upon the one “key” to resolve the worlds problems – and the churches – if only enough people would buy into their one key. What is the key? Who knows. I’ve seen all sorts of different sure-fire “answers”. Sadly, for such folks, “Christ and him crucified”, is never the key. (See 1 Corinthians 2.2) Their issue, whatever it may be, is their substitute for the gospel – or at the very least a supplement to the gospel. (See Romans 1.16; Galatians 1.6-8)
My one caveat about encouraging folks to move on is when the gospel is at stake. Like Stetzer, if it appears evident that person does not understand the gospel, I am hesitant to have them move on before I (or someone) has opportunity to explain it to them. Whether the person is not a Christian or a professing Christian who seems to have adopted some issue(s) in addition to or instead of Christ as their identity, their passion, their assurance, I want to make sure the gospel has been made clear. Once the gospel has been clearly presented, then I go on to explain that our church is passionate about the gospel, and living out the implications and demands of the gospel, that we want no other issue to drive our church. I invite them to stay IF, now that they understand, they want to grow in this understanding and expression of the Christian faith; but tell them if that is not their desire that they’d be “happier elsewhere”. (That “happier elsewhere” phrase is one I used to mock when I was in college, when learned that sororities – including the one my wife was in – used this as a polite “line” to cut less-than-desired pledges. And now I have adopted it. Except… I mean it as no mere polite line.)
Stetzer provides sage advice that I encourage young pastors, and all church leaders to consider, and to appropriately apply. You will find that in the end you gain from it far more than you lose – both in numbers and in peace.