Did the title of this post catch your attention? Before you troll my comment section, please read to the end of the article. I wish more church leaders understood the concept I’m writing about. It can save a church from decline, or even from closing its doors.
Many years ago a pastor friend shared his frustration about losing good people – especially young leaders – in his church, and his church’s difficulty in retaining visitors. He is a good man with a great teaching gift. He is the real deal, a man of character who truly loves his people. I am honored to be his friend.
But he and his wife have a worship leader that is not very talented, and prefers to sing worship choruses from the 70s. This church is located in a major metropolitan area – one of the most expensive cities in the world. The area demographic is made up of movers and shakers. There are plenty of young adults and young families in the area, but this church doesn’t draw or retain many, partially because of the music. The musical style is utterly strange to unchurched people. And it reminds “de-churched” people (those who have abandoned the church) of why they left in the first place.
This worship leader is the best friend of the pastor’s wife, and she has faithfully served at the church for several years. When we asked about her, the pastor told Robin and me, “I know I need to make a change, but I don’t want to because she’s been with us for so long. And she does a great job in her other duties.” Unfortunately, this same story – and others similar to it – plays out in churches across the world every day.
There are many verses in Scripture that speak to the value God places on loyalty. As a result, we place a premium on being loyal to our family and friends. But sometimes this personal loyalty blinds us. It keeps us from making necessary changes. Sometimes in our desire to be loyal, we ignore the canary in the coal mine.
I think Tony Morgan said it well in his post 10 Signs Your Church Is Headed For Decline. His point number 5 – Defending the past – is especially troubling (and painful to admit). He writes, “When a church becomes risk-averse and starts making choices based on who they are going to keep as opposed to who they are going to reach, the church is in trouble.”
Dance With The One That Brought Ya
Most pastors have a tendency to “dance with the one that brought ya” – especially with the people that have stuck it out through hard times and that financially support the church. The longer you stay in pastoral ministry, the more you appreciate those that are truly loyal to you and your church. But this can be a double edged sword.
Often the objects of our loyalty are people that attend every week. They get involved in every church program and help out wherever needed. They are openly supportive. And they are generous. Of course we need to be loyal to them! I wish we had more people like these in our churches.
But we need to look at the big picture. Sometimes these same people are either in the wrong position, or they are unable to keep up with the pace of change. Maybe they are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of work involved in a growing ministry. Maybe they feel they are drowning from having to keep so many balls in the air at the same time.
What do you do if a person who has been loyal to you and your church – perhaps even instrumental in the past – isn’t keeping up with the speed of change? What if he/she isn’t able or willing to make the sacrifices necessary to move the church to the next level? What if he/she (or his/her style) is actually getting in the way of reaching the unchurched or younger generations?
One of the most painful experiences for a pastor is having to confront a friend that serves on your team. My pastor says it all comes down to this, “Are you willing to disobey God by pampering non-performing people on your team? A real leader will do what needs to be done (retrain, reposition or release them).”
Our loyalty to people must never trump our loyalty to God. Our loyalty to the mission/vision He has called us to must be greater than our desire to protect the feelings of people that have been with us for awhile. To choose people over mission/vision is actually a people-pleasing stance. I’m not saying we need to run over people or ignore them in pursuit of the vision. I am saying that we need to be willing to ask the tough questions so we can fulfill what God has called us to do.
How do you deal with this double-edged sword of loyalty?