the weblog of Alan Knox

Guest Blogger: Sunday Morning Sucker Punch

Posted by on Sep 19, 2011 in community, definition, guest blogger | 25 comments

Guest Blogger: Sunday Morning Sucker Punch

I’ve invited several people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.

(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)

Today’s post was written by Blake Sorensen.

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SUNDAY MORNING SUCKER PUNCH

It was a Sunday morning like any other. Sunshine blazing down out of the hot summer sky. My wife in her favorite jeans. Her hair in a ponytail. My two girls in the back seat were playing pretend with their stuffed animals. None of us had any idea what was about to come.

Dropped off the girls in the Kid Zone. Grabbed a cup of the designer coffee in the foyer and split a chocolate donut with my wife as the worship band was winding down. We slipped into our favorite row of seats near the middle and the pastor stepped up to microphone. The thunder began to rumble.

He clears his throat. Makes a lame joke about the worship band. Then he drops the bomb.

“God is doing a new thing with our church,” he says. Another conference? No. It’s worse.

“Next Sunday our congregation will become part of Hope Christian Church,” he says. I stop sipping my coffee.

Apparently, there are things that our church “has always wanted to do” but didn’t. Or couldn’t for some reason. Now, somehow, we have a chance to “be the church we were always wanting to be” – by merging with some other church I’ve barely heard of before.

So, that’s it? Our church history, our identity, our vision, our relationships, are just gone? Over?

Yes. It’s over. No vote. No warning. Just, “Thanks for investing your lives here. Now you’re all joining this other Church where I will now be on staff as their Associate Pastor. See you next week at that other place. Maps are in your bulletin. We know you’re gonna love it.”

But I don’t. I don’t love it. I hate it. I really, really hate this.

What if I don’t want to join that other church? What if some of us here want to stay together and continue to fellowship without you, pastor? Can we do that? Is that even an option?

Not in America. See, church in America is largely a franchise. It’s a business. And like most businesses in America today, things are not looking so good. The economy is still in free fall. There are still millions of hard working Americans who are hardly working – and working hard to find a job to put food on the table.

Because of these factors, the Church business is suffering. Less people are going to church on Sunday – and not because of anything to do with the economy, but essentially because the Church has become known more for what she opposes (gay marriage, abortion, increased taxes), and less for what she is in favor of (love, forgiveness, grace).

So, because less people are coming to the Church performance every Sunday morning, the offering plates are beginning to get lighter. This means it’s harder than ever to make payroll. Lesser pastors and staff get the boot first. Eventually, the church is left with just a lone senior pastor, a handful of unpaid volunteers, and a big, empty building which needs to be paid for. Of course, utilities, maintenance, security – these things cost money, and if your Church business isn’t bringing in the people, you’re probably not going to make your bill payments regularly.

What’s a business to do? Merge!

Now, any good business major will tell you that, in a merger, there’s a winner and a loser. One business loses all its identity as it becomes absorbed into the larger business. It’s how things work.

That same business major will also tell you that anytime a merger takes place it’s because both businesses are in financial stress. The larger business needs to quickly and artificially stimulate their talent pool and raise inventory. The weaker business needs someone to rescue them because they’re in over their heads and they need someone bigger and smarter to take the wheel.

Apparently our church was one of the weaker ones. We lost our identity. Like it or not, our church is dead and we must now warm the seats over at Hope Christian Church. At least until they end up merging with First Baptist down the street a few years from now.

I’ve started to notice lately that a lot of local churches have decided to merge with other churches to stay in business. A co-worker’s church is merging with another church too. At least his church is keeping their name, and their senior pastor. They’re even getting a new building out of the deal. No more leasing for them.

You know what really irks me, though? It’s that this business decision is twisted around as some kind of Divine revelation. My friend’s pastor told everyone that “God is leading us to join with this ‘Other Church’ because together we can do so much more!” Which is, of course, a flat out lie. The actual truth is that these pastors would never in a million years consider merging with another church if their bank accounts were bursting. No, the main reason these churches would ever even consider a merger in the first place is because the only other choice is to close their doors and go out of business.

What truly angers me most is how these pastors spin the story to their congregations. This is pure, unapologetic salesmanship, plain and simple. When they say to their flock, “God revealed to us that our two churches needed to come together to accomplish something wonderful in this city!” What they really mean is, “I was praying about whether to leave to find another, larger church to hire me, and then I met this other pastor who said he would not only hire me, but he’d love to take our dwindling members and double the size of his church overnight!”

The spin is: “This is a sudden, miraculous move of God!” and the truth is: “This is the only way I could keep my job!” and it frankly makes me a little sick.

I mean, aren’t pastors supposed to put the needs of the sheep over their own? Would it have been the end of the world for our pastor to get another job like the rest of us? Couldn’t he serve here as a volunteer? Are we only a real Church if he’s getting paid to preach every week?

I write this article out of frustration, and also out of sincere disgust. It really saddens me to see pastors more concerned for their paycheck than they are for the people at their church. So, when your pastor stands up on Sunday morning and without warning spins a story that essentially boils down to this: “The church you love is shutting down. You will now need to start attending this other church you never heard of before where I will now be on staff,” you’ll know that it was a great idea for your pastor and an “ok” idea for everyone else.

Maybe that’s how traditional churches will eventually disappear? One by one they will all be forced to merge together as they shrink down smaller and smaller. Eventually all the traditional churches in your town will be just one big church made up of former Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Charismatics, Baptists, and Non-denominational church members.

Actually, that sounds like a wonderful church, doesn’t it?

Maybe this really is a blessing in disguise?

-Blake Sorenson


25 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-19-2011

    Hi Blake,

    Not sure I understand this point:

    “What if I don’t want to join that other church? What if some of us here want to stay together and continue to fellowship without you, pastor? Can we do that? Is that even an option? …Not in America.”

    Maybe I missed something. Why exactly is it that some of you can’t continue to meet sans the professionals?

  2. 9-19-2011

    I took it as sort of a rhetorical question – that most in America would not consider such a thing.

    I can remember one time (of several) when a pastor left for the next career stepping stone, hearing “oh, we will lose so many people, the church will dwindle, where are you going to go”, etc. and replying that I wasn’t there just for that one person. The other 99.5% of us are still here.

    When folks are taught proof text “without a vision the people perish” and the “pastor casts the vision”, they rightfully conclude that they perish without their “pastor”. Now, just what it is that perishes is another question.

  3. 9-19-2011

    Art,

    I think that, like Eric said, most Christians would never consider continuing to meet together with a pastor – or some other type of focused positional leadership.

    Eric,

    Yes, there are many, many brothers and sisters who are “still there”, like Blake in his story.

    -Alan

  4. 9-19-2011

    But that’s just it! YOU CAN continue to meet without a “pastor.” Learn all you can about how an ekklesia is birthed. Frank Viola and Milt Rodrigues. You might just find that that wonderful world of true body life with no need for leadership and programs and institution. Go for it!!! No more passive pew sitting. If you hate it, get out and get on the road to what you really desire and what Christ desires for you.

  5. 9-19-2011

    Pam,

    I’m just guessing here… but that seemed to be the direction that Blake’s story is headed. Of course, I could be wrong.

    -Alan

  6. 9-19-2011

    I would recommend a book by a pastor I respect locally. He is well known in his own right. I had never heard of him until he got a spot on local Christian radio. The spot was short lived but it did the job of exposing him to hundreds if not thousands of local families of faith. The book is called Amen By Myself by Sherwood Carthen. I think I have a signed copy.

    It is a story about how God told him to merge his church with another church and then step down as a minister. It then goes into the story of the wilderness experience God led him to and through.

    In my life God has issued what seemed like harsh proclamations. They can come out of no where and represent a complete shift in life style and seeming identity. If it happens in my life it makes sense that it could happen in a church.

    Thus it is helpful to understand the mentality of Christ as the headship of the Church. I am over the idea of being overly connected and identified to one specific church. I belong to the Body. Where ever I go whatever believers are doing that is Holy Spirit led I want to be open to.

  7. 9-19-2011

    ToscaSac,

    Thanks for the recommendation!

    -Alan

  8. 9-19-2011

    Now blake say that this one big super melting pot congregation might be the thing but ill go one better and say that once that/those disband as well and all we are left with are saints meeting whenever and wherever on the word lf God then I think we will be getting somewhere

    I don’t think that happens till new heavens new earth though………..if they really exist =O

  9. 9-20-2011

    Mike,

    While I think that complete unity will not be seen until the new heavens and new earth, Jesus said that our unity will be a testimony to the world that God the Fathers sent him into the world (John 17). So, I think it’s possible to have much, much more unity now than we see today. And, we should always be working toward peace and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    -Alan

  10. 9-20-2011

    Oh yeah more unity is always possible

    Unfortunately we are told things will wax worse not better till Jesus comes

  11. 9-20-2011

    Mike,

    Was Jesus talking about the state of the world or the state of his followers getting worse?

    -Alan

  12. 9-20-2011

    Well sadly alan the majority of people in the institution aren’t really saved in my opinion so I guess its the same

  13. 9-21-2011

    What I wonder is: If these churches can do more together than they can apart, why do they need to merge into one entity to accomplish this? I mean, our house church partners with Saddleback church to plant a church at a motel, but we’re not merging together to do so…we’re simply working together to accomplish something for the Kingdom.

  14. 9-21-2011

    Keith,

    That’s a good point. It makes me think there is more to the merger than simply doing more together.

    -Alan

  15. 9-25-2011

    Hi Blake, I just wanted to say something about the comment you made about pastors putting their sheep first (You said:I mean, aren’t pastors supposed to put the needs of the sheep over their own? Would it have been the end of the world for our pastor to get another job like the rest of us?Couldn’t he serve here as a volunteer? Are we only a real Church if he’s getting paid to preach every week?)
    I think you have the wrong view about what a pastor is. A pastor is not this guy that shows up on Sunday to deliver a message. It is much more that that. My husband and I have been Church planters for 7 years and their is NO WAY that we could have done it without being supported financially. The sermons on Sunday are just one of the many things he does. Having a full time job on top of being a pastor would stretch every area of life to the point that he would neglect his family or the ministry. Our Church members want a full time pastor not a tired pastor that brings his left over to the ministry. I also wanted to add that a paid pastor does not mean that a Church is less likely to be involve in serving thinking that the pastor will do it all. We experience the total opposite. Most of the Church people are serving in one way or the other. I understand your frustration in pastors trying to do a merge with another Church by calling it God’s will if they are doing it for the wrong reasons. I hope that you are ok with churches merging together if it is really God’s will. Pastors don’t held a job, it is a calling from the Lord, they are not speech deliverer like you think they are pastors so be careful in the words you choose. Thanks for reading, A pastor’s wife

  16. 9-25-2011

    The post is spot on for the most part although I think it is a bit harsh and doesn’t fit every situation.

    Case: I was consulting with a pastor of an aging congregation living off the endowment of a generation long dead. Most were in the 65-85 range. More were home and hospital bound then attended worship. They were also pretty set in their ways. I recommended three options:

    1) sell the property, set up a fund and a contract to disburse the funds over a three year period, at which time the fund would dissolve. Continue to meet and care for one another as a separate and continuing body without the facility or facilitate the incorporation of present members into other local churches. Use the funds to help fund the planting of a minimum of three churches with the stipulation that they be church planting churches.

    2) Rent the building to another church with the stipulation that they (the aging congregation) be allowed to continue to meet in the afternoon for their own services for a period to be determined.

    3) Find another church whose theology and polity is similar, and has a healthier mix of generations and offer them the building as a blessing to them and join them in the new work of reaching the next generation. The last option, I told them, will require you to draw a line in the sand, celebrate the past life of the church, and preside over its “funeral”. Then celebrate the “new” church that emerges.

    The pastor was willing to do any of those options. The congregation choose option 3.

    Meanwhile, God was already working in that direction. The lone “younger family” (late 40’s early 50’s) had started to look at some other churches in the area, found a church similar in approach but healthier, also numbering about 160. This family approached them, unofficially and without knowing that I was consulting and advising their pastor. Long story/short: the merger occurred. My friend expected to be job hunting, got a job driving a bus and was prepared to spend his remaining years ministering as a layman to the new congregation’s elderly when the “new” church approached him and asked him to stay on and become the pastoral care pastor for the “new” church.

    I think this whole situation doesn’t deserve the disdain that the post seems to have for all church mergers.

  17. 9-25-2011

    First of all, I am grateful for my wife`s comments. She knows all that I do as a pastor, and that I am much more than a speech giver on Sundays. Actually, I pray that I am not even a speech giver, rather one who shares the living word with fellow believers. And it is true, like she said, that our church has almost a 100% ratio when it comes to being involved in church life. Anyway, I simply have an encouragement for Blake. Hebrews 13:17 says `Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.`

    Now I write that for several reasons. I am not sure if this `merge` is of the Lord or not. I am not there and I am not the Holy Spirit. But I want to suggest other alternatives than what has been commented above by several who think this may be God`s will for Blake to quit, run, and begin something new. I am not sure that is wise advice. I would never give that wisdom to a married couple who are have troubles, so I would not even suggest that here. I believe, due to Scripture`s high calling for us to love one another (as well as all the other `one another` passages) that it takes more than this for someone to turn away from the covenant they made to be with a church family. I think, like in a marriage, it takes hard work to make a church a church, and quitting is simply refusing to do the hard work that each believer must do as a faithful member of the body of Christ.

    Blake, I suggest another solution. First, meet with your pastor. Talk with him about your frustrations. Pray with him and for him. Maybe he will shed some light on why the decision was made to merge, and maybe you were wrong. Maybe you were right! But, is that a reason to leave the family you once were happy to be a part of. Not if you look at our examples in Scripture. Second, get more involved. Maybe (again I have no idea because I do not know you) you did not know because you did not engage yourself in the church? Maybe this caught you by surprise because you were content to make your church life mainly about hearing a sermon. I could be wrong, but in case I am not, I thought I would say it. Lastly, before you accuse your pastor, or any other elder for that matter, for making `job security` decisions, make sure you follow 1 Timothy 5:19 and do so in the context of your local church in a way that honors the Lord. While frustrations are normal and should be expressed, it would not edify your church body if they read what you wrote. There is a way to vent that brings questions rather than accusations. Church life is hard and pastoring is not easy either. We are sinners, there will be conflict, and it will get ugly sometimes. But, the world will know that the Father sent Jesus by the way we seek reconcilation, forgive, endure, be merciful, and gracious. Like Jesus has been with us. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, is a great passage to consider. Anyway, this comes from a paid pastor who loves what he does and really and truly works enough hours to have two jobs, but by God`s grace has enough to live on with one salary. Also, thank you to my wife for her comments. She really loves the Lord Jesus and His church.

  18. 9-26-2011

    Hi Pastor Ron,

    (Are you in Quebec?)

    I wonder what you would say to the Pastor in this case? Is it true that he can (or should) unilaterally make this decision on behalf of all of the saints? (Which is how the case was described “‘Next Sunday our congregation will become part of Hope Christian Church,’… So, that’s it?… It’s over. No vote. No warning. Just, ‘Thanks for investing your lives here. Now you’re all joining this other Church…'”).

    Maybe some insiders were aware. Maybe Blake did only show up every Sunday and tithe. Still, it seems troubling that the first time such a family hears of the merger would be the Sunday before it took place.

    In your church, would you make this sort of decision without forewarning every attending member? I suspect you would at least be asking the saints to be in prayer about the opportunities, to explain some of the factors being considered and why, and to ask the members to share their views and concerns with you before a final decision was made. I suspect your members would have known months in advance, and that their concerns, hopes and fears would have been addressed.

    As described, I’m not sure who was leaving the church–“quitting, running, and beginning something new”–was it those members who wanted to continue on together, or the pastor in this case? Which is why I wondered why those who chose not to cut and run felt unable to remain with their church family and continue meeting without the professional.

  19. 9-26-2011

    I cannot comment on Blake’s case, because I don’t know the details. I can comment on a case that I was involved in.

    A few years ago, I was contacted by the pastor and deacons of a church in the area. They wanted to talk about merging. They told me they could not afford the upkeep on their building and they needed another church to come in and help them. I said that I would talk to the church about it, and that we would pray about it, and I suggested they talked to the church there as well. I also told them that I would be very surprised if the people we met with decided to begin paying the upkeep on a building. I also asked if the two groups (churches) could get together for lunch/dinner (we would provide the food) so that we could start getting to know each other.

    They did not want to tell their church until the decision had been made. They did not want to get the churches together until the two had been merged. They were not interested in talking unless our elders decided up front that we would move into their building with them and help pay for the upkeep. (I know all of this because they told me.) They never contacted me again. Instead, they closed up shop and sold their building to another church.

    Obviously, this is just one example. I would be surprised if this wasn’t closer to the norm (as we see in Blake’s case as well).

    -Alan

  20. 9-26-2011

    Art,
    Those are good questions. Of course making a decision to merge without telling the members is not right. There should be a long time of prayer and maybe even fasting. I would never lead my church to do sort of thing without their knowledge, input, prayer, and consultation.

    On the other hand, even if the decision was made wrongly, I would still argue that it is not a good enough reason to leave a church. It is easier to leave a church than work hard at it. I go back to my illustration in my previous comment. We would never give that kind of advice to a struggling married couple. Commitment to the body of Christ is to mirror that kind of commitment. Only after long, hard prayer and pursuit of reconcilation and/or rebuke (biblically) would I ever leave a church. In my humble opinion, leaving says more about ones relationship with God than it does about their relationship with the church. If one leaves, they should make sure they do so blamlessly, not justifying it with an attitude of “I did not get my way, so I’m out.”

  21. 9-26-2011

    Ron,

    Allow me to throw a hypothetical situation to you… Suppose this pastor made the decision to merge, and told they church they were merge. But the church met together and decided otherwise – they did not want to merge. Would it be right for the pastor to decide “I did not get my way, so I’m out”?

    -Alan

  22. 9-26-2011

    Alan,

    No. He should not leave either. Commmitment is more important than getting our way.

  23. 9-27-2011

    Ron,

    Do you think “Obey your leaders…” is the best translation of Hebrews 13:17? Should someone be “obeyed” or should people submit to someone who makes a decision that involves them as a group without discussing it with them?

    -Alan

  24. 9-28-2011

    Ron: I think that it’s more than possible to do all that God is calling you to do and still work a full-time job outside the Church because I do it every day.

    The challenge is mostly in how you define “all that God is calling you to do”. I’d argue that according to 1 Cor 12 what God calls us to do is only our part, not all the parts. That’s why there are 52 “one-anothers” throughout Scripture. If everyone operates as a Body, with Christ as the Head, it’s not only possible, it’s what God intended from the beginning, I believe.

  25. 9-28-2011

    Keith,

    I found this to be true as well. In fact, while things aren’t always done the way that I think they should be done, I’ve found that God does more through the whole church when I get out of the way and allow others to do things that are usually considered “the pastor’s job.”

    -Alan