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.
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?