Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not a member? No ministering for you!

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another the members of your church." (John 13:35 SRV, Seminary Revised Version)

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith by which I mean members of your church because Christians who aren't members are not your problem. (Galatians 6:10 SRV)

I often harbor concerns that my blogging can be interpreted as being "anti-pastor" when it really is not intended that way. I am absolutely anti-clericalism, anti-professionalization and anti-hierarchy. Quite the opposite of being "anti-pastor", many of the most godly brothers I know are pastors (but many more are not) and I think we need a lot more shepherding and pastoral care in the church rather than less of it. Of course what I mean by that is not more sermons.

Not a member of "my church"?
 No ministering for you! 
What I am "anti-" is the majority of the religious-corporate industrial complex that sucks the life out of the church and a great deal of the resources to boot. This is a top down process where a number of prominent professional "teachers" are constantly feeding sincere, godly men who want to serve the church and His sheep with a bunch of horse manure and calling it "discernment".  Not all but a many of the professional leadership teachers in the church resemble the condemned shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34

The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. (Ezekiel 34:1-6)

What a great deal of it is obviously designed to do is reinforce religious institutional norms, suppress any uncomfortable questions and keep the machinery of the religious-corporate complex moving, which is critical because it allows these guys to keep making a very nice, very comfy living off of the hard work of the rest of the church. Does that sound harsh? It is nowhere near harsh enough.

There is plenty of this going on. Case in point, a post from "VFT" or "Valiant For Truth" on the blog of Westminster Seminary, California (Oh, and the irony of a posting under the pseudonym "Valiant For Truth" while hiding behind internet anonymity is not lost on me. Valiant indeed.). 

Since Westminster Seminary is the home of R. Scott Clark and some of the other most vocal advocates of the most virulent forms of institutionalism this is not really a surprise but the brutal honesty is, if not refreshing, at least indicative of the mindset at work. The post is titled A Pastor’s Reflections: The Benefits of Membership but what it sounds more like is a Mafia protection racket. When "benefits" are linked to what amounts to extortion I am not really sure who is benefiting. Or maybe I am.

The opening paragraph poses the question of whether some Christians are more important than others:

Are some people more special than others? As the pastor, to whom do you owe your time? These are important questions because you will have people pulling on your calendar and schedule and you’ll have to decide to whom, among the many people you encounter, you should give your time. Let me illustrate this point. At any given time you will have people in your church who need consistent and regular counseling. You might set up a weekly time to get together with a person in your church who is struggling with a besetting sin. You might meet with him for prayer, Bible study, and counsel. But what should you do when you have a visitor to your church, a person who needs counseling and a large investment of your time? To whom do you give priority? To the member or to the visitor?

Right away we see the division of the church into "My members" and "other Christians". This is understandable coming from  the mindset of the religious-corporate industrial complex. "Members" are your employers. They pay your salary, they hired you and they can fire you. You need to keep them happy so they keep the paychecks coming. Of course this is also the result of a system where "ministry" is concentrated in one employee of the church meaning that the time allotted for "ministry" is limited to what he can fit in his calendar. I guess I think it might be better if we concerned ourselves with those who are in the greatest need rather than prioritizing who we minister to based on who signs our paycheck. Then "Valiant" answers his own question (emphasis mine):

For me, this was always (and still is) an easy question to answer. I always gave priority to members of the church. You see, there are benefits of church membership. A church member has made a commitment to join the congregation, serve the other members of the body, and even contribute in various ways to the life of the church.


Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! If you read this: "even contribute in various ways to the life of the church " and don't see it as code for "put money in the offering plate", you haven't been paying attention. Notice also the language being used here "I always give priority to members of the church". Again "the church" means "my church". The rest of the church? They are someone else's problem. If you have ever suffered through a sales pitch for an extended warranty or a time-share you might recognize some of the language being used here.

The visitor, on the other hand, has made no such commitment. I have found over the years that many visitors would do their best to take up a lot of my time, use a lot of church resources, and then leave after a while. Like someone using a free trial membership, once the time came to make a commitment they would flee and move on to the next church to do the same. Too many people treat the church like a gym—once the church no longer suits their needs, they dispose of it.

I am sure this is somewhat true. There are unfortunately a lot of people who see local churches as a place to go for a freebie. Or maybe once people get what they need they move on because there is no love for them, no inclusion, no sense of belonging unless they submit to a manmade set of rules and structures. In short there is nothing there of any value beyond what they needed in a pinch. 

As the pastor, you have an obligation to place the needs of your sheep first. Visitors are important—you should look out for their needs—seek to show them the love of Christ. But you must set some boundaries. I would meet with visitors, try to help them with their problems, but then I always ended the conversation with something like this: “I’m more than willing to help you, but you have to understand that apart from becoming a church member, I’m rather limited in what I can do. I have to take care of my sheep. They have, after all, made a commitment and joined the church. Moreover, they have brought themselves under the accountability of the elders of the church. Apart from church discipline, counseling lacks the needed teeth of accountability. If you are willing to join the church, then I can offer more assistance and counseling, but apart from membership, there is only so much we can do.”

Hey there, I can see you are in need of help. Sorry but I really don't have time for you unless you submit to an extra-biblical scheme of "church membership" which means whatever I want it to mean since it appears nowhere in the Bible. I mean, how can I minister to you unless I can threaten you with church discipline? So either sign up or shut up, your call. Have a blessed day!

Whoever "Valiant For Truth" is, he needs to learn that those are not "his sheep", they are "His sheep". Also we see the employer-employee mentality on display here again. I wouldn't expect an employee of Target to go to a Wal-Mart to stock shelves. I would however expect someone who claims he is my brother to help me out without demanding that I join his little religious club first. 

Far too many are willing to shack-up with a church—they want to attend, they want to listen to the sermons, they want to receive financial assistance, they want the option to stay home on some Sundays—they want all of the benefits but none of the commitment or responsibility. These types of people can take you away from the sheep in your congregation, those who deserve your pastoral care because they have made a commitment to Christ and the church. Recognize that there are benefits to church membership, and you as the pastor must guard against neglecting your sheep.

THEY ARE NOT YOUR SHEEP!


Hate to break it to ya VFT but lots and lots and lots of Christians are at least as committed to Christ and the church as you are but are not "members" of any local church, much less your local church. This tired, damaging and dangerous notion that attendance=commitment has no basis in Scripture and has been harming the church for 1700+ years. As an aside, I didn't realize that we were only obligated to minister to those people who "deserved your pastoral care". I thought that actual pastoral care was not interested in who is deserving or worthy of it. I left that sort of mindset behind when we left mormonism and mailed our "temple recommends" back to Salt Lake City

Can you imagine how this would play out in Acts 6:1-6?

"Hey apostles, the Hellenists are complaining about their widows being neglected in favor of the Hebrew widows!"

"Well are the Hellenist widows members of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem?"

"No"

"Well there is not much we can do about it, we only have time for our members. If they would like to become members we can maybe help them out"


So they called seven men of good repute to teach membership classes.

Ironically some of the most critically important pastoral care I have received came from a brother that I call friend today, at a crisis moment in my life and we were not "members" of "his" church. He nevertheless, in love, without complaint and free of charge, ministered to me for quite a while when he could have been doing stuff for the "members" but he saw a brother in need and stepped up. He never once used or needed to use "church discipline" as a stick to threaten me. Ministering to someone in love without obligation or stipulations is actual love.

If someone won't minister to you because you aren't a member of "his church", he isn't a minister in any Christian sense of the word. If you fancy yourself a minister and think that Christians who don't have their name on a list on your church computer aren't your problem, you need to repent in sackcloth and ashes and read the New Testament again. Legitimacy of brotherhood is not based on proximity or extra-biblical requirements. It is based solely on a regenerate heart and a confession of Christ as Lord.

I have to say I often finish a post and wonder if I was too harsh. I finished this post and wondered if I was harsh enough.

4 comments:

Aussie John said...

Arthur,
"Does that sound harsh?"

Not at all! It reads very truthful and realistic to this old timer of long experience!

Neil Braithwaite said...

I love this post!

But it's not just the non-members that are getting the shaft, but the members as well. I call it Shepherding Backwards:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep." John 10:11-15

Unfortunately, today's corporate church model has the biblical shepherding concept completely backwards. Under today's corporate church model, the needs of the shepherd and the institution supersede the needs of the sheep.

Under today's corporate church model, the sheep meet the needs of the shepherd and the entire corporate entity first, and then, budget permitting, the needs of the sheep can be addressed. And to that extent, the needs of many in the church body go unmet. And that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul referred to as a "BURDEN" on the church.

Under today's corporate church model, many people view the church as no different than any other secular corporate business, with the pastor as the CEO - working to grow the business and make his way up the financial corporate ladder. And to that extent, many lost souls want nothing to do with the "church," while thousands continue to leave the church every year, sighting the corporate model as being more concerned with maintaining its existence and image than helping the needy members of the body of Christ. And that's exactly what the Apostle Paul referred to as a "HINDRANCE" to the gospel.

No amount of justification can dismiss these two grievous realities, or the tragic negative effects they continue to have on the gospel and body of Christ today. And that's why the Apostle Paul went so far as to say that he would rather die than ever take a salary - and also why there is NO evidence in the New Testament of today's corporate church model.

Bobby Auner said...

Love you dude

damancd said...

Good work here King Arthur. To be fair it's not unusual for you. I can also relate to being in a situation when a 'pastor' of another church invested a great deal of time in helping me even though I wasn't a 'member' of his congregation. It's refreshing when others recognise that as long as you're a brother or sister in Christ you should get the care you need, rather than put up the membership issue as a barrier to effectively loving your brother or sister. Indeed as others better than I have said, you have not been too harsh at all. Your restraint is admired.