01 Jan How to Handle Church Members Coming from Other Baptist Churches
One of the greatest problems a new church planter faces will be the answer to this question. “What do I do when someone comes to our church from another good Baptist church?” Every pastor eventually faces this dilemma, and how he handles this can either make or break a ministry.
The other side of this dilemma is, “What do I do when someone leaves our church for another good Baptist church?” When an individual or family makes this decision, it involves two pastors and two ministries. It is very important for these pastors to respond in such a way that this person or family is helped rather than hurt.
According to Ephesians 4:11-12, every pastor has a biblical responsibility to help believers mature. These verses are clear. “And he gave some, apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” If a pastor will build believers, Christ will build His church. Christ said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” The church is edified by the maturing of the saints, but the church is built by Christ. The goal is to make the saints complete, not to build a congregation. Christ will do that when we do what He has asked us to do.
Therefore, it should be the concern and responsibility of every pastor to consider what is best for believers. However, often this is not the case. Pastors think of how this person or family may benefit the ministry and help in building the young church. Pastors of these new churches take people from other good churches without even considering what the “real” situation is with this family. Many do not contact their pastor and let him know the family is attending their church. Sadly, pastors do not work together to help these believers. They listen to gossip and criticism that should not be listened to. They believe half-truths about other pastors, and Satan uses these believers to drive a wedge between men who should be working together to help build believers in the faith.
This is an awkward situation for all involved, and in most cases, this is not resolved properly. It would be helpful to follow several guidelines that may be beneficial to this family when all is said and done.
First of all, every pastor should make it a public policy in their church and to other pastors in the area, that as soon as a person or family attends their church more than once in a short period of time, they will contact the pastor of that individual and let him know they have attended. It may not be necessary for the pastor to call when a family visits one time, because there may be some extenuating circumstances that brought this family to their church. Having said that, the pastor should not visit or communicate with this family after they have come for one visit. He should welcome them and be friendly, but not make any overtures to this family to return for a second time. It may be they just wanted to come and be a blessing to this young church.
When a family makes a second visit, the pastor should immediately call their pastor and let him know that this family has attended their church more than once. He should make it clear to this pastor that he has not, and will not, make any overtures to this family to attend their church. He should also let the pastor know he has not visited or written even a thank you letter for attending the services. He should ask the pastor to follow up on this family with a visit, and that he will be praying for God to use the pastor to help this family. He should not allow this pastor to tell him anything about this family if the pastor indicates there are problems with them.
If this family continues to attend the services, the pastor should follow up with another call to the pastor and let him know that this family is still attending the services. He should find out if the pastor visited the family and the results of the visit. He should then ask the pastor how he should proceed. He should then suggest to the pastor that they make a joint visit with this family to see if they can help them. Hopefully, the pastor will be willing to do this. The reason for this is because this is in the best interest of the family involved and both churches.
It ought to be the desire of both pastors to help this family in their Christian life, and this joint visit could do much to accomplish this. First of all, this family will understand that these pastors want to work together to help this family, and they feel they are all on the same team. They have only one desire and that is to help this family be where God can use and bless them. Secondly, it will not allow this family to say something about either pastor which may be untrue or “colored.” With both pastors present, this family will have to face the reality of what they are doing and are not able to give reasons that are not accurate. This joint visit will also allow the pastor of this family to understand just why this family is attending the other church if he has not met with them previously.
This could be a difficult visit for the former pastor because there may be problems that this family brings up that are of a personal nature. If that is the case, he will do one of two things. One option is that he will refuse the joint visit with the family and tell the other pastor to just go ahead and work with the family. This is not a good option because there will be issues that are unresolved which may affect the spiritual well being of this family. It also leaves the new pastor unable to help a family that is hiding these problems thinking they will not affect them in this ministry. Every seasoned pastor knows the problems will reoccur if not dealt with properly. The second option would be that he will do his best to rectify or clarify these problems with this family so this family can serve the Lord without carrying “baggage” from the previous church.
This joint visit could be the very help this family needs. If they have spiritual problems (many of them do), then their pastor can help them see that the new pastor must know about these problems. They need to understand they cannot just go to another church and “hide” these problems. The new pastor will see these issues and be able to deal with this family effectively because he knows the problems up front. Some families may not continue to attend when they know the new pastor knows the spiritual problems they are bringing with them to the new ministry.
This visit could also help the new pastor see that this family will give their ministry nothing but problems. If this family begins to make accusations about the previous pastor, he will be able to see that this family is not the kind of family he wants in his ministry. If they act that way in the previous church, they will carry out the same actions in their church. Also, this family may not agree to meeting with their former pastor. If that is the case, then this family is not willing to face their problems and that will be carried over to the new church. The pastor should then let them know that they are not welcome to attach themselves to their church through membership and should remain in their previous church and work out the problems they have. It is very unwise for a new pastor to take in people that have these difficulties. They will cause problems and may end up destroying the church. Sadly, many pastors think it will be different when they get under their ministry, but it is not the case.
Pastor R. B. Ouelette shared an observation with this writer several years ago that is helpful. He said that Baptist preachers are a strange lot. A pastor has a man in the church that is a good man. He is faithful to all the services and serving the Lord. One day, he misses a Wednesday evening and then soon a Sunday evening or two. Eventually, he quits all together. The pastor goes to visit him, prays for him, but eventually just goes on with the ministry. The same thing happens with another man in the church. He is not all that faithful but attends and gives. He all of a sudden begins to miss and eventually is not around at all. The pastor visits this man and finds he is going to another good Baptist church in the area. He is growing, attending all the services, and serving the Lord faithfully. Pastor Ouelette went on to say that pastors get bitter and upset about the second man, but hardly pray for and eventually forget about the first man. He said a pastor should be upset and hurt about the first church member and happy for the second. Sadly, in most cases this is not true. Pastors get bitter and harbor resentment about members who leave their church for another good Baptist church. When a pastor thinks logically about this, he will react as Brother Ouelette suggested.
Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Ask any pastor if he wants a family in his church that is not in unity with the ministry and he would say, “Absolutely not.” However, many pastors have just the opposite reaction when someone leaves that is not in unity with their ministry. Pastors often talk disparagingly for months and years about people who left their ministry for another good ministry. Why is that? Is it because they want the financial or physical help? Likely this family was not helping anyway. It may be that the pastor feels hurt because he could not get this family to follow his leadership, but the fact is, not everyone thinks like we do. It could be just a personality difference. When a family that is not in unity with our church leaves the church, is it not better to have another good Baptist church they can attend? Dr. Jim Townsley once said, “Every good Baptist church helps every other good Baptist church.” This is a very true statement when pastors will work together to help their families serve in unity in a local church.
It is unlikely these suggestions will solve all the “people problems” when someone decides to leave a good Baptist church to attend another good Baptist church. There are some people you cannot please or help no matter what a good pastor does. However, if these guidelines are followed, it may help in several ways. First of all, pastors may remain friends and work together for the successful growth of all the believers. Secondly, it may keep some individuals or families from pitting one pastor against another. A third result may be to help retain harmony and unity not only in local churches but between local churches. All of these are good things and pastors should develop policies that will lead to these results