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“No one supported me.”

“I didn’t matter to anyone.”

“You didn’t even care.”

Those are among the hardest things a pastor can hear from his congregation, whether it’s about him directly or not. These lines are  also some of the most biting things a church member can say and, no doubt, one of the most painful things a church member can feel. And yet the feelings are felt, and even the thoughts expressed, quite frequently in the life of the church.

The situations which lead people to feel unloved are easy to imagine.

•    A pastor fails to visit a family after their daughter is tragically killed in a car accident.

•    A new couple visits the church for 6 months. They never get invited to the pastors’ home. So they start looking at other churches.

•    A new graduate student feels invisible because he’s single and shy. No one makes an effort to get to know him. After a few months slipping in the service, he gives up on your church, and maybe on church altogether.

•    A young man gets a call from the elders because he’s gotten a girl pregnant. He’s never met the elders before and now feels like he’s facing the inquisition. He doesn’t deny he’s sinned, but the pastoral care he’s now receiving seems unloving.

•    One of your pillar families grows spotty in their attendance on Sunday morning. Eventually they drop out altogether. By the time you notice, they’ve been gone six months. Once you call, it’s too little too late.

•    A new mother notices she isn’t invited to the mom’s Bible study. She’s not sure why, but she assumes it has something to do with her background. After a year of feeling isolated her family leaves the church because it is too cliquish.

The scenarios are endless and they are all painful, for the sheep and for the shepherds. So how should church members respond when they feel unloved, unsupported, or like outsiders in their church? And how should church leaders respond when they are criticized for being unconcerned or the church is faulted for being unloving?

The easy response is to assume that the other side is always wrong. I’ve talked with Christians before (not necessarily from my congregation) who harbor a long list of grievances with their church. They never stop to consider that they might be something other than helpless victims. They might be part of the problem. On the flip side, I’ve been at pastors’ gatherings where the assumption behind all the conversations, jokes, and complaining is that they’re ministering faithfully and the church just doesn’t get it.

Both sides would be helped to ask a few questions before putting their feet together and jumping to conclusions.

We’ll look at those questions over the next two days.


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36 thoughts on “Dealing With Disappointment in the Church (1)”

  1. Ross says:

    Growing up in the 1960’s, we saw the elders in our home 1x per year. They asked my father if he was teaching his family the Bible, right in front of his wife and kids. Later we were excused and they talked about “grown up stuff” It seemed to work!

  2. Kolin says:

    Ross,
    We visit the homes of each of our believers( i.e. families) twice a year.
    Some like their children to be there.
    Some like the children to be there , only at the end when we pray for the family.

    these are scheduled visits – but 99% of the time without a particular specific purpose.
    i.e. it gives us a chance to speak to the families, and them to us – regarding any questions or problems they (or we) may have – in the family, church or their own spiritual walk.
    ( Although we usually leave a free week each month, when we can schedule a visit to a family whom we know need a visit)

    Some families like to have the visit, just for a chat.
    Some have a whole list of questions for you.

    however, what i think it does, is to pave the way for going to their homes (for any specific reason) in the future.

    The visits ( although hard work) seem to work well, and we have positive feedback.

  3. Reg Schofield says:

    The command of Jesus is that we love one another and by doing so the world will know we are his. But in reality have we been really doing this . No one is without some fault in this shameful exhibition .My home church tries to encourage small groups and that is vitally important for building community in a larger congregation . My problem with this model is sometimes it can become very dividing at the same time . A church with a solid leadership of Elders and a active and functioning Deacon can truly make a difference . Plus we have have to get back to the concept that gathering on Sunday is a coming together of a Christ knitted together community . For the Christian it is the real community. I’m looking forward to your suggestions.

  4. Wayne Sage says:

    I haven’t a helpful comment, but I am looking forward to following the discussion. And I’ll certainly remember you in prayer as you write these posts. God bless your work and thanks.

  5. Kevin, thanks for this post. It seems God is combining several resources to speak to me and our elders at Cornerstone EFC, here in Rochester, MN. I’vejust completed Timothy Z. Witmer’s book, “The Shepherd Leader.” I’ll be leading my other two elders through this book during the remainder of April and then on into May. We’ve been working, very slowly, on how to improve our “Contact Ministry” with our people and your post and Witmer’s book have truly been used to spur me on to make sure our people know they are loved: by God and by His people.

  6. Hayden says:

    Wittner’s book is a good resource. Thanks for this article, it speaks to me as a Pastor.

  7. Paul says:

    Provoking entry here, Kevin, on a perennial concern near to your (and my) heart. I wonder, is there really a parity of responsibility here shared between leadership and lay or pastor and member? After all, the weight of the burden when I enter your house of worship is for the host to make me feel welcomed, loved, valued, et al. Of course, it’s entirely up to me to respond in a biblically faithful way. At the end of the day when paths separate, one party is more responsible (all things considered) than another. Otherwise, there’s no reason to leave a church!

  8. Scott says:

    I have just asked my elders to read portions of Witmer’s book. We are meeting for a full day to discuss it and see how we can do a better job of shepherding our people.

  9. David Axberg says:

    Like Paul above I too would love to hear the responsibility on the congregant. Is the Joy in the ministry of the church stolen by disgruntled congregants? The minister’s /elders Joy is lived out by the way the lives of the congegants correct? Who is more responsible? Trick question only the Holy Spirit is but only if the full counsel of God is preached so the Living Word can act in the lives of the church. Correct?

    Looking forward to the nex couple of days. We as a family are praying for you and the rest at T4G. God Bless Now!

  10. Shawn says:

    I am also looking forward to the next few days. What Witmer book is everyone talking about?

  11. Mike says:

    I have been struggling with this issue for years in the church I attend. I was especially devastated when my mother had two heart surgeries and was on the prayer list and no one not even the pastor ever asked me about her. That hurt. Then one day I realized that though I too prayed for our congregation in the prayer list I had never myself taken time to ask others about their prayer needs either. That’s when the Holy Spirit convicted me that I was not without fault either. We all need to carry one another’s burdens and it begins with prayer and letting others know that we are indeed lifting them up before the Lord.

  12. Olive Haney says:

    I’m a member of a large Sovereign Grace Ministries church and we have Community Groups where we serve each other and pray together. Nobody slips through the cracks (so to speak). Our Pastors will visit a group if invited or if there is some problem to be addressed. The pastors interact with the Com. Group leaders regularly and thereby are involved with us all. Our pastors are always ready and willing to meet with anyone who feels the need. I am very satisfied with my church.
    I think members have a responsibility to participate as a member of a family would; sharing their thoughts and feelings, with a spirit of giving and receiving. Also, if one’s expectations are not too high, they won’t be disappointed.
    (just wondering — why are there not more women who comment here.)

  13. LaughingLady says:

    Hi, Olive! I comment here occasionally, too, but mostly I just read! I feel very “out-brained” here most of the time, but I love to learn.

  14. William E. Jones says:

    This is an excellent topic, but a very complicated one. I think our structure of leadership in the Church, with a “Senior Pastor” places extraordinary pressure on one person to be the “face of the Church,” as it were. I have a friend who has done enormous research into church history and argues convincingly that the position of “Senior Pastor” is largely man-made. The New Testament Churches had a plurality of teaching elders, where no one person was “The Senior Pastor” with all the burden and expectations that go along with that.

    Temperament also plays a role. A natural introvert (like me) will often wait to be asked how he/she is doing, what is happening in his/her life, and what needs he or she has. But this isn’t realistic, especially in a larger congregation. Still the expectation is often, “If they care, they will ask.”

    How a church presents itself is also important. Is Church only a place where I come to get? Is it like a movie or sporting event, or any other product of cultural consumption, where I shop for the best product and stick with it if it meets my needs, or leave it if it doesn’t? As terrible as this is, I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes think of Church in this way.

    There’s a lot more to be said on this subject…

  15. A. Amos Love says:

    Kevin

    When, “Dealing with disappointment in the church” isn’t the First challenge;
    What church are we talking about?

    1 – Is there disappointment in “The Church of God?” Where Jesus is the master?
    He is the head of the body, (the ekklesia, the called out one’s), the Church? Col 1:18

    2 – Or, Is the disappointment in “the church of baptist?” Where man is the master?
    (Or pick a “Title/Label.” Any “Religious Corporation” most call church?)

    1 – In “The Church of God” “His Disciples” are “Servants.”
    NOT “exercising authority” or “lording it over” God’s heritage.
    (Mat 20:25, Mark 10:42, Luke 22:25,) (2Cor 1:24, 1Pet 5:3, 3 John 9)

    2 – In “the church of man” most so-called “Servant-Leaders” act
    like they are called to be “Leaders” of the “Servants.”
    They teach a lot about “Obey your Leaders” but, NOT much teaching
    or “examples to the flock” of submitting one to another, and
    esteeming others better then themselves. Eph 5:21, Php 2:3,

    My experience with “Servant-Leaders” and being in “leadership” shows me…

    Everyone who assumes the position of “Servant-Leader”

    No matter how loving, eventually…
    No matter how humble, eventually…
    No matter how much a servant, eventually…

    Will “exercise authority” and “lord it over” God’s sheep.
    Thus – disqualifying themselves from the position.
    But will they remove themselves? Hmmm?

    That’s always the beginning of “disappointment” and “spiritual abuse.”

    “Servant-Leader” = exercise authority = lord it over = abuse = always.

    1 – In “The Church of God” Jesus calls them, “My Sheep.”

    2 – In “the church of man” the leader thinks they are his sheep.
    The leader uses terms like, My church, my sheep, my people. :-(

    1 – In “The Church of God” “His Disciples” do NOT take “Titles.” Only “Servant.”
    “His Disciples” are NOT called rabbi/teacher, master/leader/teacher. Mat 23:10 KJV

    2 – In “the church of man” there are many “Titles” taken – NOT in the Bible.
    Pope, Cardinal, Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Reverend, Right Reverend,
    Most Holy Right Reverend, Clergy, Vicar, Head Elder, and the list goes on.

    Did anyone have the “Title” “pastor/reverend” in the Bible?
    Were any congregations led by a “pastor/reverend” in the Bible?

    Seems to me the disappointment is found within “the church of man.” :-(

    Jesus, and “His Ekklesia” is doing just fine. Being “Led” by the Spirit. Thank you Jesus. ;-)

  16. Rebecca says:

    Why is it that those coming into the assembly always respond to the group with “They didn’t ___ this to me or that to me”? What if one goes into the assembly with the attitude “What can I contribute? Where can I be a servant among God’s people?” Revolutionary? NO! Hardly not to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who was truly a servant to all and taught us to be just like Him.

  17. dale jackman says:

    This is a very big problem in many Churches I think. I think the talk of structural responses in many of the posts above is misguided and part of the problem. Church members need to be treating each other and our fellow human beings with love which is a heart attitude of caring from one human being to another, not ticking a task off a list.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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