Pastors and elders, the next time you are criticized for being unloving or unconcerned, ask yourselves:

1. Do we have some mechanism for personally knowing our sheep? As leaders, we will give an account for how well we watched over our people’s souls (Heb. 13:7). The Bible doesn’t mandate only one way for doing member care, but we must work to have some process in place. If we never ask, “How is the congregation doing?” or better yet, “How are you doing?” we should not be surprised to find lots of people falling through the cracks.

2. Do we have some way of knowing when people are not showing up at church? You can eyeball it, check the friendship pads, or spy out the church mailboxes, but we need to have a general sense of who is not making faithful use of the means of grace. Our Book of Church Order stipulates we talk about it at every elders’ meeting. The first step to noticing who’s missing is to start looking and start talking about it.

3. Are we confronting cliquishness in our church? The line between community and clique is often blurry. But if there’s one central difference it’s openness. A healthy community welcomes new people in. A clique finds ways to keep new people out. Pastors need to confront the problem of “closed circles” head on–in preaching, in structural decisions, and in one on one conversations. The leaders also need to make sure they are not in a closed circle themselves. Good friends are good. Good friends to the exclusion of everyone else is very bad.

4. Are there easy, identifiable ways for the shy, the non go-getters, and the more culturally reserved to get involved and be known by others? The confident entrepreneurs will make their way in the church just fine. But well-advertised entry points and personal invitations are required for many others.

5. Is it at least possible that we are more at fault than we think? Leadership doesn’t mean saying you’re sorry every time Mr. Sensitive feels offended. But it does mean always being open to the possibility that you’ve screwed up more than you thought.

6. Have we made promises we didn’t deliver on? There’s nothing more deadly than well-publicized, poorly executed good intentions. The elders launch a family visitation program, but only make it to half the homes. A pastor agrees to follow up his lobby conversation with a phone call and then forgets all about it. The church promises every member will get a mentor, but it ends up there aren’t enough mentors to go around. Don’t set the bar so high you’re bound to crash into it.

7. Are these critics generally critical? Pastors can waste their time with divisive grumblers. When they do so they are often too worn out to listen when a loyal member offers a thoughtful critique. We shouldn’t spend a lot of time on the squeaky wheels unless it’s an unfamiliar squeak. In other words, consider the source and remember “faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

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19 thoughts on “Dealing With Disappointment in the Church (2)”

  1. Mason says:

    I know you’re making it clear that it ‘can’ go both ways, but it keeps feeling like the assumption is that the visitor / member is at fault unless there is good reason to think otherwise. If I’m misreading you then disregard my comment, but if I’m not then I wanted to ask what experiences lead you to use that starting point?
    I know there are people who are difficult and critical no matter what (having spent years on a church board I saw plenty of this), but maybe it would be better to assume we as leaders are at fault unless there is a reason to believe the visitor / member has a harsh spirit and just wants to be difficult?

  2. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Mason, I don’t mean for the assumption to be one party is at fault more than the other. I wrote these questions for pastors/leaders so they can reflect on the ways they’ve missed the mark. If there is a starting point with these questions it’s from the vantage point of the pastor who doesn’t feel at fault but needs to consider the possibility that he is (at least in part). Tomorrow’s questions will be from the opposite vantage point.

  3. Hayden says:


    I thought that #1,3,4,5,6,7 were all directed at the shepherds and not necessarily the members. Go back and read through them. Kevin is trying to get the shepherds to shepherd. We all have to remember Hebrews 13:17 which addresses both sides of the issue in one verse.

  4. Mason says:

    Fair enough, i understand the list is intended to make the leaders examine if indeed they are at fault, and I appresiate the clarification. I suppose what struck me is just that it seemed predicated by the idea that we ought to presume it is them unless we see it’s a reason it could be us. That rubbed me wrong but I probably over-read the post and apologize for being more confrontational than intended.

  5. Rebekah in Socal says:

    Thank you for this post. I am not an elder but do lead a women’s Bible study and found these points very helpful in evaluating the health of my group and the quality of my shepherding.

  6. Excellent post, thank you. These things are so true and so necessary for leaders and pastors to put into practice.

  7. chris says:

    I am a sheep. Here is what I want: a minister who preaches the Word and serves the sacraments with love and passion (period). Do these well and forget about the rest.

    DO NOT: pander to me, set up programs to make feel included, make sure I am part of some stupid program that will die in a year, check the box with my name next to it, sing ridiculous “relevant” songs to make me feel like you “know where I am at”, wear t-shirts with rock bands on them, baggy-ass jeans, hair-products, try and be a “culture-changer”.

    As a sheep I will learn to love my God and love my neighbor and I will fit in where God has made me to fit in. I have a life outside of the doors of the church, and will do just fine if you do your job well.

    Thank you.
    In Christ,
    «Drummer, Digital Programmer, Art Director»

  8. Good for you Chris.

    It sounds like you have a strong faith or a confident personality, or both. Praise God.

    Can I ask, though, what are you doing for the weaker brother who needs the encouragement of fellow believers in order to be strengthened in the faith. This is not a small theme in the New Testament.

    I can do without most of the items in your second paragraph, but maybe programs to make me feel included are (or at least can be) part of loving my neighbour. Further, while a leader needs to preach the gospel and present the sacraments, it would be a mistake to think this is all the New Testament calls a pastor to do.

    Can I suggest that God might have given you your bold confident personality and strong faith exactly so that you could have the strength to minister to those with weaker faith and weaker ties to the believing community. We should be encouraging, rather than despising, the weaker vessels.

    Something for you to think about.

    God Bless,
    Michael Hutton,
    NSW, Australia

  9. David Taylor says:

    I may be grumbling, but . . . I think disappointment in the body is a two way street. It is the responsibility of ‘members’ to connect and be shepherded as well as Leadership’s responsibility to shepherd members. Here are common complaints I have heard in my 20 years of pastoring: Our (or your; as if it is really mine) church is not friendly, people do not reach out to me. But as a members, all of us are to pursue being friendly and reaching out to others. I have actually heard one person say we are the friendliest and the coldest church in the same week! I have heard people say that no one invites them over. So I ask, have you invited someone over lately? I have no real friends here. With that I ask, who was the last person you pursued to build into and what small group are you in? We are not perfect and I am always striving for our elders to be and do more shepherding. I also realize that the way we ‘do church’ is nothing like the house churches of the early church. It is much easier, in some ways, to ‘shepherd’ my small group than it is 150 to 200.

  10. Rich says:

    The divides in America between Right and Left, Conservative and Liberal, Religious and Secular are real, important, and not going away.

    There are voices of clarity out there, helping to delineate the divides so that the rest of us can line up behind the positions we agree with.

    Here is one of the most important articles you will ever read:

  11. Jason Mallow says:

    Kevin I think you’ve hit on one under acknowledged part of church disappointment, church “cliquishness” or more appropriately church culture. EVERY church has it’s own set of accepted norms that are invisible to those within. Not that those norms are bad on there own, but sometimes it takes an “outsider” (that single, working, divorcee mother) to reveal what has moved from a norm of convenience or preference to a prerequisite norm of implied conviction. Apart of a leaders job is to recognize the norms and clearly delineate between what is a normative corporate conviction (this is our statement of faith), the distinction between a normative corporate preference and a legitimate personal one (this is how we choose to worship you may disagree), and what is normal for THIS church due to convenience (we meet at these times and have these ministries). The danger is when matters of cultural convenience (i.e. most in the church homeschool) become matters of cultural preference and promotion (our church has a homeschool co-op ministry)that then become unspoken matters of prerequisite conviction (if you really want to fellowship with us as a church you need to homeschool).
    A good way to combat this trending in church culture is actually point number four- is the leadership actively looking to structurally promote involvement and inclusion in the church with those who are outside our particular social norms?

  12. Chris says:

    Michael Hutton,
    Hey there. My main point is that the things that Kevin is asking are not the problem of the pastor- who in our day is expected to be a CEO or company manager — but of the people. One-anothering will happen if the pastor just does his job. Depth of bible teaching and real worship is what changes people.

    The sheep will learn how to love God, one another and their neighbor if the ministry is doing what the apostles did- committing themselves to the word and prayer. Every member is an essential part of the body, but not necessarily some kind of formal program.

    No doubt, we need to love one another, but the pastor is not the facilitator- the Holy Spirit is. Too much emphasis has been put on the pastor- distracting him from the the very thing that will actually bring change.

    Feed the sheep with the means of grace and the sheep will grow, the sheep will come, the sheep will mature.

    Sure, the pastor shouldn’t be an a*****e, and the elders need to chill-out when it comes to lording over the people- and so many norms need to be dropped. (I was once a part of a presbyterian church where being an Anglo-phile was considered some kind of expression of sanctification. It was bizarre and silly).

    Again, my main point is directed at the role of the pastor. We sheep need to start taking more responsibility for one-another, which is actually one of the first principles of the Christian faith: I am responsible (2 Samuel 24:24). We need to stop laying so much at the pastor’s and elders’ feet.


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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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