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.”