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As for the hurting and disappointed, before you criticize your leaders ask yourselves these questions:

1. Did I ever ask for help? Pastors and elders are not omniscient. Even with the best shepherding strategies people will fall through the cracks. So if you really need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. I know everyone wants to be noticed. But it’s hard for a dozen guys to notice five hundred or two dozen to notice two thousand. Help your leaders help you.

2. Have I overlooked opportunities to fit in and get to know people? Before you complain that you’ve been at the church six months and still don’t know anyone, think about ways you could get known in the next six months. Is there a small group you could join? Could you attend the smaller, more informal evening service? What about volunteering for the nursery next time the sign up sheet goes around? Have you tried the potlucks and picnics and prayer meetings? Giving love and being loved is 90% just showing up.

3. Is it realistic for the leaders to give to every person in this church the kind of care I expect? It’s easy to think “All I wanted was one visit. You can’t tell me they were too busy to set aside one night for my family.” But remember you aren’t the only person at the church. If the general level of care you expect from your leaders cannot be multiplied by the number of people in the church, then you may be hoping for too much. If you expect everything, you’ll always be disappointed.

4. If I really wanted to be loved and noticed why did I stop showing up? On the one hand, church leaders should know when their members have drifted away. Good shepherds keep an eye on their sheep. But on the other hand, if sheep want to be cared for by the flock, they shouldn’t stay from it. People get hurt when their church absence isn’t noticed. But I have a hard time feeling too much sympathy, unless you’re dealing with a shut-in or someone whose absence is not voluntary. Don’t run away if you want to be found.

5. Am I willing to consider that I may be at fault more than I realize? If it feels like your leaders can never do anything right, maybe you’re the one making life miserable–for them and for you.

6. Is it possible I’ve overlooked ways the body has cared for me because I was hoping a different part of the body would care for me? Sometimes church members will say, “Sure, my small group sent me cards but the pastor never called.”  Or, “Yes the pastors were very friendly to greet me after church, but no one my age ever said hello.” Or, “I know the elders care for me, but that’s their job.” Or conversely, “True, my friends prayed for me, but I never heard from my elder.” Before you get angry, remember the goal is for the body to care for the body, not for the shoulder to always get a special backrub from its favorite hand.

7. In general have I found this church and these leaders to be unloving and unsupportive? If the answer is yes, and Question 5 is dealt with too, then you may need a different church. But if the answer is no, consider giving your church and your leaders the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just botched this one. We all get it wrong sometimes. I know I have. Maybe they were too busy and dropped the ball. Or maybe you don’t know the whole story. In any event, don’t let one misstep color your whole impression of their ministry.

For both sheep and shepherds the indispensable requirements for living together are love and humility. Love to treat others as we want to be treated. Humility to consider how we may be at fault. Disappointment in the church is bound to happen. But it doesn’t have to destroy the unity of the body. The Lord can use our hurts to make all of us slower to speak and quicker to listen.


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42 thoughts on “Dealing With Disappointment in the Church (3)”

  1. Thank you. I needed that.

  2. Dave Wilson says:

    Good stuff Kevin. This should be required reading for those who are disappointed with the church and its leaders.

    Missed your other posts on this topic. Did you recommend that people share their disappointment with their leader rather than with others in the church?

    Thanks,
    Dave

  3. Hayden says:

    Kevin,

    Good stuff, except #7 should be expanded to ‘if you feel your church is unloving, how have you tried to change the atmosphere?’ Leaving a church because it is a hard place to be in is abandoning the work that the Lord is placed in front of you. Too often people ‘jump ship’ when it is hard instead of pitch in and make it better.

    A timely list for me to read though.

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Hayden, agreed. People are quick to jump ship. I wouldn’t want people to be quick to find another church when they conclude their leaders are unsupportive. As for Dave’s question, in many cases it is probably best to leave the feelings of hurt unspoken. It is a glory to overlook an offense. But if the sin is serious or the hurt is rising to the level of bitterness, it is, of course, wise to talk to the persons who have hurt you rather than talking about them.

  5. Lou G says:

    I’m enjoying your series – thanks Kevin.
    Question on #1: In the case of the larger church, do you think that a 1/80 ratio for church member to elder/pastor is a healthy number? Or could it be that the larger churches might need a more proactive approach regarding shepherding?

    Question on #3:
    What if you have a church member who has been active, supportive, low-maintenace for 10-15 years, but is now struggling and needs pastoral support? Is it wrong to expect access to the pastor?

    Thanks!

  6. Chris says:

    Romans 12:10

  7. Jen says:

    Hey Pastor,

    Great series. Is it really unrealistic to expect your shepherding elder to ‘give you just one visit (#3)?’ It seems difficult for my elder to know what is going on in my life/shepherd me well with out some sort of personal contact. Is visitation ‘expecting everything’ or just wanting elders to faithfully shepherd? It seems that although the scripture doesn’t prescribe a certain method, it does dictate a level of ‘knowing’ in order to shepherd.

  8. David Axberg says:

    Love what you have said, the unity is broken when bitterness and strife come into play. Most times it comes from us and we need to look into the mirror to have someone to truely complain to. I think it was JFK that said “Ask not what your church can do for you better ask what you can do for your church!” ;-) You haftah say that with a boston accent you know Pahk tha Cah and all that.

    God Bless still praying for you to have a great T4G conference.

  9. Russ says:

    Great stuff thanks for making me think.

  10. Laura says:

    This is GREAT. Required reading! :)

  11. Sandy Grant says:

    Hi Kevin,

    As a pastor down under, I know I have often let people down. So thanks for this and previous posts.

    Recently, a parishioner let us know he was sick. We added him to the prayer list, and asked people to pray. Still later, he rang to update me.

    I really appreciated how this man took the initiative. Maybe he was disappointed I had not phoned him. But it didn’t sound like it. Rather, he assumed the best – that I was praying and was interested. But he did not presume I could read minds nor do everything at once. So he rang to fill me in.

    It gave me a chance to find out what level of detail he wanted included in the church prayer points. (It’s very important to be careful to respect people’s privacy and the differing levels of information different people are comfortable making public.)

    More importantly, it gave me a chance to pray with him over the phone. It was encouraging to hear how grateful he was for the modern medical care we get in Australia. It was even better to hear his confidence that God was looking after him whatever came his way.

    How do we respond if we want to care for those in the church family who are sick?

    Firstly, don’t assume it’s the Pastor’s job. In Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats, he commends Christians who cared for their sick brethren as if they had cared for the King himself! “’I was sick and you looked after me…’ ‘When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:36, 39-40) I visit not primarily because I am a Pastor, but because I am a Christian!

    Secondly, pray! James 5:16 encourages us to pray for one another when we are sick, asking that we might be healed and restored.

    And reinforcing Kevin’s first point… Encourage the hospitalised or housebound to ask for a visit. James 5:14 says if you are sick you should call the elders of the church to pray over him. (In this context the elders are not just the paid staff.) There can be a special role for church leaders.

    But if someone’s sick, remind them that the Pastors cannot supernaturally read minds, but are usually delighted to pay a visit if you request it! They need to be asked!

  12. Charlie says:

    Thank you so much for this post! Definitely good points for people to consider before leaving, or even just when they get upset with the church body. :-)

  13. Robert says:

    WOW! Thanks for sharing these thoughts, I think I’m going to direct a few people to this post … it just might help! I know that it encouraged me to know that I’m not alone.

  14. EM says:

    Very good suggestions… As a pastor, you have a greater awareness of your limitations in caring for a congregation than they do.

    I recall reading through a little 9 marks book recently (“What is a Healthy Church Member”) and while I agreed with what it did say, I was concerned that there wasn’t even a hint of what to do when you experienced disappointment in the context of your church relationships. What if YOU aren’t healthy & you know you need help but can’t seem to find it?

    I’ve been in the same church for 9+ years and I’ve never left a church in a negative way (one change for a church plant). But I have been disappointed and I have thought seriously about leaving during those times. For me, your #1 helped. My leaders are good and caring shepherds, but they have a lot of responsibilities and they can miss things (and people) in the process of building a church. I didn’t have to just ask for help… I had to persist… over & over again… I’ve wondered where I would be now if I hadn’t gone back to ask for help so many times until they finally realized how serious the situation was and that I was desperate for help that seemed unavailable.

    Likewise, with your #3, and similar to “Lou G,” no, it was not realistic for my pastors to extend to me the level of care I needed. It wasn’t realistic at all – but I probably wouldn’t be the healthier person I am if they hadn’t. The season where I needed more care lasted 3 years and 1 year at it’s most intense. I’m not at that place now and haven’t been for about 3 years but if they had just said “she’s too much work” when I was at that place, I wouldn’t be at that church now and I probably would only be nominally involved if I had bothered to go to another church. Instead, I’m able to encourage others now.

    On #6 – that’s a hard one – where do you discuss areas where a body is genuinely weak and needs to improve but the elders don’t seem to be recognizing / addressing the problems? I still believe that my church is weak in certain types of care, based largely on my experience when I was in trouble. It wasn’t necessarily the “who” that I wanted to care for me, it was the “how.” I’d say that my brothers & sisters in my local body excel at practical helps and have served me/others greatly in that way. Whether it’s help with moving or a meal when someone’s sick or help with a broken down car or loaning large vans as wedding “shuttles,” whenever I need practical help, my church has been there. But when I needed serious counsel – needed people to be involved in my life and care and confront and encourage me – I was almost totally alone. People were not well equipped to invest in me with spiritual care, including lay leaders in the church. My pastors did, eventually, but their time was limited and they shouldn’t have been the only ones in the church who were able to counsel and care for me biblically. I’ve seen that pattern repeated with others too… some of whom left & didn’t come back…

    So, I guess that’s a big question. People who are disappointed and hurting aren’t blameless in their interactions… We are probably sinning a great deal more than our leaders… but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make useful observations about where care might be deficient in the church and where established systems might fail the most vulnerable – people who could be able to contribute a great deal to the life of the body when they are doing better.

  15. Eldery says:

    Yes, I asked the leaders for help. The leaders actually volunteered to help, but then never followed through. This happened four times. Yes, I participated and took advantage of opportunities to get to know people, GABS, Cran-Hill, small groups, retreats. The leaders did love and support me, but not necessarily in the way I needed it during a horrific time in my life. I stopped showing up when the Lord told me to do so, in April of 2004. Since then, God has opened up many more opportunities to serve and the Holy Spirit has blessed me in ways I could never have dreamed. Many of these opportunities would never have come had I stayed because they are closed to someone of my gender. How is that God can ordain and bless a ministry in one church and another church will not permit that ministry to even exist?

  16. Kalyan says:

    Could there be “Question 8″: Is God speaking to me about a judgemental spirit in me, which belittles His work among His people?

    God is at work in each and every fellowship/Church, whether we like it or not. To be critical of people failing us, is to be critical of God’s work among His people.

    Sadly, the consumer society in which we live teaches us to demand, our right to be served, our needs that must be met, our feelings which must be acknowledged; failing these standards, we will “take our business elsewhere”!

    Leaders of churches are like all leaders: fallen men and women, trying their best, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to live Godly lives. They need and deserve our understanding and support, expressed in prayer and through fellowship.

    Our three-score-and-ten years of life on this little blue-green planet is not about “me”, neither is it about “us”. Our life on this earth is about God, glorifying Him in and through all we do.

    May the Risen Lord bless each one of you, as you love and serve Him with all your heart, soul and mind!

  17. Gary says:

    Hey good article,my comment is this,if more people (christians)would come to CHURCH and SEEK THE KINGDOM,get out of themselves,DECREASE so that GOD INCREASE they will be ok.look to SERVE GOD and not others…..GOD BLESS

  18. Gail Owens says:

    Great post. As a Pastors wife,I feel Church members expect everything from the Pastor and his wife.
    They expect us to be counselors, Doctor’s (give them a diagnosis to every ailment), Nurses (bandage wounds sort out medication etc.), Chauffeurs, Cooks, Cleaners etc.
    The work of a pastor is near on impossible.

    Instead of moaning about your Pastor and his wife, why don’t people think of ways to bless them.
    Why not send them a thank you card at Christmas, or remember your Pastor’s birthday, organize a time of prayer for him if there are needs in his life/family.

    Recently I suffered a miscarriage (my 8th), not one phone call, card,letter or visit did I receive

    I think too many people come into the Church to have their needs met. Yet only Jesus can meet our needs, as human beings we all fail in some way.

  19. La says:

    I get disappointed at church because I feel it’s become a place to merely hear about how Christians are supposed to act.

    Every week, we listen to how important it is to be a body and care for one another to glorify our Father. The preaching is great.

    But the application is lacking.

    I was told many times that I was the only person who people in need could look for help from, yet, when I was in need of spiritual help, I hoped that they were all wrong. I hoped that I’d at least get help from those who thanked me for walking with them for years and said that it influenced them.

    I expected that gritting my teeth and trying to change things through example all of that time would have had some impact on the body.

    Yet I’ve been all alone.

    When I try to speak to laymembers of the church about my struggles, I’m told to go speak to the pastor and then they avoid talking to me except to say, “Nice to see you,” or , “Have a good week!” I haven’t told them that I’ve tried to speak to pastor many times, but he’s as spiritually aloof and avoidant as they are.

    It hurts to the core because I feel as if the only reason I was so accepted at this church for so long was because people wanted something from me and not because they are a part of my spiritual family.

    Now that I’m the person in need of help, I’m no longer of any use to the body.

    All of this said, I don’t want to just leave the church. For one, there aren’t any other area churches that I agree with docrinely. Secondly, the reason there are so many dead churches is because people just leave instead of making things better.

    But, it is clear that remaining here is impeding my walk.

    I don’t know how to deal with this disappointment alone.

  20. Accordionst says:

    After 20 years of small struggling churches, I have no interest to continue going to church. Nothing wrong with Jesus; he’s not the problem.

    Cliques, emotional immaturity in leadership who think they’re mature, inconsistent definitions in leadership decision making, lack of larger vision, feeding ourselves while talking about really reaching out,…

    And finally, after six years at my last church the worship team was down to two church members and a volunteer guitarist. One church member on the team turns to someone and says basically the worship team would be playing what he and the volunteer guitarist sound good doing — and, as the second church member on the worship team, I was sitting right there, discounted. It was the end.

    Now, you could cynically say, “Maybe it was your poor playing,” but in fact I was doing chord back-up for three different church groups and fit in well. The comment was exclusionary in nature, and it reflected the general attitude of the church. It was so in-grained that people were unaware of their speach and actions, and the impact these would have,even when the church was near death.

    Being run for the convenience of the in-group, many people had come to the church and left, because they could not break into the cliques of the people running the church for their own needs, or whose safety zone was a church that reflected 1980 and offered little to people in 2010.

    Jesus is not the problem, and I made the effort to make things better, but there comes a time to go. Unfortunately, it has left me without much interest to plug in and contribute in any other church. There are plenty of walking wounded in Christianity.

  21. Jim says:

    I am so tired of hearing about small groups being the answer to meet the pastoral needs of members!

    Yes, small groups are are good thing in large churches, but how does that square with “feed my sheep”?

    I’d be interested to see just how well the small group thing is working. My gut feeeling is not so well when it comes to filling the pastoral void.

    I do not apologize for leaving our church after getting zero pastoral support in three years. In my opinion, pastors have become lazy, and are more concerned about preaching a good sermon than “being there.”

    Our pastor was an excellent preacher, but everyone in the church knew he didn’t want to be bothered during the week with your problems. Amazingly, this church of more than 700 members seemed to accept that!

    My only regret about leaving is that we didn’t do it sooner. Almost every week I have a former member confide in me that they are feeling many of the same things we did.

    Of course I’m not supposed to trash my former church, but I’m honest about why we left, and I have not had one person seemed surprised.

    I think the lack of care is a much bigger problem than pastors realize. Maybe you guys should take a break from blogging, book writing, and speaking at each other’s conferences, to see what’s really going on in your congregations.

  22. Julie larson says:

    I am disappointed not only with my church but with the Christian church as a whole and at the complete lack of Christian support for it’s people. I think that as American Christian we do more for people of third world countries then for are own people here at home, I know my church spends alot of money to support an orphanage in Haiti but yet when my Husband abandoned me I could not find within my church or within the christian churches of my community someone who would meet with me one on one to counsel me in my crisis unless I had the money or insurance to afford a professional Christian counselor the best I do was a divorce care group which at the moment was not what I needed or desired there is all this money to help the poor and the needy and yet because I am not destitude ( but because of being abandoned at risk of becoming so) I can’t see a Christian counselor without having to pay a fairly substantial amount of money. I want to know why there is not more help here in America for our own. why is there not more help such as Christian dentists, drs. Lawyers etc. willing to help out Christian widows or woman abandoned and there children at a reduced cost. I know they have to make a living too but these children in Haiti are getting extensive high Quality dental care at no cost, with my tithes and in my position I have to choose between having a car or having teeth. it is disappointing to give into a church and when I am in need there is no help for me unless i can afford it. I am a nurse by trade, but only an LPN which isn’t usually a high paying podition but i would willing donate some of my time to help other Christians in my community if I could and if there were networks set up to faciliatate this. I do fee for these Orphans in Haiti and want to help but my child currently can’t see a dentist cause I have been laid off and abandoned by my spouse and cannot afford to take him to a dentist.

  23. Julie larson says:

    I would like to be notify of Follow up comments Via e-mail for my previous post

  24. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Julie, I’m not sure how do set things up for email notifications or if it is even possible. You probably need to adjust your settings in your profile.

  25. Germaine says:

    Julie,

    I relate to your experience with abandonment by a former spouse and the trauma and abuse that followed. At one point, I went to a place that helped battered women.. It was the only help I could find at the time- though not a perfect fit (battered women label was not quite the right label for what I went through). I later did some outreach to find out which churches had any ministry to battered women and many churches said “No”.. they had no ministry for battered women.

    I was thinking about it today as I was disappointed yesterday with a response from a church staff about request I had (to move a bulletin board to a more visible place)

    I want to process this disappointment rightly so I am not burdened by it. One thought I had was from book by Henry Cloud (Changes that heal) and he says, more or less, to expect faults from everyone.. expect to run into them.. that is the human condition. I also asked a friend to pray for this..I left her a message and said that I’d like to see believers who love like they did in Acts.

    Just want you to know that I understand-

  26. Barb says:

    My “significant” other and I were saved a few years back and the church immediately put their focus on our living together without being married. We had been together over 12 years and the fact of the matter was that my friend was on SSI and Medicaid as he is disabled. We were the focus of the entire church and finally married out of obedience to Christ. We do not regret this. HOWEVER, I am having a terrible time financially supporting my disabled husband, paying for insurance for him, paying co-pays on 12 medications (or more) a month, etc. etc. etc. It’s now been almost 3 years and not one person has asked me how things are or if they can help. Anytime I bring up a struggle, I’m blown off with some comment about how I need to trust the Lord. Of course, this is coming from some woman who doesn’t have to work, let alone support a disabled husband. I decided today that I’m not going to go to church any more.

  27. La says:

    Don’t get me wrong

    I do believe that we need to trust the Lord and I do believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe that saying “Just trust in the Lord” and “I’ll pray for you” (without action) have become a congregational crutch. The polite way of saying, “Quite frankly, I don’t give a hoot.”

  28. Roz Garland says:

    So this is coming from someone who is a pastor, and/or working for a church, right? This article seems to take the church’s side on just about every point listed. It doesn’t really point out that maybe there are legitimate and obvious instances where the church leadership is just flat out wrong. Maybe if the author had been “burned” badly by a church in the past, the slant might be a little different.

    I have spent years putting up with unacceptable behavior from church leadership— behavior that wouldn’t have been put up with outside of the church. But coming from the faith perspective, there are always reasons why they continue to get away from it….something like “If you don’t like it here, then find a place you DO like.” or “No one is perfect”, or “God may be leading you somewhere else”, or the like. NO ONE has ever bothered to say, “Yes, we were wrong and that shouldn’t have happened to you.” or “We made a mistake.” or “So sorry that you were treated that way.” NEVER.

    I am just so done.

    RG

  29. Gail says:

    AS a former Pastors wife, we found the opposite my husband and I did nothing but shepherd the flock, meet their every need. However we lost a baby three years into our ministry, not one member of our flock visited us, or sent a card, or even gave us a hug.

    My Husband and I eventually left the ministry. We now go to a very big Church that’s great.
    However everyone expects the pastor to neglect his family, and push himself to a spiritual and physical breakdown.
    Be a blessing to your pastor not a burden

  30. Accordionist says:

    Gail,

    It sounds like you met with the same pattern of experiences as many of the lay people on this page, except that it happened to you as the pastor’s wife from the congregation.

  31. Roz Garland says:

    Like Accordianist, I play on the Praise Team, which consists of whatever singers feel like showing up, sometimes a flute, and me on keyboards. I am basically it. Tiny church….That’s OK….my degree is in Music Educ, and I played professionally and taught voice/piano for years in the Dallas/FtW area. I feel as though music is my ministry, and I am happy to play because God has given me an area to serve in. But with the lackadaisical attitude of everyone else (they call it “laidback” out here) and the fact that I feel totally unappreciated and ignored….every suggestion I make is met with arguments by those who “think” they know music, but have no credentials to speak of, and veiled put-downs. As long as I show up and play, they love me. When I have issues or just need encouragement…I get nothing. I am on a 3-week break as we speak, and I have not heard from one person, including the pastor as to how I am doing, or if I am missed or anything. What I have learned is that when you show up and participate, no matter how tedious or contentious the time is, you are a “good christian”. When you quit and disappear, and aren’t busting your butt for people, then you don’t exist any longer. That speaks volumes to me.

    One more comment about this article…..it clearly puts the onus for improving the situation on the person feeling wronged….it sounds like it should be up to that person to correct or put up with the situation, or to change their attitude or heart…. you know what….sometimes that may be the case, but I think the church leadership needs to encourage and support their ministry leaders too, and be there when they are in need. I am sorry for Gail, because I have seen congregations like that, as well. Church situations can break your heart….and your faith in other Christians. Not sure that’s how Jesus intended his church to be….

  32. Paul C says:

    I think what is said is bullshit. The angle of looking at the problem is soo wrong. Its just the same nonsens the pastors say to keep the fault not by them or their non functioning church. The Bible shows clearly how a church should be: the first church in acts. But its hard for pastors to admit (because of pride) that they dont want to sacrifise and share like in the first church. Simply because they live too much in the flesh. Excuses, excuses and more excuses is what this is post is radiating.And Hell no they they never will admit they live too much in the flesh ( ask their wifes how they are treated by them).

  33. Roz Garland says:

    Paul: Even though your response is a little blunt, I totally agree with you. I have experienced the same thing. My comment that is above yours is a little inaccurate now….it has now been over 2 months since we “took a break” and because summer is over, the summer people have all left, and it’s getting harder to find people to do the stuff I was doing….NOOOOWWWWW I am starting to hear from people. We have since resigned from all committees since they never met and were totally dysfunctional, have had 2 pretty heated meetings with the pastor where we bluntly told him that he is no kind of leader and at fault, and SHOULD be shepherding his flock, which he is not; and have visited several other churches. None are perfect, but a few seem to be better…. Have you read THe Titus Mandate? It’s a great guide for setting up a church as Jesus and Paul envisioned it. I am not as bitter at this point, just resigned…..and it’s THEIR loss, actually.

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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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