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Week One:

Walk into church this Sunday and think about how long you’ve been a member, how much you’ve sacrificed, how under-appreciated you are.  Take note of every way you’re dissatisfied with your church now.  Take note of every person who displeases you.  Take note of all the new people whose presence is changing your church.

Meet for coffee next week with another member and “share your heart.”  Discuss how much your church is changing, how you and others are being left out.  Ask your friend who else in the church has “concerns.”  Agree together that you must “pray about it.”

Week Two:

Send an email to a few other “concerned” members.  Inform them that a groundswell of grievance is surfacing in your church.  Problems have gone unaddressed for too long.  Ask them to keep the matter to themselves “for the sake of the body.”

As complaints come in, form them into a petition to demand an accounting from the leaders of the church.  Circulate the petition quietly.  Gathering support will be easy.  Even happy members can be used if you appeal to their sense of fairness – that your side deserves a hearing too.  Be sure to proceed in a way that conforms to your church constitution, so that your petition is procedurally correct.

Week Three:

When the growing moral fervor, ill-defined but powerful, reaches critical mass, confront the elders with your demands.  Inform them of all the woundedness in the church, which leaves you with no choice but to put your petition forward.  Inform them that, for the sake of reconciliation, the concerns of the body must be satisfied.

Whatever happens from this point on, you have won.  You have changed the subject in your church from gospel advance to your own negativity.  To some degree, you will get your way.  Your church will need several years to recover.  But at any future time, you can do it all again and keep your church exactly where you want it.  It only takes three weeks.


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15 thoughts on “How to “rescue” your church in three weeks”

  1. Anonymous says:

    oh may the Lord be merciful to make us vessels for honor, sanctified, useful to the Him, prepared for every good work. 2 Tim 2:21

  2. Frank Turk says:

    I am sure that’s the least someone could do.

    Excellent post. Excellent perspective. And it actually impacts the most Christians because most people are not pastors, nor will they ever be pastors.

  3. The first step is correct, the second step is invite a few concerned leaders to breakfast, then after church meetings, meet in the parking lot continue to share what you need. Then speak to the nominal of church participants get them riled up. Last step bring it forward at a Church Council, Vestry, or other official leaders. Be sure the pastor is kept in the dark and then “light” them up. I know it works for I have been the first hand recipient of this spiritual duplicity. Yes, it takes years to recover from. Post Script – leave the church that has hurt you so and tell the pastor it is all his fault.

  4. Clark Palmer says:

    Such an accurate description of exactly what happens.

  5. Eponymous says:

    This sounds like an issue that would be well worthy of serious address, so I’m not sure how much sarcasm like this is helpful.
    Inside the reformed, evangelical movement there are now large families of churches who have NO established way for lay members to engage their pastors. While we are all hopeful that simply meeting with your pastors is sufficient, what happens in case of disagreement between lay members, and the self-established leadership?
    Again, I would expect more of this site. Why not write an article addressing how to pursue reform inside a church without established polity, rather than mocking those who attempt it?
    I do realize this applies to a great many people who ARE simply trying to cause division, and that sarcasm has it’s place.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      I am not mocking those who attempt legitimate correction. Notice how the scenario begins. What I am doing is challenging the tendency inside every one of us to exalt Self at the expense of our churches. I am also showing how quickly and easily disastrous things can be done to a church, once Self is unleashed. That is a warning to every one of us, including me. But it is not sarcastic. I could not be in greater earnest.

      1. Eponymous says:

        I appreciate you responding/clarifying. I think you clarified your heart/intention, and that blessed me as a reader.
        Just a challenge?:
        To address this issue in an irenic sense rather than a polemic one? I think there are a lot of folks out there who are dealing with how to both submit to their pastors and fight for reform at the same time.

        1. Ray Ortlund says:

          Thanks, Eponymous. You’re right. That is a real problem. It just isn’t the problem I was addressing in this post. I was assuming a church situation where the leadership is faithful. God bless.

  6. BrianK says:

    Thanks Ray, for sharing. I see three warnings, which should be heeded by those on both sides of changing tides: pride, collusion and self-righteousness. I’ve been on both sides of change, and both sides need these warnings!

  7. Malcolm says:

    I’m glad that at least one comment addresses the possibility that church leaders often DO need correction. In a time when SOME pastors are more interested in “thus saith Rick Warren or Billy Hybels” than “thus saith the Lord”, the church needs to be on guard. Churches in “transition” are going to have conflict because biblical principles are being replaced with what makes people feel good. I’ve never seen a time when mature Christians who have served the Lord faithfully and humbly for decades are so despised by church leadership.

    Dr. Ortland–I mean NO disrespect here. My grandfather taught me at a young age that my pastor was not my enemy. I’ve lived by that truth for most of my life. But I have personally experienced so much “change” in the last ten years and not much of it is positive.

  8. Malcolm says:

    One additional clarification, I have never participated in the behavior you mentioned above and never will. My grandfather taught me as a young deacon that my pastor is not my enemy. I’ve lived by that my whole life. However, when I have disagreements with church leadership, I will deal with it privately, face-to-face, and behind closed-doors which is God’s way. Please understand that some pastors refuse to be challenged in ANY way and treat people with legitimate, Biblical concerns as dissenters outside God’s will. There is a great need for repentance in Christ’s church today–on all levels.

    Respectfully yours.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thank you, Malcolm. I do understand that, and it is a real problem. Thank you for pursuing correction in a correct way. The Lord will honor you for it.

  9. Tim Wilcoxson says:

    Scary post! My heart sank when reading this.

    The attitude represented here indicates a confused understanding of the mission of the Church to say the least. Church is still not our little country club. Church should be the place our distracting preferences and tertiary concerns come to die, so that the Church-entrusted Gospel is advanced with whole-heart and single-mind.

    Great post as usual Ray. Thanks.

  10. Ian says:

    If the above behavior is happening in a church, then I’d suggest that it has big problems that go far beyond disgruntled members.

    As Eponymous suggested, lack of engagement between leaders and members is frequently the cause.

    I think there’s a very simple answer, which is some form of congregational government. If leaders are elected for fixed terms and decisions are made democratically, then members have far less grounds to object. In my own church, I may not agree with everything the church council decides, but I know that they were elected by the membership and do actually represent the diversity of the membership. So if they’ve discussed something and come to a conclusion, I can accept it, even if my personal view is different.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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