March 6, 2012

Pew-Hoppers: How to Shepherd Shoppers – Part 1

by Eric Davis

Perhaps you have heard (or maybe said) before, “Scripture never says that I need to be committed to only one local church.” The “attend everywhere, but committed nowhere” is a common trend among Christians when it comes to local-church commitment. But it is also one that is damaging to all parties. Church-shopping is OK to a point, but the point of shopping is to eventually end the process. Too often though, shopping becomes the norm. And not all who believe in multiple-church-attending are to blame. It’s a prominent trend all over that is sometimes even encouraged by church leadership.

So, why shouldn’t we be committed to more than one local church? In some sense, for the same reason we should not be committed to more than one spouse. Because there is great design, purpose, and benefits associated with exclusive commitment. I am not saying that adultery and non-commitment to one local church are equal moral violations, nor that church-hopping is inherently a sin. But I am saying that, in addition to there being great benefits, God’s design and purpose for his people is best realized in commitment to a local church.

Perhaps like the area in which I serve, perpetual church-shopping is an issue you get to shepherd quite regularly. Here are eight pointers to help us shepherd shoppers towards the joy of commitment to one local church.

1. We are likened to sheep in a flock. Of all the metaphors Scripture uses for us, the most prominent is sheep. Sheep need tending and feeding, constantly and carefully. That’s just the way they are. I recently heard a story of a full-grown sheep that was repeatedly running and launching itself at a six-inch diameter hole in a fence in order to squeeze through it. It never made it. Another story I heard was of a sheep found on its back upside-down in its watering trough with its little stubby feet gaping in the air. They’re not the smartest, fasted, most courageous, or competent animal. And in God’s good wisdom, he says we’re most like them. Sheep need shepherding. Naturally then, sheep not belonging to one flock were considered wanderers and endangered. For that reason the Chief Shepherd organizes his global flock into locally-gathered and governed flocks for our good (1 Pet 5:1-4). That is best applied, and we are all best cared for, in commitment to one local church.

 

2. We are called to practice the “one-anothers.” Somewhere around 40 different one-another commands are given in the NT. These constitute the normal and sacred body-life of God’s people. One reason that the NT doesn’t need to explicitly say, “Belong to one local church for the committed long-haul,” is because the mass amounts of one-anothering commands given to the church assume it. The existence of the one-anothers, as given to locally-gathered and governed churches, is evidence enough to commit to one local church. There is no better way to apply these “playbook instructions” than in vulnerable and committed relationships in a local church.
3. We need people to get to know us really well. A friend told me recently about someone close to them who was persisting in sin, but not getting the care of church-discipline because they were not plugged into a local church. I can’t think of a worse place to be: outside the accountability to a local body and so outside of the sacred care of discipline. The grace and protection of one-anothering relationships is a great soul-safeguard. But these kinds of relationships take time to cultivate. That can’t happen as a church-hopper. Our theology, more specifically, our ecclesiology, ought to govern our relationships/freindships, and not the opposite. As we practice the one-anothers in transparent, committed relationships in one local church, people will inevitably get to know us well. And we need that. The safety of our soul depends on people getting to know us for who we really are, just as the writer of Hebrews exhorted the church: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:12-13). Getting daily exhortation and encouragement, and so preventing me from falling away, happens best with people who know me well enough such that they see patterns in my life where I may be drifting.


4. We get to experience great joy together in the local church
. It is an absolute joy to do life in Christ together at the local-church level. Tell people you are shepherding about the joy you experience. Tell them about how the committed people around you know exactly how to encourage and pray for you because they know you so well. Tell them about how people in your church have seen you in your worst moments, yet showered you with grace and still showed up the next Sunday to hear you preach. Tell them about how miraculously your leadership team compliments your persistent weaknesses and about that time you and your family were really struggling, the church got word of it somehow and showed up to cook, clean, and give of themselves. Tell them about how those people who seemed so different than you, like you had nothing in common, ended up being some of your closest relationships. Tell them about the seemingly hopeless person you watched come to Christ from a rowdy background, get surrounded with care in the church, grow in Christ, then started welcoming and discipling others. I can’t imagine living out the joys and struggles of life in Christ any other way, than with the godly, sacrificial, and gifted people in my local church. The saints I get to be around each week bless me, encourage me, challenge me, confront me, are patient with me, serve me, and make my life a joy.  I would not want it any other way than commitment to my local church. And this is something every other Christian should get to experience. Shepherd shoppers by sharing with them the miraculous joys of local-church commitment.

In a future post, we will look at the remaining 4 points on moving people out of perpetual church-shopping. In the meantime, may we shepherd God’s people to be tightly-affiliated and joyfully-committed to one local body.

 

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • D Paul Mitchell

    Most Christians that I know here in the U.K have little or no understanding of the Doctrine of the Church. The majority of churches, in order to raise their Sunday morning head-count, seem only too willing to offer all the benefits and blessings of membership without expecting any commitment in return. In many churches the only real difference between members and non members is that members get to perform all the chores around the place; therefore it’s hardly surprising that people treat churches like supermarkets and keep shopping around for the best deal on offer.
    Here at the GTY U.K office we are constantly being asked “where can I find a good church?” In my experience, there are many Christians who are desperate to find a faithful church where membership is more meaningful than being on the coffee rota or taking out the garbage (important as those jobs are).

    • Eric Davis

      D. Paul-

      I’m guessing your experience is not isolated to the UK, unfortunately. While serving coffee and taking out the trash are important and certainly can be done to the glory of God, I think we also have to make sure that we are caring for Gods people equipping them towards the joy of flourishing in their giftedness and making disciples themselves. As they are equipped by the word to do these things, you really see a new joy and ownership of their part in God’s kingdom. The process of this is definitely messy and not always pretty, but such a blessing. We have been blessed to struggle through this process ourselves as a church and are still growing in it.

  • Ron

    Sounds utopian…..been looking for a church as described in your post.

  • Matt

    Thank you for this. I have been having many conversations the past two days around this issue. This helps to bring clarity to the issue. I am also thankful for your constant shepherding of those in leadership around you. These posts will help to better our shepherding of God’s flock.

  • OG

    Eric, I agree with your basic premise but there are times when one has to “shop” and there are sound biblical reasons to do just that which should alos be discussed to fairly balance and understand the motivation of many of the “shoppers”. Essentially when Rick Warrenism or his clones hijack your church, communication and shepherding seem to go out the door and are replaced with authoritism, covenants and false doctrine. You are ultimately left with the choice of submitting to “worshipping” your church for the sake of mindless unity or fleeing to freedom in a God honoring fellowship. These very things that are causing my family to become “shoppers” at risk of being riduculed for doing so.

    • Eric Davis

      OG-

      I fully agree and realize there are biblical reasons, such as yours it seems, when shopping is the wisest thing to do. I am more addressing those who perpetually shop; in other words, who see no issue with *attending* multiple churches at a time with no intention of plugging into one in order to be held accountable under biblically qualified leadership and grow. Your situation is an unfortunate one and I hope you guys find something soon.

  • Ujackson81

    As a ex-church hopper myself, I recognize the immature ideas a lot of Christians entertain such as, “we all are one body right? So why should I limit myself to just one part of the family”. Things like that. Once i grew up, and fully understood what the purpose of the Church, the Body of Christ was, I desired it very much. It was a whole new world when I actually became part of one. The church is to meet each other’s needs, serve and minister to one another as needed, but how could you know the need if you don’t know the people? How will you know the people if you’re not in their lives? I have greatly benefitted from serving the saints, and experience God’s provision through the saints that I call brothers and sisters, and im not talking “Christian speak” here, i’m talking about a group of individuals that I know are filled with the Spirit because I spend time with them, and know their lives intimately and the deepest prayers of their hearts. I’ve experienced joy over their successes and answered prayers because I was fortunate enough to be one of the number who prayed on their behalf. I’ve had my heart hurting and losing sleep because of concern over their family member as if they were my own. They are my real family that I grow spiritually with and will see in heaven. You don’t get that bouncing around from church to church. It’s impossible.

    • Eric Davis

      Ujackson –

      Amen, my friend. I pray that more of us would dive in to God’s perfect plan of imperfect local churches which Jesus builds and experience the normal Christian joys like yourself .

  • Larry

    Certainly there is a famine in the land for the word of God, and it is understandable, persons pursuing God may experience difficulty connecting to a local church, due to the vast consumerism and customer retention tactics employed by many ministries. On the other hand, technology, pride and spiritual arrogance has produced nit-picking Christians, looking for every jot and tittle coming across a pulpit to suit their constructs. We now have beer drinking, eyelid pierced, tattooed “Christians” defining what the church ought to be and what Christ intended for his body. I wonder at times if American Christianity faced literal persecution, how many of these “I can’t find a church” types would fade in the upheaval of persecution, while committed, connected local church belonging, believers, huddled together (even if underground) and loved Jesus and each other unto literal death. See, primarily the “shopper” can maintain anonymity and aloofness and be a non-giver of resources, time, talent, etc, while indicting the local church. (It usually boils down to a “pride thing”) Many refuse to commit and connect because, becoming close-knit, invokes, transparency, and accountability, and the “shopper” many times is avoidant, preventing exposure to their real self. Repentance, humility, and spiritual maturity over-rules a “shoppers” mentality. You mean to tell me Christ can save you, but is unable to establish you in a community of like believers? (Sorta laughable) It is only in the local church you experience community, accountability, spiritual gifts development, checks and balances, a real sense of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the celebration of new believers, baptism, corporate prayer, etc. The “shopper” goes along as a spiritual vagabond, feigning spiritual growth through a virtual experience, ie, blogs, websites, chat-rooms, OnePlace.com, but never “touching” Jesus through “realtime” experiences with a warm bodied Christian. Never being confronted with their sin in a face to face setting, through the preaching of the whole counsel of God. I say, grow up and commit ones-self to a local church that “at least” preaches/teaches the inability of man to save himself, having to depend and rely on the final sacrifice of the death of Jesus on the cross and his shed blood to take away our sins, thereby satisfying the holiness of God, Him being buried and being raised from the dead with all power, and forever being our High Priest and Advocate. And however it is said, a humble Christian will recognize that message and embrace the community of believers pursuing that Christ that died and rose from the dead. Lastly, the “shopper” is expert (usually) in “Don’t judge me,” while year after year still maintaining, “I’ can’t find a church.”

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  • Ben Coussens

    Eric,

    I have always enjoyed your passion for having commitment to the local church. I think that a fundamental reason why people won’t commit to a local body is that they might be approaching church with the wrong mentality. Church is not something that your supposed try to get something out of, but rather to give. If your church shopping, its very possible your picking things you like and don’t like. that’s not the way we are supposed think about church. Absolutely, for your own spiritual welfare and furthering the true gospel, you want to make sure that the theology and doctrine are sound. But after that, the preferences should really laid by the way-side. It truly doesn’t matter how much you like the music, seating arrangement, dress code that churches present. It is so important to look at the church as an opportunity to serve, not to be served. Therefore when you are looking for a church to attend, try to evaluate the service opportunities that are available and see if those are holes that you can fill. Church is not about comfort-ability, its about serving God and serving others.

    To answer some comments about this church sounding Utopian. It is obviously a goal that the church will resemble this model, but it is not as though its going to do it by itself. If you want the church to be loving on each other and living life on life with each other, it is your responsibility to do your best to make it happen. Search people out to pray for and for them to pray for you. If your young, find someone wiser than you to speak truth into your life. Its so common to hear “I go to bla bla bla church, but I just don’t field plugged in”. Well, is that cause your waiting for everything to come to you? If so, you could be waiting a long time. Churches are imperfect bodies of imperfect people, strive to be in community with others and you will experience encouragement and joy.

    • Larry

      Ben, good post.

    • Eric Davis

      Amen, Ben. Thanks for that encouragement.

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