cartoon: church attendance

I want to discuss the pastor’s struggle. I should have the same mind as Jesus. But, as this cartoon reveals, it’s difficult for pastors to resist resentment towards people. Jesus ministered freely without concern for his success. I, however, gauge my ministry’s success by attendance, the size of the offering, the number of compliments I receive, or even the spiritual health of the people. I’m convinced that we as pastors must divest ourselves of this concern for success and its measurements. Thoughts?

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  • One of those rare moments when I channel surfed onto a televangelist and stopped to hear what he was saying, the pastor was saying that all the absent members had failed their test of faith. I think I swore at the TV at that point and clicked on (you can put that in your new confessional section). This is one of the worst traps for us in pastoral ministry and comes out of a culture that glories in personal success. But not success in a qualitative way, but in an empirical and measurable way. Numbers, offerings, etc. If we live in bondage to that then it will be awefully hard to have a pure heart towards those who need you most. I think the real measure in how well you are doing on this is how comfortable folks who have moved on from your congregation feel in hanging out with you. I know I have successes and failures on this point.

    What has helped is that we made it a point to bless people who came and people who left. That has been very important as we tend to have a fairly transient group. I heard John Wimber say we need to have wide open front doors and wide open back doors. I think he was speaking from real wisdom there. When we do this well, folks leaving actually increases our sphere of influence. We have folks that we still hang out with but are called into churches all over the place (all over the world literally at this point which is neat to think about). Isn’t that more like a family than an institution? I mean we leave our families but we are always connected back to them and we are so shaped by our relationships to them. An institution we can put on and off like clothes, but a family you are stuck with forever. I think when we do this right we become family and we wreck folks for the Kingdom, in a good way.

    I’d rather do that than worry about who’s leaving or who’s going. Every now and then I try to take an old parishoner out for pizza just to catch up and see where God has taken them. It is healthy, and keeps me from thinking too highly of my own ministry.

  • well said frank. thanks. good wisdom.

  • kari

    On the flip side of the coin, it may also be difficult for people to resist resentment towards pastors – believe it or not. Unless of course, some people appreciate hearing a weekly thought from the pastor on how many people are, or are not in attendance. They might also think it is cool to have someone from the front overly focus on the “T” word (often a warm-up sermon that takes up at least 10% of the service).
    It may also be great for these folks to have their pastor, who is probably just as full of insecurities and fears as they are, to misconstrue well meaning and constructive criticism for complaining or negativity. Lastly, they might enjoy being called healthy (never unhealthy) simply because it is always the other guy or church who is dysfunctional – this concept keeps our self-esteem stabilized and gives some leadership teams something to discuss at important meetings.

    My money is on your thought, “pastors must divest ourselves of this concern for success and its measurements”. It seems that the majority of pastors are not true leaders, simply people who watch over others, but this seems to be a positive area to take the lead…who knows, maybe the people will want to come to a church service, maybe give a bit extra, become positive and so on.

  • Brianmpei

    Hmmm. Interesting thoughts this provokes for me Dave. I definitely don’t measure my success by the number of people coming or not coming (i think) but at the same time I care if people come, think it’s a good thing to do, go to meeting even when I’m on vacation because I actually enjoy it. How weird is that? But if it doesn’t matter to me if you’re there on Sunday, which I know is NOT what you are saying, but if it doesn’t matter to me then why should either of us be there. In a way I would say the heighth of a pastor-centered church would be one where the pastor keeps doing the service each week even if no on else is there.

    Ultimately, I want people to want to be there. And if they don’t want to be there I guess it would be good to know if it’s because they had a better time doing something else or are we doing something that needs to change? I’d say to the “established” church that they need to look at their shrinking numbers as a sign that they need to change or die. So I guess I’d say that a one off Sunday would take me to a different place then a weekly exodus – been there, done that.

    I would suggest Jesus did have concern for his success and by times would have been called ‘controlling’ by many of my emerging brethren by times. But I don’t think he was concerned about the things we might be with today – like the offering amount. (Though even here we have the practical concerns, “$1.20, crap, looks like we don’t eat again this week…along with the ego concerns…along with the discipleship concerns) and I’ll stop there as I realize I’m rambling.

    I’ll be thinking about this all night now…