Why Peter Left the Building

Why Peter Left the Building March 5, 2014

PeterIn my previous post, I asked the question, “Where are the Peters?”

At least one expert has noted that churches tend to attract people with passive personalities whereas they tend repel people with a bias toward action (like the Apostle Peter).

So where did Peter go? Why did he leave the church?

I believe it’s simple as this: Peter’s big faith and “ready-fire-aim” approach to ministry can gum up the wheels of the ministry machine. As a result, Peter is constantly getting in trouble at church. Eventually he gets discouraged and withdraws – or goes passive.

Churches need Peter’s gifts during the planting phase, but once the institution is up and running Peter’s boldness becomes a liability. This is a reflection of how churches tend to feminize over time. Peter is literally a bull in a china shop, and he keeps breaking the ladies’ dishes. Here’s why:

Churches Value Stability and Security

Churches talk about being adventurous, but they’re actually in the business of providing believers with security. Every pastor can tell you stories of members who’ve become hysterical over minor changes to a worship service. You might say that today’s church is full of passivity activists whose greatest energies are devoted to fighting change.

Why? In a world of constant change, the church is an anchor of stability, predictability, and tradition. In a dangerous and risky world, the church is a sanctuary of safety and protection. In a world of conflict, the church is a place of peace, harmony, and comfort. Millions of Christians attend worship services not because they are challenging, but because they are unchanging.

Women and the elderly are more security oriented than men and young people. This is why we see so many women and old folks in church. They’re in the market for security. But Peter is looking for adventure, risk, independence, and reward. If he can’t find these things in church, he will look elsewhere.

Decisions Are Made the Feminine Way

Being a church leader is a frustrating experience for Peter, because he cannot lead like a man. Instead he must be careful, sentimental, and thrifty; make every decision by consensus; talk everything to death. Decisions take months or years to make, and if someone’s feelings might be hurt, we don’t move forward.

Conflict Is Handled the Feminine Way

When two church members get crossways, do they settle it like men? Have you ever heard an elder say to a deacon, “Henry, let’s step outside and settle things, mano a mano”? Of course not. Most Christians would view a fistfight among believers as terribly unchristian behavior. Even a sharp public exchange of words is considered a horrible failure, something to be avoided at all costs.

But conflict always comes, and how does the church handle it 99 percent of the time? The feminine way, allowing it to simmer just below the surface. The battling parties are polite in public but vicious in private. Church battles routinely feature backstabbing, gossip mongering, and revenge. All this takes place in secret, and only church insiders know the details. Publicly, everyone grits his teeth and pretends things are just fine. Eventually, one warring party leaves the church, or in extreme cases the congregation splits.

Peter can’t handle this. When he gets drawn into a church catfight, he’s out of his league. His heart tells him to fight it out, clear the air, and move on. But that’s not how things work in most churches. So Peter falls away. There are legions of Peters who have given up on church because it handles conflict the feminine way.

Peter is always in trouble at church

Before he became president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt was a Sunday school teacher. One day a boy showed up for class with a black eye. He admitted he’d been fighting, on the Sabbath no less. Another boy was pinching his sister, so he took a swing at the scoundrel. The future president told the boy he was proud of him and gave him a dollar. When word of this got around the church, Roosevelt was let go.

TR was caught between two scriptural imperatives: turn the other cheek and defend the weak. One soft, the other tough. He chose to praise the boy for his tough response but was fired for it, because in most churches the right choice is always the soft one.

Theodore Roosevelt was a Peter – a man of action. Predictably, he found himself in trouble at church.

Lack of Productivity

One New Year’s Eve I asked my pastor a straightforward question: “How many adults came to faith in Christ at our church this year?” The pastor, a very diplomatic man, said, “I’m not sure. I’ll have to get back to you on that.” But he and I knew the answer. It was zero.

Christ promised his faithful followers a hundredfold crop—but our church hadn’t even reaped a onefold crop. We gathered. We worshipped. We loved each other. But we produced no crop.

Why are churches so unproductive? They try to be all things to all people. They can’t say no. They do too much and end up doing a lot of things poorly. They keep adding ministry programs but never prune the ineffective ones.

Peter can see that all this sound, motion and fury isn’t producing much of a crop. When he tries to change something in the church he runs afoul of powerful people who doggedly protect their ministry turf. Peter gets frustrated and begins investing his strength where he can make a difference – often outside the walls of the church.

One of the reasons megachurches became “mega” was their bias toward action and innovation. However, some megachurches are losing their mojo. They’re failing to innovate. They’re getting stuck in the same ruts as their institutional forebears. Peter is leaving the megachurch as well.

So that’s a very quick analysis of the reasons behind Peter’s exodus. So what can you do about it? If you’d like me to write about that, add a comment below, or join the conversation on my Facebook page.

And by the way, this post was adapted from the latest edition of my book Why Men Hate Going to Church. To order an autographed copy, click here.

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