I sent out a tweet last week that drew quite a bit of response—and I thought I would elaborate a bit upon it. Here it is:
“The healthy leave unhealthy churches and the unhealthy leave healthy churches. Pay attention to who leaves, not just who arrives.”
There has never been a church no one has left. Every church “loses” people. Nevertheless, a fear of losing people keeps many churches from doing what needs to be done. They don’t correct the out-of-line elder. They don’t transition a chronically lazy or divisive staff member. They don’t correct the person who gossips and slanders. They fail to do what needs to be done for one simple reason–fearoflosingpeoplephobia. In falling prey to this dreaded disease, a church virtually guarantees they will lose people, except they will lose healthy people and keep the unhealthy. That will lead to an unhealthy church culture orienting the church around the unhealth of the dysfunctional, rather than around the health of leadership.
While no church wants to lose people, it’s a reality if you are healthy—not just unhealthy. If you don’t lose certain kinds of people, you will still lose people—just the healthy members of your church. You’ll be left with a bad hospital–lots of patients and no doctors. God will not bless such a hospital, for when the scarcity mindset trumps biblical instruction to correct, rebuke, etc., God’s Word is taking a backseat to feelings and fear.
Caveat: I’m not saying the church should only admit the healthy. I’m saying the church should be healthy and if it is, the sick will get better. The church should always reach out to the emotionally/spiritually sick. After all, we are disciples of Jesus, the Great Physician. However, letting the sick run off the healthy and infect others with their illness isn’t the ministry of healing. The sick not interested in health will leave. That’s OK.
Save “hospital” ministry for those wanting to get better, and pay close attention to comings and goings of doctors. Hospitals with all patients and no doctors become morgues. A true hospital is one in which the sick are brought to health. Health is the aim of any true hospital. Fulfill that role. If someone is sick but dressed like a doctor (a church leader, for example), move them to a hospital bed before they infect the other doctors. Move them toward health, as well.
Churches often take losing people as a bad sign–and it certainly can be. They also typically want to know where new growth comes from. This is also good. However, it’s at least equally important to watch who leaves. Don’t assume they are “just not committed.” Don’t let yourself off the hook right away. Ask yourself if they are healthy or unhealthy–and be fair to them. Look back three to five years at the people who have left. If they were sick, you may actually be a hospital. If they were mostly healthy, then it may be you that is sick. It’s time to change. If you don’t, you’re on your way to operating a leper colony, not a hospital–and certainly not a church.
I know this language is strong–but health is a matter of life and death for churches. It’s about honoring God in leadership by saving the beds for the truly sick, and carrying out a true ministry of healing on behalf of the Great Physician–who once asked, “Do you want to get well?” to a man lame since birth. If He can ask it, we can ask it of the chronically anxious, the liar, the gossip, the slanderer, or the immature.
In fact, we must. Or, we aren’t engaging in a ministry of healing at all. We are contributing to long-term or even terminal spiritual illness.
***This material originally posted in July 2012.