Flunking Out of Church

Sam Rainer

April 27, 2007

I can vividly recall one of my first tests in school. It was a new school year, and my second grade teacher was returning the first quiz. I looked at my paper and smiled. I was pleased because I had gotten half the questions right for a grade of 50%. Getting one out of every two was pretty good. I played little league, so I knew that I was batting .500. I felt real smart

Excitement filled me as I went home to show my parents. After I handed them my paper, their expressions led me to believe that perhaps I was mistaken in my excitement. I can still remember the feeling of my stomach churning when my parents told me that a grade of 50% was failing.

Even then I had an internal fear of failing. But my father quelled my fear.

I’ll never forget what my Dad told me.

He said, “I’m proud of you. You are going to have to work a little harder, but I’m proud of you. And I know that you can do it.” These words have never left me, and they never will.

As a pastor, I can handle the occasional criticism. Many times it is warranted and helpful. Sometimes it is silly. But what truly makes me shudder is failing the church. We all fail to some extent – we are fallible beings. So I am not talking about the idea for Super Snail Racing Saturday that falls flat. We all have our flops every now and then. The failure that I truly fear is letting down the entire congregation.

This fear is unwarranted. We should not seek the praises of people, even the people of the church. We need only to praise God and seek His blessings that come from our obedience to His will. The church can only thrive if the entire body is seeking God’s will. But there is a piece of me that still seeks the praises of the church – and I fear the opposite of that praise.

In 2005, there were more than 1,300 staff in my denomination fired from their positions within the church. And this number does not include those who were asked to leave or encouraged to tender a resignation. It only includes forced terminations. While the details of each of these cases are specific to the individual churches, and the culpable parties are unknown, several common themes as to why they were fired are evident.

The ten top reasons for church staff terminations:

1. Control issues (who should run the church)
2. Poor people skills
3. Church’s resistance to change
4. Pastor’s leadership style is too strong
5. Church was already conflicted when the pastor arrived
6. Decline in attendance and/or conditions
7. Pastor’s leadership style is too weak
8. Administrative incompetence
9. Sexual misconduct
10. Conflict with the staff

The odd thing is that each of these reasons can be flip-flopped, and what appears in the next list is perhaps the beginning of a healthy church.

1. God is in control
2. The people of God treat each other like family
3. The leadership carefully guides the church through change
4. The pastor leads like a shepherd
5. The church is unified, even without a current pastor
6. The church is growing because they are winning people to Christ
7. The pastor leads like a spiritual warrior
8. The leadership properly delegates administrative duties
9. The people of the church, particular those who are to be held above reproach, flee temptations
10. The staff is unified in vision

Some hills are worth dying on; others are not even worth fighting over. It is sad to see that so many churches have staff that are not succeeding (regardless of who is to blame). And in many ways the church, in general, is in a state of decline, failing to fulfill the Great Commission.

God does not grade on a curve. But our Heavenly Father wants us to succeed 100% of the time. While we won’t ever achieve perfection, we shouldn’t fear flunking out of church. The only fear that should occupy our hearts is a fear of the Lord. For those who fear the Lord will say, “His faithful love endures forever.”

4 comments on “Flunking Out of Church”

  1. Luke says:

    Isn’t grace like the ultimate example of grading on the curve? We all fall short of the glory of God, but He counts our meager effort as righteous b/c of Jesus’ blood.

  2. Luke says:

    PS–I’m really enjoying all your posts, just thought I’d chime in on the curve idea with some encouragement

  3. Sam Rainer says:

    Thanks for reading, Luke. What I meant by God grading on a curve is that he does not adjust our human efforts upward for a salvific purpose. Rather, He sent Christ to atone for our sins. And those that fear the Lord, accepting His grace, will never be snatched out of His hand. I think that many churches are in a state of decline and failing because they do not boldly proclaim this simple Truth.

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