Kind of a strange thing to even say it, isn’t it?
Why on earth would pastors and church leaders have a hard time attending church of all things?
After all, wouldn’t leaders who have led churches be the most anxious to attend them?
Strangely, not always. You can talk to thousands of people who used to volunteer or lead at a church who will tell you they no longer attend. Or maybe they attend, but it’s just ‘not the same’.
That’s a great question.
I want to offer up some reasons I think pastors and church leaders struggle to attend a local church once they’ve led in ministry.
The common issue? Current and former church leaders who struggle with attending a local church.
Many of Us Have Been There
If you attend church but aren’t involved, or if you’re serving right now and love it (which if you are, I’m glad!), you might not even understand why a post like this would be written.
But if you’ve ever served at a local church as a dedicated volunteer or a paid staff member, you likely have an idea of what I’m talking about.
Not attending church after you’ve led in a church is actually quite a widespread phenomenon. Just browse the comments on this blog and it won’t take you more than 5 minutes to hear from someone who used to lead in a church and now isn’t engaged at all anymore.
How does this trend of non-attending former leaders show up?
Pastors who used to lead a church who now just sleep in on Sundays and have given up on all forms of the local church.
People who only attend when they’re ‘on’ the music team, the greeting team, serving in student ministry, or speaking.
People who stop attending the moment they stop serving.
Every time I hear of it, my heart breaks a little more.
Please understand, I know the local church is not perfect. But I honestly do believe the promise of the local church is greater than the problems of the local church. And I realize the Church (as Christ sees it) is bigger than any local church. But to pretend the local church in all its forms around the world isn’t a part of the Church is, well, just not accurate.
And a little disclosure here. Everything I’m writing about in this post, I have felt. Sometimes just a twinge, but I’ve gone there in my mind.
For the record, I intend to be part of the local church as long as I live, whether I’m paid to lead or not. But when I’m on vacation or out of town, I often slip into a local church for a service (or sometimes even the one I lead) and it’s…different. I wonder:
Could I attend here?
Why do I feel so different?
What’s going on?
Once you’ve been involved, it’s just different.
So I’m just wondering if maybe some of the things that go on inside of me might the same as what’s going on inside you or someone you know and care about.
If not, just give thanks. (Seriously.)
If you’ve struggled with this feeling before, ask yourself whether any of these 9 reasons might be part of your struggle.
1. Your identity is tied to what you do, not who you are
So who are you really? A preacher? A musician? A worship leader? A student director? An elders? An usher? A group leader? A staff member?
No you’re not.
You’re a child of God redeemed by a Saviour who came for you.
So many of us define who we are by what we do. I struggle against this every day.
Before you dismiss this, do this simple test that Tim Keller offers.
“If work [or ministry] is your idol, if you are successful it goes to your head, if you are a failure it goes to your heart.”
Boom. Maybe your identity is more tied up in what you do than you think.
2. You like being the center of attention
As Andy Stanley says, anyone who’s ever strapped on a microphone is a little like Lady Gaga; we all live for the applause. Come to think of us, many of us don’t need a mic for that.
Could it be that you’ve grown accustomed to being the center of attention, no matter how small your audience might be?
Often my decision that something doesn’t fit ‘me’ is far more a statement about me than it is about whatever I’m uncomfortable with.
3. You’ve seen how the sausage is made and have lost your appetite
Yep. Church is messy, flawed, disappointing and at times deeply hurtful.
Largely because people are messy, flawed, disappointing and at times deeply hurtful. And we live on this side of heaven.
Hurt, unresolved, breeds cynicism. And there are so many cynical former church attenders who simply haven’t addressed their unresolved issues.
Part of maturity involves realizing that I contribute to messy sausage making. I am part of the problem. And so is almost every leader who has abandoned church.
Jesus never said we would be known for our perfection. But he did say we would be known by our love.
Love owns my share. Love forgives. Love says I’m sorry. Love reconciles. Love works toward a better tomorrow.
Love sees who you really are and stays anyway.
4. You’ve become more of a critic than a worshipper
This one’s hard. Once you’ve been on the inside, you listen ‘at’ a sermon as much as you listen ‘to’ a message.
You ask “What’s he doing here? Why did he make that transition this way? What’s up with his body language?”
Musicians critique the music. Guest services people criticize greeters. Graphic design people laugh at other designs.
And lead pastors critique everything.
What’s missing in this picture?
Humility. Submission. Grace. That’s all.
5. You think you’re better or smarter than the people who merely attend
This one’s ugly.
I don’t know what else to say about it except stop it. Really.
Okay one more thing. So maybe you are smart. Or more successful.
But consider what Paul says:
6. Somewhere in the process, your personal walk with God tanked
Leadership is best when it springs from the overflow of our personal walk with God.
There are many ways unusual church leader struggle with God (I wrote about 5 of them here), but just because you lost your closeness to God while leading in a church doesn’t mean church is bad.
He loves you, and He loves the church in all of its weakness.
7. You’ve forgotten you’re a follower, not just a leader
Originally all of us got into ministry after we decided to become followers of Jesus. That following should never stop.
The best leaders are actually the best followers.
A leader who can only lead but not follow is actually not a great leader. And certainly not a godly leader.
8. You’re neglecting the fact that you still have a role to play
I know it’s cliche, but the goal is not to attend church or go to church. You are the church.
But, for reasons outlined here, I think the church is so much stronger when we are together, not when we are apart.
While we can all use some rehab in a back row of a church somewhere from season to season, ultimately, every follower of Christ has a role to play in the local church. Even if it’s not your favourite role or a role you’re used to.
Being involved is one of the best ways to stay engaged, even if it’s not what you used to do or want to do.
9. ‘Why’ has died on the altar of ‘what’ and ‘how’
Church leadership is a lot of ‘what’ and ‘how’. I find I have to remind myself daily of the ‘why’ of church.
God is good.
He loves us.
Jesus gave his life for a world he desperately loves.
Our cities are full of people who don’t know the love of Christ.
My life is not my own.
The church was Jesus’ idea.
Grace ultimately makes all things new.
Why always reinvigorates and refreshes what and how.
Church Health is a Big Part of Church Growth
So let’s be honest. One of the reasons people struggle with church is that churches aren’t healthy. Some are toxic.
Want to change that?
I address church health: the health of the leaders, the health of the senior leader, and the health of the people in a church in my new Church Growth Masterclass.
Not all healthy things grow, but it’s really hard to grow if you’re not healthy.
The Church Growth Masterclass is everything I wish I knew about church growth and health when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.
Naturally, I can’t make a church grow. You can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that.
But I believe you can position your church to grow.
You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people. That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.
In the Church Growth Masterclass I’ll show you:
- The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
- Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
- How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
- How to know if your church is healthy…or not
- The 5 keys to your church better impacting millennials
- What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change
- 5 essentials for church growth
- 5 disruptive church trends to watch—and how to respond
- How to increase church attendance by increasing engagement.
The Masterclass includes a complete set of videos that you can play with your team, board or staff, PDF workbooks that will help you tackle the issues you’re facing, and bonus materials that will help you navigate the most pressing issues facing churches that want to reach their cities today.
What Do You See?
So does that help? I realize these reasons will not address every issue, and that some will flail against any organized church no matter what anyone says.
But so many leave unnecessarily. Maybe you’re one of them. If any of these reasons are true, what will you do about them?
I know that working through them has kept my passion and hope for the local church strong, even if it flickers in the wind some days.
Now it’s your turn. Why do you think it’s hard to attend a church once you’ve been involved in leading one? Please leave a comment.