Competing With Church

POSTED: February 14, 2014
By Tony Miles, a youth ministry veteran, author, speaker, volunteer youth worker and lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio.

It happens.

Around this time of year, various families in your church will simply leave and won’t return.

This type of exodus has no bias. They may have been irregular or regular attendees, some of your newest visitors or some of your longest leaders.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll get a phone call or be invited out to lunch so the break-up seems more empathetic and personal. Regrettably, it’s more common to receive a one-sided email or Facebook note explaining, “It’s not you, it’s me. So give me some space and don’t reply.”

There are other households who will be more aloof about it all. They’ll stop attending and count how many days, weeks or months it takes for you to notice they pulled back. If you don’t follow up quickly, it will only further validate the reason they began to leave in the first place.
I see this happen at the end of every December. While some use the “new year” to dig in and grow, others use it to fade off and go. You may see a few hints in what they post online or share socially, but it will still hit you hard as it happens.

I’m speaking from experience. Even though I know it’s coming, it always deflates me as it unfolds.
Can you relate?
• They’ll begin to attend a different church, and you’ll wonder why. You won’t literally say, but you literally wonder, “Is that church sexier than ours?”
• They’ll explain that another youth group is offering a unique program or class, and so they won’t be around for a season. “I hate that,” you’ll think, but instead you’ll force yourself to say, “Well, churches aren’t in competition with each other, so it’s no big deal.”
• They’ll tell you that they’ve prayed about it and God led them to make this move in this timing. “Funny how ‘God’ always seems to tell people to do this in January,” you’ll further note to amuse yourself.

Make no mistake about it…this will hurt. You will take it personally. It will feel as if you’ve been betrayed. Cynicism will dominate your future.

Unless . . .

Jesus Christ really is the center of your life and the ministry you serve.

I’ve already confessed that I struggle with this. Perhaps you do, too.

We tend to think that the biggest competition to serving God is sin (or our own carnal nature). Truth be told, church itself can become your biggest competition for a Jesus-centered life and ministry.

The question is if that’s how you’ll roll.
• It’s easy to think of all the time you’ve put into “your ministry” and “your church.” It’s harder to realize that the ministry and church doesn’t belong to you (or even the students) but to God Himself.
• It’s easy to spot the (alleged) immaturity of other people who pull out of your particular congregation for the wrong reasons. It’s much harder to admit there may be valid reasons for why they’re leaving…reasons that may or may not have anything to do with you.
• It’s easy to be offended by how effortlessly someone can choose to not show up anymore. It’s harder to admit you’re simply jealous that you have to project more commitment and maturity than that.

I have no solutions for you other than Jesus Christ.
• He hears our whining like he did when Peter complained, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)
• He enlarges our perspective like he did when James and John demanded, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)
• He remains faithful to us and carries his cross like he did even when the Bible says, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56)

God isn’t bound by time. I personally think it’s short-sighted when people use the calendar to make spiritual decisions. Maybe there’s some obscure Bible verse that you can use to correct me on this, but the fact that we use a certain time of the year to retreat from him, relationships or church seems lame. As Jesus said, “Deny yourself. Carry your cross. Follow me.”

On the other hand, my attitude serving Jesus isn’t to be bound by what’s going on in the church. Whether people are leaving or staying shouldn’t affect how faithful I am to Christ. Maybe it bears repeating that Jesus said, “Deny yourself. Carry your cross. Follow me.”

Can you relate?

Thank you for loving students!

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