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Beware of Professional Christians

I was recently asked why we don’t have a softball league as one of our ministries. This person was pleasant and polite, someone you would enjoy being around. When I asked (kindly) why we would have a softball ministry, the answer was, “Because my spouse likes to play, and a large church should offer lots of programs and stuff for us to do with other Christians.” I attempted to contain myself, but my long pause (silently counting to 10) may have been a giveaway. In that span of silence, this person jumped in and asked, “Other large churches offer tons of stuff, why don’t you guys?” Only the kindness of God and His merciful Holy Spirit, and the fact that I was standing in the midst of hundreds of people, kept me from doing a clergy version of “going postal.” For all that is holy and sacred, we are a local church not a cruise ship! I hope to challenge you to think the same way.

The following three thoughts are not purposed to be critical against any grouping of Christians, or a particular ministry. They are, in contrast, a challenge to church leaders to be bold, courageous, and sold out to the Great Commission, not trying to keep everyone happy.

1. Don’t cater to Professional Christians.

All church leaders are tempted to cater to Christians who come in with obvious local church experience. You want to grow your church. You need to increase revenue. You are under pressure to find good people to serve in the areas of high need. And who of us wouldn’t want to be gracious and grateful for one of God’s people who shows up and indicates abilities and a desire to jump in? Not so fast. Ask some questions, get to know them, and proceed slowly. (It is not always a new person, but often someone who has been part of your church for some time and begins to change in their desires and direction.)

You are under pressure to find good people to serve in the areas of high need. And who of us wouldn’t want to be gracious and grateful for one of God’s people who shows up and indicates abilities and a desire to jump in?

First, find out if they are willing to surrender leadership to others and simply follow and serve. Make sure you know whether they are on the church’s agenda or their own. And do your best to know their heart. Sometimes a Professional Christian is only misunderstood or lacks good leadership. By taking the time to know their heart, you may know how best to respond.

The single most important principle in dealing with Professional Christians is that you must never start programs in your church to make them happy, comply with their passion, or gain their resources. Run your ministries lean and fully designed by the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

2. Challenge Professional Christians to think outbound, not inbound.

Similar to the fact that non-Christians can become Christians, Professional Christians can become mature, serving, and sold out to the Great Commission. That is a challenge to your leadership, not a confrontation of their mind-set.

It is human nature to move from cutting edge, fearless, aggressive, and all about the un-churched to comfortable, cautious, over-programmed, and focused on discipleship only. In my travels to well over 100 churches I have not seen one that is not tempted to give in to this gravitational like pull. I refer to this as “machine over mission.”

I am not writing anything I don’t believe or practice. I consistently challenge our leaders to think “outbound,” not “inbound”. Simply put, this means nearly all, if not all, new ministries are for and about those who are not connected to our church. Outbound efforts are often, but not excluded to evangelism and compassion. In March of this year we added a staff member, Norwood Davis, whose title is Director of Extension Ministries. 80% of his efforts and energies have little to do with Christians connected to the church. This energy often results in the un-churched becoming part of the church (a good thing), and once again we are tempted to build our repertoire of ministries to offer Christians. Hold steady leaders, and point even the new ones back out into “His harvest fields.”

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2019

About the Author: Dan Reiland is executive pastor of 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He is the author of Amplified Leadership: 5 Practices to Establish Influence, Build People, and Impact Others for a Lifetime (Charisma House, 2012), Shoulder To Shoulder Strengthening Your Church By Supporting Your Pastor (Thomas Nelson, 1997), and From a Father's Heart: Letters of Encouragement to Children and Grandchildren (Thomas Nelson, 1999). Twitter: @DanReiland

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