When we got to Michigan (and before we even arrived) we started researching churches. We combed church-finding websites (two of the most popular arehttp://www.baptistfriends.org and http://www.militarygetsaved.tripod.com but I’m sure there are other good ones out there) and asked anyone who might be somewhat familiar with the area for help in locating a new church home.
Over the next several months we visited five different Independent Baptist churches asking the Lord for direction in where He wanted us to serve. What we found was kind of amazing; we found five churches we could fellowship with (or attend for that matter) fairly easily but also five churches that had no fellowship with each other! In fact, out of five pastors, all but one of them had something negative to say about each of the other churches on our list!
Here are some things I gleaned through the process of finding a new home church that can hopefully help you when talking about other churches:
1. What you say about other churches may turn people off from visiting your church again.
This is very true, or at least it was in our case. In one church in particular the pastor had nothing good to say about any other church in the area or in most of the rest of the country for that matter. They all had some flaw that prohibited his fellowship with them. In every single instance he cited something superficial or even silly as to why he wouldn’t attend there (if he cited a reason at all). He had nothing substantial to base his separation on, just his own personal bias.
Here is the attitude I got from talking to this particular pastor: I don’t know them, I don’t like them, I don’t want anything to do with them, and nothing is going to change my mind. He had not spoken to any of the other pastors in any depth to see their positions on a particular subject, he just assumed he knew and he wouldn’t like their answers.
As you can imagine, it didn’t take us long to stop going to this particular church. I don’t want to be in a place that shuns another church in such a quick manner as this pastor had. I like visiting other like-minded churches for special services and visiting with other pastors. Even if we don’t agree 100% about something, we can learn from them and be encouraged by their friendship. Attending another church or being friends with someone who attended a different church would not be possible at this particular church.
2. What you say about other churches might be what you are saying about your church.
Another church we attended briefly was very nice, as was their pastor. He did have negative comments about churches in the area though, but not as much as the previous pastor. This one warned us of churches being “dead.” I do not like to attend a dead church, though I have done so before (but as little as possible). He didn’t have much more to ad other than the warning that there were several dead churches in the area.
After a few services at this particular church, though, it seemed like he was preaching a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their music was absolutely the worst (as far as being dead and unmotivated) of any church we visited. The church was made up of mostly older people and very few people in my age group seemed to be there for any service. Also, greeting visitors seemed more like a chore than an opportunity.
Recently I have learned their church has moved out of their very spacious building into a much smaller space to save money because their numbers continue to dwindle. I do feel bad for this church. The people and the pastor and his family were all very nice. I don’t know what causes a church to decline like this but; just maybe, worrying about the liveliness of other churches in the area has caused them to lose sight of the difficulties they are having in their own church. I pray the Lord leads them through what must be a very difficult time.
3. What you say about other churches may cause your church members to become discouraged.
We humans require the friendship and fellowship with other humans. This is true if a person is a Christian or not. We see it all around us. The Lord designed us that way. In Genesis 2:18 the Lord says “It is not good for man to be alone;” I know He was referring specifically to Adam in the Garden, but the same principle is applied to all members of the human race.
When we continually talk down about other churches and their pastors, our church members feel alone. I know I’ve felt this way before, especially when I was a teenager. I often thought “If I can’t be friends with people from other Independent Baptist churches, who can I be friends with.”
Some of you will stop right here and tell people to fellowship with people in their own church. I agree, we should be friends with people in our own church, but we also need more. It’s like telling a child he can only be friends with his brother or sister. Sure, he loves his sibling and likes to be with them (I hope) but he also craves the friendship of people outside his household. We also crave the friendship of people outside our own church, and we should! We can be such an encouragement to others in churches of like faith, just like they can be to us.
I’ve seen people leave churches where the attitude was “ours is the only church” and they typically either 1. Leave the IFB movement, or 2. Don’t attend church anywhere at all. We need to encourage and foster relationships with others in like-minded churches when at all possible.
I’ve talked about the church members for most of this point but I think it is important to note the same is true of pastors. You, pastor, can really glean some insight from other pastors in your area. They probably know best what you are going through. They are dealing with the same type of people being in close proximity and maybe have already been through the same trial you have been. There is nothing like a good cup of coffee and relaxed conversation with a preacher friend to help encourage the weary preacher going through a hard time.
4. What you say about other churches could be hurting the cause of Christ.
I think this point really has two points. First is this, consider the lost person who comes to your church looking for a church home. Maybe they haven’t been to church in years (or never) or are leaving a church that does not preach the Gospel. They now come to your church looking for something. I suspect most lost people don’t ask about other churches in the area, but they could. You then go on to tell of all the horrors of other churches you know of. Not only are they put off by your attitude but, in most cases, they are afraid to visit somewhere else!
I don’t know if that has ever happened or not to be honest, but it could. My wife and I were very open when meeting a pastor telling them a little about our background and our convictions. Perhaps they felt like they could tell me the “dirty” secrets of the other churches in town because we’ve been to Bible College and I was a youth pastor for a number of years and have answered the Lord’s call to preach. In any case, it could turn someone looking for answers away from church altogether by your statements about these other churches.
The second, and I’m afraid all too real one, is this; we are not reaching our cities for Christ and aren’t working with other like-minded churches to do so. In our area there are about 100,000 people. Of the five or so Independent Baptist churches we visited, we saw way, way less than 500 people combined. I’m talking bus kids, visitors, everyone at these five churches totaled up was less than one half of one percent of the population.
I’m not a person who believes that Independent Baptist churches are the only churches preaching the Gospel to a lost world. I know of several good Bible churches and community churches in the area who are preaching the Gospel but we would not agree with them on other issues. What’s important is this though: we should be working with other like-minded churches to reach our community. In some cases, these churches are working against one another, instead of with one another.
Do you think it would be smart for one particular company of soldiers to work as a group against the enemy with no support or help from the rest of the Army? I don’t think so, but that is exactly what our churches are doing and it’s not working. We aren’t reaching our city for the Lord and we aren’t making any headway following our current program.
How can we make sure we aren’t being negative about other like-minded churches and thus hampering the cause of Christ?
1. Pray for these churches and their pastors and encourage your church members to do the same.
I’ve found, in my life, this is one of the best things I can do to become closer to someone else, particularly pastors. I’ll admit, there have been pastors I haven’t particularly like for whatever reason (I’m talking personality reasons here, not doctrinal disputes). If I put them on my “Pastors and churches” prayer list, I soon have a fondness for them. Maybe I don’t hang out with them because we don’t “gel” but I love and respect them and the work they are doing for the Lord.
2. Invite those churches to your special meetings and make it a point to attend theirs.
Listen, we are all busy. I know how it is having a job, a wife, kids, maybe a hobby (if you are lucky) plus a full church calendar. Sometimes it is impossible to visit another church for a special meeting, but we should make an effort. It shows that you are pulling for the same team as the pastor. I’m sure the Lord will use it to speak to your heart as well.
Recently, my wife and I attended a revival at another church in our area. I had never heard of the speaker before, but my wife had. We ended up having a great time. It was “Bus Family Night” and there were several guests. The special speaker presented the Gospel in a very clear matter. Though it is always good to be reminded of the Gospel and the way of salvation, it also convicted me. I wondered if I was as clear as this speaker was when I presented the Gospel to lost souls. The Lord worked at a church that was not our own.
3. Try to build friendly relationships with other like-minded pastors in your area.
Let’s be honest, this may not be possible. The Apostle Paul wrote this “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” Even Paul knew, it may not be possible, but we should try.
We should try to forge friendships as much as possible. If the other pastor doesn’t want to, then there is nothing we can do about it. All we can do is work on our own hearts and make every effort possible. Remember Proverbs 18:24 when trying to make friendships “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly:” You may just find a pastor who is going through some of the same struggles you are and can be a great help to you and your ministry.
4. Encourage your people to attend other churches’ meetings.
Here is the train of thought of some (not even most) pastors: “If they go to church ‘A’ for their special meeting they may not want to come back to mine!” This is silly. Maybe the Lord will lead some people from your church, but it doesn’t happen that often. More often they meet some people over there that they become close friends with.
5. Try to work with like-minded churches instead of against them.
I’ve literally seen like-minded churches who were relatively close to one another schedule special meetings on the same week. I’m sure there are times when this is unavoidable. If you are looking for an evangelist sometimes you are subject to their open dates. We should make every effort to try and not schedule special events the same week as another church though. It not only shows respect to the other pastor but also allows us an opportunity to visit.
There are other ways churches can work together as well. I don’t have time to go into all the different ways you may be led of the Lord to work with them.
Hopefully this article has been an encouragement to you. Maybe it will give you something to think about next time you are talking to a visitor, or another church member, about churches in your area.
Author’s Note: Since writing this article several months ago both pastors of churches listed as examples in #1 and #2 have resigned and left. Thankfully, I have seen some cooperation among the other IFB pastors a little at a time in this area. I pray it continues into the future.