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   Beware of Professional Christians

Beware of Professional Christians

by Dan Reiland

At Crossroads, we pray what can seem like a strange prayer. We pray that God does not send Christians to our church. Before you yell "heresy" and push your delete key, keep reading. We have such a passion to reach the un-churched that we don't want to fill up the limited space we have with Christians who are looking for a new church to attend.

I have been asked: "How can you pray such a prayer?" "Do you turn away followers of Christ?" Of course we don't. We don't turn anyone away. We don't have our parking lot attendants "carding" people, asking if they are Christians and turning them away. It's easy to pray such a prayer when your heart is hot to reach people far from God.

We pray also for a second group. We pray for Christians to come who are nominal in their faith. We would love for the majority to be non-Christians, but particularly in the Southeast, that is not our reality; there are many who have some church background and consider themselves Christians even though their lives give no evidence. (Don't go theological on me, stay practical here.)

We pray for a third group to attend. We pray that the Christians that do come are leaders who are ready to serve. For these believers we are most grateful. We ask God to make this a small but powerful percentage of new people.

If we must choose who we offend (though it is not our desire to offend anyone), we will offend Christians, not the un-churched. If we offend anyone, we are most likely to offend what I call "Professional Christians." Professional Christians are believers, but have no intention to roll up their sleeves and serve. They are looking, in contrast, for a church to feed them, meet their needs, serve their schedules, and offer many of the latest and coolest programs in town. If you felt a little heat there, it is intentional. The consumer mindset in the local church is killing us.

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.)

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."

3. If Professional Christians leave your church, relax and let them go.

This is tough for all of us. No one wants to see anyone leave the church. I personally hate to see people go. But I remind myself that when this person is a Professional Christian who came from another church in town because they were unhappy there, it is not unlikely that they will become disappointed again.

If they are upset because you won't offer all that they want when they want it, treat them kindly, but let them leave. I mean that with utter sincerity. Treat them with dignity and respect, but do not persuade them to stay, and by all means do not reshape any part of your ministry to align with their desires.

I know that I have written this article with the potential of being misunderstood. That is the risk of anyone who is willing to be bold for the sake of the good of the church, and puts it in print! I hope you have caught my heart and that my purpose was to challenge and encourage you as a leader. My desire is for your church to flourish, and at times that calls for bold and courageous leadership. May God bless you with both.

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter The Pastor's Coach available at www.INJOY.com

INJOY's The Pastor's Coach: Volume 6, Issue 19 [2005]

Prepared for the Pneuma Foundation website by Todd H