My dear friend and mentor, Charles Wood, hit on a topic in his recent musings from “The Woodchuck’s Den” (I highly recommend that you get this near-daily counseling/coaching and information journal. You can do so by emailing him at email@example.com. Tell him I recommend him to you.) It deals with folks who want to join your church, but come with an agenda or a pet issue. The temptation for many is to desire growth and fresh blood so deeply that they’ll welcome any one. The problem with that is that too often, we can sow the seeds of future conflict and even disaster. It’s like marrying the wrong person — it can impact the entire family.
Whether their “issue” is tongues or music styles or Bible versions or eschatology or politics or homeschooling or birth control or prophecy or Israel or any one of a thousand other pet topics to which people cling, when the personal preference becomes an agenda item for an individual who is insisting that others must join their cause or that having their priorities makes them somehow spiritually superior, in the end — division, dissension and controversy are just around the corner.
In his missive, Dr. Wood quotes a well-known pastor and researcher who offers some helpful thoughts on the topic.
Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research, and a seasoned and experienced pastor wrote an article on the topic of “Issue Members” in Christianity Today recently that Dr. Wood sent out that I thought was just excellent. Here’s an excerpt:
“Yesterday, I had an encounter in the line where I shake hands after the Grace Church worship service. A well-dressed man came up to me after church, shook my hand, and immediately started a conversation about prophecy. I listened initially, but within a couple of minutes he had quoted one passage he feels is related to the founding of Israel in 1948 and another about Israel occupying Jerusalem in 1967. ‘Why don’t churches talk more about prophecy?’ he asked. At that point, I could have redirected our conversation and tried to persuade him that we believe in biblical prophecy and will teach on it another time (both of which are true). Or, since he approvingly referenced both Jack Van Impe and John Hagee, I could have found some ways of positively connecting with each of these men.
“In most cases, however, I’ve decided that ‘this is not the church for you’ is actually the right response for ‘issue Christians’ who are visiting the church. Honestly, if this person were unchurched and told me they thought highly of Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer, I would have sought a point of contact and encouraged further discussion. I probably would have tried to get together– if they were open– to see what the Bible says about the kinds of things that Wayne Dyer talks about. I would have used the bridge to talk about Jesus. However, in this case, I simply said something like, ‘We are not one of those churches that you would think talks about prophecy enough– this would not be the right church for you, but I do hope your search for a church home goes well.’
“You see, I don’t spend a lot of time with ‘issue Christians.’
“It’s not just the issue of prophecy either. I’ve had similar conversations with ‘issue Calvinists,’ ‘issue political Christians,’ ‘issue charismatics,’ ‘issue homeschoolers,’ and many others. These are often good people, and those are important issues, but when these are the primary defining issues in the first (and every other) conversation, the correct response is help them move on and do so quickly.
“Here are four reasons why I have no difficulty helping ‘issue Christians’ to move on:
1. Some ‘issue Christians’ get so stuck on specific ideas–you don’t have time to persuade them.
It is simply not a good use of your time and energy to debate with ‘issue Christians.’ Instead, reach your community, pastor your people, and get on mission. Focus on reaching the unreached, not debating church members about eschatology or pneumatology. If they know Christ, but are stuck on an issue, they will be just fine without you. Generally, you can’t ‘fix them anyway and they will (eventually) come out of it on their own.
2. Some ‘issue Christians’ have divisive views–you don’t need them to fit in at your church’s expense.
You can disagree in our church (to a reasonable degree) and still be a part–I’ve pastored cessationists, charismatics, Calvinists, and Arminians all in the same church. The issues are not the issue, it is that this person wants to make them an issue. Simply, ‘issue Christians’ generally do not fit in well in a mission-focused congregation. They don’t want to.
3. Some ‘issue Christians’ drift from church to church looking for willing ears–you do not need to let that in your church.
‘Issue Christians’ love to debate and display their knowledge. It is not good stewardship of your time to have these debates and you are not being a good steward of your church to let them loose inside.
4. Some ‘issue Christians’ will talk forever if you do not cut them off–you will probably offended them less than you think.
For many, listening for hours is the Christian thing to do. Many pastors listen, set up appointments, then seek to reason and redirect the confused. That’s not a good plan if it is obvious that this person has dwelt in and studied on an issue. My experience is that people like this get ‘cut off’ all the time. So, I say, ‘Thanks Joe, but that’s not what we are passionate about here–I do encourage you to find a church that is passionate about what your issues.’ Surprisingly, that does not generally offend–people like that have been cut off many times before this time.
“So, let me encourage you to thank ‘issue Christians’ for their passion and time, and encourage them to find a church home that fits their values. Of course, I should say, this is different if someone comes to me confused on an issue. In that case, we can counsel and provide more information.
“In conclusion, we should always provide guidance, but we should not always provide a platform. ‘Issue Christians’ want a platform with you and your church because they are passionate about an issue–don’t let that distract you or your church from being and doing all that God has in store. Move on… and move them on.”