How to Tell if a Visitor to Your Church Will Be Back

VISITOR: How long have you been at this church?

ME: Since 7am.
@FailingPastor

 

 

Visitors to a church are typically nervous, so I give them some slack. They don’t know what kind of group they are walking into, they don’t know anyone, nor how we do things. This could either be their spiritual home or another place they will run from and never return to. One never knows.

But you can learn a lot about a visitor by the questions they ask.

Visitors who ask for a doctrinal statement:
These are a dying breed and I appreciate them. They want to know what food they’ll be served. They want to know up front where we stand. It shows a certain care about the actual function of a church—teaching believers to grow in Christ. God bless visitors who care about doctrinal statements. And also, they aint coming back.

Visitors who ask about you, the pastor:
“What’s your other job?” is my favorite of these questions. It’s sort of an accusation, and if nothing else, a meant disrespect. Where did you go to seminary? How long have you been here? Where did you pastor before this? Then they will tell you about their old pastor and how great or awful he was and make comparisons for good or bad. And also, they aint coming back.

Visitors who ask about the size of the church:
Building a new building soon? Are you growing? Any new families lately? Then they will tell you about what they did in their old church that worked to bring people in and how you should try that here as if you’ve never heard of church growth ideas and live in the backwoods of spiritual ignorance and churchly incompetence. And also, they aint coming back.

Visitors who don’t ask anything:
Yeah, over the years, these are the ones most likely to come back. They don’t feel a need to interrogate, insinuate, compare, or examine. They just want a place to go. If they like it; they like it. If they don’t; they don’t. They may ask some surface questions and make conversation, but for the most part, they hold off the interrogations and seek to observe. These ones might be back.

One couple who visited our church asked for a doctrinal statement and then expressed surprise at my message, which they thought contradicted the doctrinal statement. And, in all honesty, it may have to a degree (I did not write the statement myself after all). But the wife just launched on me. She went hard after the doctrine and argued. Her husband stood quietly by. I kept looking at him here and there and he just nervously smiled.

I’ve never had a visitor quite go at me like her. I never saw them again, but I have several times prayed for that poor husband. I could tell by his looks he gave me this wasn’t the first time and he was sorry.

It was also nice that all the board members completely left me standing there alone after church with this couple. They all scattered. No man stood with me. It was me and this couple in the building. That was it. That was not cool.

I handled them the best I could and held no expectation they would be back, and they never returned. But I still pray for that poor man.

Visitors are testing the waters, as much as the waters are testing the visitors. Most visitors don’t come back. I’m always amazed at the people who stay. They were typically the ones I hardly remember their first coming. They just melt right into the group. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, and more so since it’s so rare.

 

 

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
–Hebrews 13:2

Why Pastors Skip Verses

Ignoring verses in the Bible doesn’t mean they aren’t still there.
@FailingPastor

 

 

We all ignore verses in the Bible. Many verses are inconvenient to our doctrine, our firm statements, and our way of life.

I’m not talking about ignoring verses because you’ve never read them. I mean, you know the verses are there, you just choose to ignore them.

I think of this every time I hear a Calvinist and an Arminian argue. They both ignore the other side’s verses and flop out more of their proof texts. Nothing is resolved except letting the argument’s listeners know that neither person is entirely dealing with the Bible.

This is, in fact, probably the only redeeming aspect of Christian arguing: it lets the hearers know that the talkers have little idea what they are talking about.

Over my years of preaching I have covered every single book of the Bible. I’ve preached many an uncomfortable sermon. Like, uncomfortable to me, ones that hit a little close to home. As a pastor I can choose to skip passages. Maybe end my text right before that one verse because it makes an inconvenient point to my sermon. No one will know, it’s not like anyone is listening anyway.

But I know those verses are there. I know what verses I skip and why I skip them. I have faces that pop into my head when I read verses. “Yup, that guy will get ticked if I bring this up.” Or, “that woman will fly into a tailspin of doubt if I bring that one up.”

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Dealing With Doctrinal Arguments

1ST YEAR PASTOR: I patiently listen to all theological views because I may learn something.

10TH YEAR PASTOR: I swear, if one more person says “let go and let God” to me I will punch people.
@FailingPastor

 

 

I had good intentions at one point. Honestly. I did.

I was determined to give everyone a fair hearing. Really try to understand where they were coming from, patiently listen, and give biblical advice. Of course, in my dreams my biblical advice was delivered flawlessly and with the right level of wit.

“Oh pastor, thank you so much! Until you said that ten second quip, I was lost in the torments of heresy. Thank you for delivering me!”

That’s how it was supposed to go.

But after listening to Christians argue doctrine for 30 years now, I’m not interested in figuring out where people are coming from with their doctrine.

I already know where everyone is coming from.

Everyone is coming from a place of not wanting to take responsibility for their actions. Everyone wants to sin and get away with it. The heart of most bad doctrine is a justification, maybe even a defense, of sin.

Warped doctrine is invented to justify warped living. I am increasingly convinced that if you want right doctrine, then pursue righteous action. Guilt makes you miss the point of Scripture. Guilt makes you defensive. Guilt clouds the mind and destroys doctrine.

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Pastors and The Reading of Books

“I don’t read books, I only read the Bible.”

–People who don’t read the Bible either
@FailingPastor

 

 

Pastors get used to hearing sanctimonious talk. Many conversations contain defenses, justifications, and guilt-deflecting statements to impress the pastor. Looking good in front of the pastor apparently means looking good in front of God. I hope that’s not true, because no one looks good to me anymore!

One of the best ways to look good is to prove that you are better than your pastor. I like to read. I read about 80 books a year, mostly non-fiction and about half of those are theology related.

When I tell people I like to read, or that I was reading, I am frequently told, “Oh, I don’t read books; I only read the Bible.”

Gag.

First of all, I’m not making a comparison. If me simply saying I read books makes you feel guilty, ask yourself why that would be the case. It wasn’t my intent. My enjoyment of reading is not at all contingent upon your enjoyment of it.

Continue reading “Pastors and The Reading of Books”