Last Sunday I went to hear my senior pastor preach. I have new priorities now and hadn’t heard him for awhile. For a change, I decided to hear him again after a long time. By the way — just in case you are wondering — my senior pastor is the very famous Rev Dr Prince Guneratnam, senior pastor of Calvary Church Kuala Lumpur, my home church. He is credited with growing the church to the stature it enjoys today as the Assembly of God’s best church in the world.
Rev Guneratnam was good as usual! He preached from Exodus 6: 6-8: “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”
He said there were “7 I wills” that God would do to bring us into His plan for us. They are as follows:
- He will bring us out
- He will rescue us
- He will redeem us because He bought us with a price
- He will make us as a son/daughter
- He will become our God
- He will bring us into the promised land
- He will give us an inheritance where He will fellowship with us
He concluded by saying that God does all these things so that we would serve Him. You can go to the Calvary Church website at http://www.calvary.org.my/ to get the full sermon.
Like I said earlier, it was a good message. It was on a weekly diet of such messages that Calvary Church grew spiritually and materially. That is senior pastor’s strength — establishing strong foundations of faith. As a result, the church is now full of mature Christians. And, that is why I am prompted to ask the next question: Why are so many people leaving a church that has such strong foundations? The numbers have dropped in Calvary Church. But, to her defence, I must add here that this is not a problem exclusive to Calvary Church. Other churches, too, are losing members. And, hence my question: Why are churches losing their members, even the long-standing ones?
I have a very simple explanation. There is a disenchantment on the ground with the leadership. This disenchantment is not caused because churches have poor leadership. On the contrary, the leadership is doing just fine. There is strong Christ-centred preaching and great ministries for all sorts of people. Through these the Holy Spirit is ministering. But, all this ministering is not addressing some very fundamental needs of congregations, and this is festering on the ground.
Some of these needs can’t be articulated but they are troubling members. And the frustrations are levelled at leaders because they can’t seem to see what the members are going through. They don’t know what is happening at ground level. The issues facing members are left unattended and, yet, they are expected to volunteer their time and services and give as much money as they can. They feel used but not blessed. They are estranged but they don’t see their leaders care enough to meet them face to face to confront the issues and help them help themselves.
There is only one way to deal with this sense of disenchantment on the ground. Come down and get to know your members at a personal level. When relationships become personal, people feel free to open up. They are hoping that as they open up, the leaders will be able to see the issues and help them. This is what is known as the personal ministry, sadly lacking in some churches and especially in large churches.
Some leaders like to serve in large churches because they can give the excuse that the church is too large to be personal. That is precisely what it is: an excuse. Others are trapped in outdated modes of behaviour where they feel they can’t get close to someone of another gender or race or this is not their turf. This is rather confusing because outside churches, Christians are merrily relating — and relating well — with people of all types and in all situations. Then, they step into church, and become straight-jacketed! The leaders, safe in their ivory towers, fail to see what is happening on the ground and so miss the opportunity to relate with all in Christ-like fashion and set an example for others to follow.
As a result, we, the members, have to figure out our issues all by ourselves. If so, why have leaders? No matter the size of the church, leaders need to understand that the first human relationship we have as Christians is that of brothers and sisters. If we don’t get this relationship right, no matter how good the messages are and how varied the ministries are, people will not “feel” that their needs are being taken care of. They will always feel estranged and if they can’t take the frustrations any more, they, most likely, will leave.
Another point to note is that when your sheep bleat, take note. When sheep bleat it is their cry for help. Go beyond the bleating and find out why. Again, you need to have a relationship with your sheep before you can find out why he or she is bleating. That takes a personal effort. But, if you are busy “working for God” and following the tried and tested methods, you won’t take time for relationships. And, you won’t make the necessary sacrifices to get close to your members. And the estrangement will continue … .