PASTORING OFFENDED VISITORS
BY LARRY KEEFAUVER
Bill and Monica left New Life Community Church angry. Their anger boiled over whenever they reminisced about the worship leader and music ministry of their former church. They were angry with the pastor, the worship team members and even their best friends–now ex-friends–who stayed behind when Bill and Monica left.
Their offense was simple. They had not been included on the main worship team for the church. They were backup and support singers, but the worship leader had failed to recognize their unique musical gifts and had consequently left them out of the most visible and important praise-and-worship team in the church.
When Bill and Monica kind told the worship leader of their disappointment and hurt, he had rebuked them and even had the gall to suggest that pride and the desire to perform might be motivating their eagerness to be on the main worship team. Angrily they had denounced the whole worship ministry at New Life to anyone there who would listen and then left the church to shop for a new church, a new worship ministry, and a new start. But their new beginning in our church was a new start for them only in the natural–their bitter hearts remained hardened.
I discovered Bill and Monica indirectly. They did not introduce themselves to me (the co-pastor) or to the senior pastor during their first few visits. Instead, they sought out various lay members of our worship team and shared with our people how talented they were and how badly they had been hurt at New Life Church.
One of our worship team leaders is also an elder. Wisely, he brought this couple to our attention before they had the luxury of spreading their toxic offense to others in our church.
DON’T IGNORE OFFENDED VISITORS
Offended people like Bill and Monica are not unusual visitors in our church. We are a new congregation, and it seems that our newness is a magnet for attracting dissatisfied, hurt and offended people from more established congregations in our city.
When church members are offended, they often run from forgiveness and reconciliation. They leave their former churches with bitterness and festering resentment.
Though they may appear to be healthy and zealous Christians to their new church family, they soon begin to infect the congregation they are visiting. They may say negative things about their old church while also projecting unrealistic expectations on their new congregation.
You cannot afford to ignore offended visitors who soon will begin sowing seeds of division in your church. If you are like me, though, you hate conflict. Nothing drains you more than angry, offended, bitter people who stir up strife wherever they go.
Offended people seem to have uncanny spiritual antennae that enable them to locate others like them in your church and immediately form poisonous relationships. How do you locate offended new visitors or members?
Because fools cannot keep their mouths shut (see Prov. 10:14; 20:3; 29:11), their tongues will betray their hearts (see Matt. 15:16-20). When a pastor hears new people speak of past offenses, he cannot just ignore the problem. Problems ignored never go away; they simply grow out of control and threaten the spiritual health of the church.
TAKE PROMPT ACTION
How can you as a pastor respond to offended visitors or new members who have carried past offenses into their new relationships in your church? There are actions you can take to protect your sheep while also ministering to the new visitors or members who are offended.
1. Be alert and prepared. Jesus clearly warned, “‘It is impossible that no offenses should come”‘ (Luke 17:1, NKJV). Don’t be naïve–some of your visitors and new members will be infected with past offenses from prior church wounds and hurts. A shepherd protects his sheep and seeks to learn all he can about new sheep.
2. Know those in your midst (1 Thess. 5:12). The shepherd knows his sheep and guards against offended people who can easily become wolves in sheep’s clothing (see John 10). When new people visit, visit them as soon as possible. Have an elder, deacon, or equipped evangelism team make a call upon the new person or family.
If they are believers and have been worshiping at a nearby congregation before coming to yours, find out why they left. If they speak negatively of the other congregation or its leadership, then be prepared to send them back whence they came!
Some pastors and churches are so eager to grow that they will compromise biblical standards for church growth. Such compromised growth becomes cancerous and deadly.
A Send offended people back to be reconciled (see Matt. 5:23-24). In Bill and Monica’s case, we met with them after we heard of their offense with their former church and pastor. After speaking biblical truth to them in love, we urged them to return to their old church, ask forgiveness, be reconciled and then leave with their previous pastor’s blessing.
If it is impossible for offended people to return because of too much distance in geography or time, then we ask them to write letters or make phone calls to be reconciled. And if that isn’t possible, then we lead them through repentance and prayer seeking God’s forgiveness and healing. When they are reconciled, healed and released with blessing, we accept them with open arms into our fellowship.
4. Don’t excuse their offense (see Ps. 1). Refuse to associate with those who persist in iniquity. If they wish to continue in their bitterness, then they must be sent out of the camp and into the land of Nod (see Gen. 4:15-16).
In other words, shake the dust of their presence off your feet and go on without them. You and your congregation cannot afford to contaminate God’s presence with their rebellion.
Newcomers in your church who carry offenses do need pastoral care, counsel and nurture. But remember–your church is not a city of refuge for those running from old hurts.
Be a healing place. Insist on reconciliation and healing before they enter into your fellowship. If you do not, then Satan will have a foothold for division in your midst.
LARRY KEEFAUVER is co-pastor of The Gathering Place Worship Center in Lake Mary, Florida, and author of Lord, I Wish My Husband Would Pray With Me (Creation House).
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY MINISTRIES TODAY, MAY/JUNE, 1998, PAGES 52,53. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.