People with unsaved spouses have long been a part of church life, going all the way back to New Testament times. Many of them are extremely sensitive to comments, sermons, or programs that emphasize family unity or spirituality. They battle with feelings of resentment, jealousy, and even depression. Address their concerns and needs without making them feel they are second-class citizens.
By J. Mark Jordan
Church Life in the New Millennium: The new generation of churchgoers presents challenges to pastors and leaders that differ significantly from the stereotypes of the past. The old assumptions no longer work. We need to take a fresh look at the way we handle the people who are caught up in the sweeping social and cultural revolution. The leadership of the Holy Spirit has become more necessary now than ever. Let’s look at the problem from the perspective of the church.
Returned Prodigals. Those who left the church many years ago and have just returned have unique needs and cannot be lumped together with everyone else. Do not assume that they “know the score.” Understand that they have had little or no spiritual growth for years. They resemble Rip Van Winkle, who woke up from a twenty-year nap. When they come back, therefore, they have highly idealized and naive expectations of themselves and others. If they left church as a child or a teenager, they still have a child’s or a teenager’s view of the church. Also, those who enjoyed a relatively high status before they left may never achieve the same level. The initial enthusiasm of their return may fade quickly when it dawns on them that they forfeited their previous esteem. First, make them aware that their salvation is more important than anything else. After a reasonable passage of time, they may once again be qualified for advancement. These things have to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Spiritual Stepchildren. Not all move-ins are the same. Some have relocated to your city because of a job situation. Some are going to school, joining the military, or are adjusting to changing family circumstances. Others, however, are refugees from church fights or have suffered embarrassing problems that forced them to leave and go elsewhere. The protocols of the transfers are another story, but after they come, the immediate concern must focus on the welfare of the move-in. In their new church environment, they experience many of the same emotions that stepchildren have in real life. They do not respond to authoritarian leadership. They must be persuaded, affirmed, and won over.
The Plugged-In. The local church no longer serves as the only source of religious information for today’s members. The Internet has revolutionized communication and networking. People have access to multiple sources of church-world news, theological views, newsletters, special interest groups, chat rooms, Web sites, and forums that disseminate ideas from every doctrinal position imaginable. Maintaining control in the new millennium has become a far more difficult task than ever before. Church leaders must continue to educate themselves about the subjects that much of their congregation knows like the backs of their hands. Those who refer to hippies, discos, and other outdated terms of the past alienate their younger audience. We cannot ignore the fact that a ready-made argument against nearly everything we preach and teach exists in the minds of churchgoers. The more dated and out-of-touch church leaders seem, the less influence they wield.
The Resident Analysts. Our demand for high commitment and separation from the world meets with high resistance from a certain segment of people who continue to attend church but never fully comply with the teachings and standards. Due to their family ties or friendships, they remain a part of the social fabric of the church.