Church Shopping?

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Should Sheep Shop?

Guest Post by Pastor James Emery White

I was recently asked by another pastor how he should feel about all of the sheep swapping going around in his city.
In the Bible, those in Christ are often referred to as “sheep,” and pastors as “shepherds.”
From this, there have come all kinds of catchphrases in regard to church life, most notably “sheep swapping,” which is when people move from one local church to another.
So, is that ever a good thing? 
Always a bad thing?
Something in between?
Five good reasons to shop around:
1.   Teaching veers away from historic orthodoxy.
2.   Leadership consistently lacks integrity.
3.   Community is infected with habitual disunity.
4.   Mission has no focus or clarity.
5.   Finances lack necessary accountability.
These are good for one reason: they are substantive issues.
Five bad reasons to shop around:
1.   You don’t like long check-in lines and parking/exit hassles.
2.   You don’t like capital campaigns for buildings.
3.   You don’t like the influx of new faces and new staff.
4.   You don’t like finding your favorite seat taken.
5.   You don’t like having limited personal access to the pastor.
These are bad for one reason: they are all about not liking growth.
Five really bad reasons to shop around:
1.   You want to gravitate to the “next, next” thing out of spiritual insecurity.
      And then the “next, next” thing after that…and after that….
2.   You are fleeing the community after being exposed and admonished for serious, unrepentant sin.
3.   You voted on a non-doctrinal, non-substantive matter and it didn’t go your way.
4.   Your toes were stepped on in regard to a lifestyle or obedience matter that, in truth, the Bible is clear on.
5.   You got “offended” by someone, but never practiced Matthew 18:15 to try and resolve the offense.
These are “really bad” for one reason: they are rooted in sin, or at least immaturity.
Five “gray” reasons to shop around:
1.   Your new address makes it too far to drive.
2.   Your teenager wants to go somewhere else.
3.   Your age group or “stage of life” group is under-represented.
4.   Your philosophy of ministry is different, or has changed.
5.   Your passion in ministry isn’t offered or enabled.
These are gray for one reason: sometimes they are legit, sometimes they are not. Sometimes they should be “catered” to, sometimes they should not. In truth, most of the time “not.”
Five reasons used most often for shopping around:
1.   I’m not being “fed.”
2.   I’m not being “fed.”
3.   I’m not being “fed.”
4.   I’m not being “fed.”
5.   I’m not being “fed.”
So is being “fed” good, bad or gray?
In most cases, it’s bad. The apostle Paul talks about those who still want to be “fed” as akin to a middle-age man sucking on a baby bottle. Most of us already know more at this moment than we will ever act on. We don’t need to be fed more – we need to live more. And if anything, feed others.
Being “fed” is often a euphemism for any and all disagreements that desire a spiritual smokescreen for departure. The irony is that I have dialogued with many of the leading teachers of our day – those who write books, have radio programs, have hundreds of thousands of podcasts downloaded (the teachers of the teachers) – and even with their qualifications the #1 reason people give for leaving their church is “I’m not being fed.”
Go figure.
The bottom line is that continually shopping around as a sheep, as a rule, is not best. What is best is to find a church home, be loyal and committed to it, and to work to make it all that it isn’t with a servant’s heart.
There will always be more
…convenient churches
…hotter churches
…newer churches
…better stage-of-life churches
…hipper churches
…larger churches
…smaller churches
But there will only be one that is your church.
Like a marriage that goes the marathon, there is a depth and sweetness to staying in a community year after year, decade after decade.
Knowing the stories, the people, the milestones.
There are people at Meck who have been with us since the earliest of days. Some since the very first year. Some since the very first service.
To a person, they would tell you that it is among their most precious investments and realities.
Why? It’s their church.
The one that God called them to.
That’s not something you shop for and buy.
It’s something you make.

Note: This is a guest post, used by permission, of pastor and author, Dr. James Emery White. To read more of his blogs, go here.

PIAD Front PanelIf you’d like to read some things Kurt wrote regarding the Church and faith, please check out his recently released book: Perfectly Imperfect.  

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10 Responses to Church Shopping?

    • Actually, Theodore, I would encourage you to go back and review this passage, in context, and to take a closer look at the early church history. It says in Acts 2:46, “They worshipped together at the Temple each day…” and they met in homes to share a meal and the Lord’s Supper. Your suggestion that this somehow encourages “church hopping” is biblically and historically incorrect. Church shopping/hopping is a relatively new experience in our modern culture that is the result of a consumer mentality far to prevalent in the Church. That being said, thank you for sharing and adding to the conversation.

  1. Giod article. I think it’s easy for us to think that this is the church “we chose” to go to, and give less importance to the fact that God has placed us there. When we realize that, (assuming all doctrine and teaching is Biblically sound) church becomes a much more special place.
    David knew that God had chosen him to be king of Israel, but it took time, a lot patience and faith and trust before he took his position. But he knew it was Gods plan. Finding your place in a church can be much like that. It’s an amazing thing when we are able to trust God’s will, and not assume we need to fit His will into our plans. God always blesses faithfulness.

  2. Really good entry. People are fickle, for sure. A few weeks back I shared a bit of my story of considering “shopping” last summer. So this all fits the thoughts I had. Mostly the bad reasons and gray! Lol. And the “not being fed”. But the irony about that is that mostly I wasn’t being fed cuz I wasn’t showing up. Truth. I’m home at Eastpoint. They love me and I love them. It’s my church.

  3. This is a really great article. Whenever I start to feel “I’m not being fed”, I really have to search my heart and ask God to reveal my discontent, which turns out to be my issue, not the church, nor God’s. So, now the first thing I do if I have the urge to “wander” is to ask myself “has God shown me a reason to leave”….Nope…God still has something for me to learn and something to give at EP. 🙂

  4. Great article Kurt. I am back for the summer, or at least most of it. I will see you Easter Sunday. I have watched sheep shop, settle, then shop, then settle, then shop instead of asking God where to join, be and own.

    The only times I have “shopped” have been when I changed communities and had to be placed in a new fellowship. Now is difficult for me as I do not have my earthly life partner with me and I am not sure where I live except where my 5th wheel is parked at the time. Anyway, God sustains me and always brings the fellows into the ship with me, or places me into a “ship” with other fellows. See you sunday.


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