Immediately I replied, “Never!”
I’m not sure if it was the lack of pause before responding or the response itself, but clearly this was not the answer he was hoping to hear. I tried to take a moment to explain the rationale behind my answer including some positive alternatives, but the conversation was clearly over.
As I processed over the next several minutes, God gave me some empathy. This man, at some point in his life, had an experience that created a perceived value, a fond memory, or both. I can’t question that. I can’t deny his experience. It was his.
But… my clear, definitive, abrupt answer was for a reason. It is formed by a truth church leaders can never lose sight of:
If we try to be the church everybody wants us to be, we will never be the church God needs us to be.
Let me explain.
There are as many expectations of what a church should be as there are people who are familiar with said church. If you regularly attend the church, you have expectations of it. If you irregularly attend the church, you have expectations of it. Even if you never attend the church, but simply know about it, you still have expectations of it.
One of the greatest dangers church leaders face is trying to please everyone… trying to meet everyone’s expectations. It simply cannot be done. What you get is decreased focus, increased ineffectiveness and general confusion.
I firmly believe that God has a specific calling for specific churches. Yes, there should be a foundational sameness in terms of belief and doctrine. There will be similarities in style and structure. But a church simply cannot be what everyone wants it to be.
What suggestions do you have for navigating this tension either as a church leader or a church attender?