Bob Yandian said the number one reason people leave churches is offended. The problem you need to be very aware of is that being offended is more contagious than the common cold. You will catch it if you hang around with offended people. It’s that simple.
Here is a situation I have seen play out more times than I can care to count: someone in church leadership gets offended. They are probably called to plant a church or lead a church, but they cannot wait until they are fully baked and prepared for the task, so they run off half-baked, offended.
Because they are not ready and don’t have the skills necessary to start and pastor a church, then they rip apart their home church to build theirs. They start a church across the road, with a similar name, and try and persuade everyone (especially those with money for *some* reason) to leave the old church and join their new, wonderful church. (For more reasons on why people act like this, click here).
Now here is how it plays out: like attracts like, and so the offended people in the original church leave the original church and join the new church.
The pastor of the original church is upset and shocked – income is down, the building looks empty on a Sunday, worry sets in about who else might leave, and people have lost good friends. But if he steps back and keeps his heart clean, then he will realize the offended person has actually done him a huge favour. He has cleaned the church from those who didn’t want to be there, and left an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit can move freely and where revival can flow.
The pastor of the new church on the other hand has just created what I call “the fellowship of the offended”. This is the church you don’t want to be in. They don’t define themselves by their dream, their vision, their future, their goals, their wisdom. They define themselves by what they are not, why they left, what is wrong with the other church, what is wrong with *all* other churches. They won’t preach Christ crucified, they will preach “Crucify him!”.
I remember many years ago being part of a great church. I loved that church, both my wife and I were there every week, we tithed, we served in different departments, we invested our lives into it and were watching people get saved and healed all the time. It was the greatest learning and preparation of my life – far more so than Bible College. One morning I was due to get up about 5am to go to work, and the Holy Spirit woke me up twenty minutes before my alarm. There was a powerful sense of the presence of the Lord and the Holy Spirit kept saying to me “Stay faithful to [the name of the church], stay faithful to [the name of the pastor]!”. The Holy Spirit spoke those words to me over and over.
While commuting to work I was confused, I couldn’t understand why the Holy Spirit would tell me to do something that I was doing anyway and absolutely loved doing.
Then within two weeks, the church split violently. Many people left, including many leaders. It was a tough time for the church. Some of the new things and new churches starting looked really exciting and really cool. They looked like a lot of fun, and new is always tempting! But I followed the advice of the Holy Spirit and stayed where I was doing what I was doing.
The church was reduced to about 1/3 of what it was. Many of my close friends left. People who I respected left and moved on. It all happened very quickly indeed. It was a difficult time. I didn’t know what I know now about honour and offense and the two kinds of wisdom (again click here), but I did know the Holy Spirit had given me a specific instruction and I was not going to disobey that under any circumstances. And I didn’t, I didn’t just stay faithful, I gave more, attended more, loved more, served more. Our pastor’s preaching got better and better, more powerful, more human. I learned so much in that time from him. That’s where I started to learn about the power of honour and loyalty.
That’s where I started to learn about the truth that you never abandon a leader under attack – that’s where you learn the most wisdom from them, from following them under fire. I am so glad I stayed.
And those who left, many – not all, but I reckon most – joined other churches that ended up being the fellowship of the offended. Some are still meeting over ten years later, still criticizing their old church, still teaching their petty disagreements, still hating and still being offended.
Let me teach you how to spot a fellowship of the offended, and then tell you why you need to avoid them like crazy!
- Somewhere in the preaching they will mention the previous church and why it is a terrible place and the pastor is a bad teacher. In the more polite versions, it will be “my old church” but seen as nearly everyone there used to go there, everyone will know what is meant. In the more offended versions, it will be named, the pastor will be named, and the church will be mocked.
- The leaders will try to please everyone. This is something quite crazy – the whole point of leadership is making decisions that some people will not like. I have made many decisions that offend someone! If two people are having a fight, my peacemaking will either upset one, upset the other, or upset both. If it doesn’t, they wouldn’t need a peacemaker! Good leaders aren’t afraid to make hard choices. David made hard choices, but Absalom found those who didn’t like those choices and stoked the fires of offenses. These churches are founded by Absalom – a politician who will say anything to reach anyone.
- The church will be in competition with the old church. They will be comparing numbers, celebrating when someone changes sides, have similar programmes with similar sounding names, conferences at the same time – they will run up direct competition. Beating the old church will be more fun than extending the kingdom.
- The church will be very superficial. These are people who are not fellowshipping around a revelation of Christ and Him crucified, they are people fellowshipping around their mutual hatred and animosity of the old place. You can’t build deep relationships on hate, so expect the relationships to be shallow and therefore superficial. Expect things to look good – people to be well-dressed and well-turned-out – but don’t expect things to be that good under the surface.
- Expect a genuine fear of the same thing happening again. People plan for what they can imagine. If you have ripped a church apart to get pole position, you can imagine that happening to you. So the church will have numerous safeguards to prevent anyone splitting the church. For example, the church may be all young people, because older, wiser people might be seen as a threat. A lot of preaching might be based on loyalty and so on. The preaching might be against all the other churches, not just the old one.
That is what a “fellowship of the offended” looks like, and the bad news is that if you join one you join them all the way. I have met people who are offended at another church they have never been to and offended at pastors they have never met because they imbibe the atmosphere of a fellowship of the offended. This is what will happen if you to one of these places:
- The attitude of the offended will rub off on you. The company you keep corrupts your character. It’s that simple. It’s stupid to be offended, but it’s even more stupid to be offended at what people did to someone else! Don’t fellowship with the offended.
- The church may grow. There’s a lot of offended people looking for a home. It will not extend the kingdom though, what you will not here are testimonies of people with changed lives, restored marriages and healings. You will hear testimonies of people who are now free from the horrible church down the road – which let’s face it, isn’t much of a testimony now!
- The church will split again. It’s almost inevitable – the foundation and the constant mental state of the people attracts more splits.
- Nobody will grow. Jesus told us that we cannot have a harvest in our life with the weeds still in the ground. One of the weeds (see Mark 4) is the offenses that we take. It stops harvests in our life. The power to attract unparalleled success and the power to hate those who have wronged you cannot both dwell in your heart. You have to choose.
If you are in a church that is splitting, don’t run off with the fellowship of the offended. You may later decide that you should leave your church (see the rest of this series for wisdom on that one), but don’t leave to go to a split, find a healthy church planted by a healthy person to go to.