I am part of a very large church, what would be known in the parlance around here as a megachurch. For several years I was actively involved in a Tuesday night bible study hosted by this church for young adults all around the city of Atlanta.
A few years ago this bible study ended when its leader/speaker/point-person left in order to devote more time to other ministry obligations. Now he is back in Atlanta, and he is starting a church. Currently, this church meets very sporadically in rented facilities all over the city. But soon they will have a permanent home and the ability to meet regularly on Sunday mornings.
And when that happens, I will have an EXCRUCIATINGLY difficult choice to make.
Do I jump ship and go with this leader, whom I sat under and served alongside for several years, and support him in this new venture? Or do I stay at the church where I am currently involved, which has moved on without him, and watch from the sidelines and wonder what might have been?
I don’t think I am alone in this quandary. Several hundred other people at my church were actively involved in this Tuesday night bible study, both as attenders and as volunteers who served alongside him and helped to put it on. They too will have a choice to make.
Such is the fruit of our neglect of pastoral ethics in this day and age.
Pastoral ethics is a lost art these days, but it used to get lots of play in seminary. One of the key ideas of pastoral ethics: It is a huge no-no, if you, for whatever reason, leave a church that you are pastoring, to start a new church or take over an existing church in the same city as your old church.
Why? Because it forces the people in your old church, the people who sat under your teaching and served alongside you in your old ministry, to make a difficult choice. Do they stay with the church which you left and which has moved on without you? Or do they allow their relationship with you to hold sway and jump ship to support you in your new venture? You can insist all day long until the cows come home that your church is all about reaching unchurched people and that people who already have a church home need to stay put. Doesn’t matter. The very fact of your being in the same city as your old church forces the people of your old church to make the choice.
Some will choose to stay. Others will choose to go. When these leave, their departure will hurt your old church. Now, my church is having problems because its 11 AM service is slammed every week. Having a couple hundred empty seats at the 11 AM service, which will probably happen once this other church gets going, would actually not be a bad thing. But there are many other churches out there where the loss of a couple hundred people–or much less, for that matter–would be a grievous blow.
But that is not what I am chiefly concerned about here. Call me selfish, it’s probably true–I just don’t want to have to make a difficult choice. I don’t think I should have to make this choice. And I don’t think the other people at my church who were actively involved in the Tuesday night bible study should have to make this choice either.
If pastoral ethics were not the lost art that it is nowadays, we wouldn’t have to make this choice.