Over the years we have tried to provide an opportunity for newcomers in our church to get acquainted with us. One of the primary ways we have done this is through membership orientation classes. We have used various formats over the years, weekly classes on Sunday mornings, and classes in the evenings, but more recently we have used a ten-week format that we called School of Leaders, Level One, where we attempted to give an overview of who we are as a church, how we function together, and what newcomers can expect to encounter as they get involved in the church.
We look at School of Leaders a little like we do pre-marital counseling. The purpose of counseling a couple before they get married is to help them talk about differences they tend to ignore. A general rule is that what isn’t talked about before marriage has a greater potential of becoming a problem after marriage. In a similar way, what newcomers don’t know about the church before they make a decision to join may set them up for disappointment and misunderstanding later on.
However, like in pre-marital counseling, even with our best efforts at addressing the differences, they may discover it doesn’t always sink in. Like a young couple in love that has difficulty imagining problems, people coming into a new church tend to view things the same. At first everything is new and seems wonderful and great, especially if the newcomer comes from a more traditional church where things have been a little on the dead side. Actually, it’s fun working with newcomers. Having them tell you how great the church is, how wonderful the pastor is, and how exciting the ministry is, isn’t at all hard to take. It feels good.
What helps to keep things in proper perspective, though, is to realize that the honeymoon will most likely end and give way to reality and, again like in a marriage, they may begin to see weaknesses and faults that start bothering them. Some are able to realize what is happening, work through it with or without counseling, and become fruitful participants in the body. Others may find the reality too difficult to accept and choose to leave. Like one couple who left one of the churches in our network recently said, “If we had known that this church is about worship, teaching, and healing, we wouldn’t have come in the first place.”
Even with the effort we make to help people understand what we are about, not everyone gets it. Some may be so caught up in their own vision and understanding of how church is to happen that they simply don’t hear what is being said or if they do hear they may not take it seriously. Others may think they can change things after they get involved. When it doesn’t work out according to their expectations one of two things usually happen. Either they change and embrace the vision of the church or they get upset and choose to leave and find another church. Over the years we have seen it go both ways.
We try to do what we can to help people work through any troubling issues, but like Jesus modeled for us, when persons don’t accept what we have to offer, we don’t run after them and try to convince them to stay. We have learned to hold people with an open hand and give them freedom to make their own choices. There may even be times when we actually recommend another church to persons more in line with their personal expectations, desires, and needs. While we are a church open to everyone, we don’t claim to be a church for everyone. It takes all kinds of churches to meet the needs of all kinds of people. Landstown is only one option among many.
The way we do church is not the only way and perhaps not the best way but it’s the way God has led us and that is what we try to make clear to new people coming into our church. How other churches do it is between them and God. Our responsibility is not to judge others but to be and do what God has called us to be and do. The Landstown story, of which this is the introduction, is an attempt to put in writing those things we want newcomers to know about the church before making it their spiritual home. It’s a story that will include both successes and failures and how, through it all, we have learned to trust in God and depend on His Word. Hopefully it will serve as a window into the heart of Landstown Community Church and the unique ministry and purpose God has called us to fulfill.