Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” – Luke 15:1-2
Pastors, have we stopped being friends to sinners? Many of us are friends with our staff. Friends with the leaders of our church. Friends with denominational leaders. Friends with other pastors. Friends with the folks that attend our church. Friends with our planting networks. Friends with our leadership coaches. Friends with Christians. But are we friends with sinners?
“My job is to lead those that lead our church,” the pastor of a growing church recently said to me. He had been complaining about the fact that most of the church’s growth had been transfer – and not conversion. I began to ask him questions about his leadership style and what kind of relationships he had. It became obvious that his whole world was Christians. He was leading those that lead the church, but he wasn’t actively pursuing relationships with people far from God. He was hanging out with those in church, but had no relationship with people that weren’t. Therein lies the problem.
Study after study shows that while churches may be growing, the Church is not. For every new church we plant in America, less and less people are attending church. In almost every denomination the number of salvation decisions and baptisms are down. The majority of church growth in America is transfer and not conversion. Churches are just handing off the saints instead of seeking the sinners. I am beginning to wonder if this is because pastors – by and large – have stopped being friends with sinners?
The “I am a leader of leaders” may sound right in today’s society, but is it Scriptural? The mentality comes from the business world – and makes sense there. As pastors – and Christians – Christ should be our example. We should not be taking marching orders from the business world of “dog eat dog” and “success at all costs”. While Christ was a leader of leaders He was also a friend to sinners. He actively built relationships with sinners – as well as His relationship with His disciples.
Things can get pretty busy when leading a church. There is always something – or someone – competing for our time. It becomes easy to say, “My job is to teach and equip the saints to reach people for Christ” or “my job is to lead our leaders to lead our people to lead others to Christ.” This may be easy – and acceptable in today’s idea of pastoral leadership – but it is not Biblical. If Christ was friend to sinners, then pastors – we should be also. It should be intentional. We should make time for it. We should pattern it in our lives. It should be the example that we set for our churches. Maybe the stats would change? Maybe the Kingdom of God would grow – if pastors spent more time becoming friends with sinners?