Churches Aren’t Christian Cruise Ships

Is it possible that your church isn’t a perfect fit for everyone?

Everyone is welcome, but maybe another church might meet their particular needs better. That’s not an easily embraced thought.

Can you say “no” to someone even if it potentially results in them leaving your church?

Learning to balance the natural tension of loving and caring for people, but not allowing someone to leverage their personal agenda, or even hijack the purpose of your church is not easy.

This is a tough issue and requires artful leadership. As shepherds we hate to have even one person leave, but sometimes it’s OK.

The church is not designed to please everyone. The kind of preaching or style of worship can’t make everyone happy. Your approach to student ministry won’t connect with every parent. Heck, your choice of coffee can make some people mad!

The church does not exist to deliver all the programming its attendees can dream up. If we did everything we’ve been asked to do, we’d have dozens of programs from baseball leagues to classes in CPR.

You can’t preach every sermon your congregation thinks you should preach.

Sometimes you just need to say no.

It’s all good and worthy stuff, but the church not only shouldn’t do all of it, but it also can’t. No one church can do everything. That is simply impossible. So what each church does must be carefully, strategically and prayerfully thought through.

Many of the things that your attendees request already exist somewhere in your community. Encourage your congregation to engage the community, and take Jesus with them!

3 principles to help you navigate these sensitive matters.

1) Love everyone, but cater to no one.

Jesus served everyone the Father directed Him to serve. We are to do no less. But the Father never directed Jesus to serve everyone while He was here on earth.

One of the stories that illustrate this is in John Chapter 11. Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus was sick and dying. They pleaded with Jesus to come and heal him, but Jesus stayed where He was for two more days. I’m certain they didn’t understand in the moment. They were probably upset. Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, but He remained on purpose.

The tension arises from the fact that people are the purpose of the church. But Jesus never demonstrated or communicated that His Kingdom purpose for the local church was to be surrendered to any single individual’s desires. Keep the larger mission in mind.

2) Know what God has called you to do and don’t back down.

You can’t do everything, so do what you do well. Keep your list of ministries lean. Stick to the main thing – stick to what God has called you to do.

Be strategic. Use resources wisely. Listen carefully to the prompts of the Holy Spirit. I’m convinced that God won’t give you more to do than you have time to do it in. So, if you have too much to do, maybe you are doing something God doesn’t need you to do.

Pray till you know what God wants. God is not the author of confusion and division. If there is disagreement amongst leaders, keep praying and practice mutual voluntary submission. When you agree and are aligned in God’s purpose and plan for ministry, be bold. Don’t back down.

I love the story in the book of Nehemiah when Sanballat and Geshem sent Nehemiah a message trying to get him to meet with them. Nehemiah responded that he was carrying on a great project and could not meet! He asked, “Why should the work stop and I go down to you?” They pressured him for a meeting four times, and each time Nehemiah did not back down. He would not be hijacked by someone else’s agenda. (Nehemiah 6:1-4)

3) Get comfortable with the idea that the Kingdom of God is bigger than your church.

I used to take it personally when anyone left the church I love and serve. It still gets to me at times, but I’ve come to realize that the Kingdom of God is much bigger than my church.

The message of Jesus Christ is for everyone, but your church isn’t everyone’s preference, and that’s OK. Your doors are open to everyone, of course. They are welcome, but you can’t meet the high diversity of needs and ministry required in the body of Christ.

It’s natural to be disappointed if someone who has been with you for a long time leaves your church or if someone visits your church for a while and doesn’t stay. Don’t take it personally. In the same way that you on occasion must say no to someone, they can say no to you.

If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up with a much smaller congregation than you will if you know who you are, know what you are called to do, and do that well.

If a family leaves, love them well on the way out and let them know they are always welcome to return as Jesus directs them.

Even if they don’t entirely agree with you.

If you’re like me, you want to meet every need you can. And you’d like to accommodate requests. But there are times you need to say no to some requests, preferences, and demands. As a result, a few people may leave, but hold true to the purpose God has given you, and stay steady on the course.

28 thoughts on “Churches Aren’t Christian Cruise Ships”

    1. Waow so great and helpful message — So encouraging and edifying ! Thank you so much
      You express all issues in Church Leadership as exactly how it is …
      It’s really clear explanation and what I need as we have been facing ‘all’ these mentioned above
      Love and blessings ! Need always your prayer support

  1. That article points toward why it is so important to make disciples. For many years I have been meeting with men who lead others unlike early in my Christian life when I started with men who eventually became leaders. In making disciples I may suggest to one of those on my team that they may be a better fit to help that person grow. I never give a man I am leading someone to meet with until he shows that he has led one that he reached. This allows me to meet with a few men and each leader meets with a few men. This keeps people from being burned out and tired
    It is quite effective with each person is helped personally.

  2. Very timely Dan. We just discussed possible loss of a two of our beloved families. They were seeking a different worship style. We love them and pray that they will find what they are looking for.

    1. Hey Jack, It’s tough to see wonderful people leave, but in the big picture of God’s Kingdom, it’s part of life and ministry. I pray God blesses you double for your releasing them with a loving spirit.

  3. Awesome word Dan, and a great reminder. Appreciate your wisdom and insight. In a culture of tremendous change, where longivity seems to be measured by the latest and newest cell phone in terms of months vs. years, being all things to all people becomes impossible.

  4. Nathanael Hernandez

    People want confident leadership in a church that knows where it’s headed. Even if they don’t entirely agree with you.

    That’s true. There’s things I disagree with at my church but my pastor is a man of God who has the mind of God and a vision for the city. I concentrate on being in submission to the vision of the shepherd God placed me under.

    As for worship styles, I am the only one who likes my favorite songs and I have realized that if I come worshipfully with a good attitude, the worship style matters less and less. Still working on that one lol

  5. Taylor Walker

    You’re right, Dan. Churches aren’t Christian cruise ships. But you know what they should be? Endlessly dedicated to pursuing justice, compassion, and radical love.

    If the Church does not address the needs of the poor, of people of color, of the queer community, it is INSUFFICIENT! We are called to protect communities in trouble! To dismantle inequities! To break down oppressive institutions! We are called to LOVE EACH OTHER!

    It’s no cruise ship. But we weren’t told to become fishers of people for nothing. Sometimes, we have to rock the boat.

    1. Carol Dickinson

      The primary needs of the poor, the different races, and the homosexual community is salvation… repentance from sin… and to believe in Christ and believe the Gospel. Speaking the truth in love is primary along side… meeting their physical needs whether it be food & shelter, love between races, or the truth spoken in love to the gay community such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Tell them we have have all sinned (no matter what the sin)… and we must all repent from sin… for it is not just believing in Jesus but repenting from sin (Mark 1:15). God bless you Taylor.

  6. Charles S Areson

    Great stuff. The leadership in my church seems to know these things and it makes ministry so much easier. We definitely aren’t a cruise ship and we seem content with that.

    My heart breaks for those who try to be everything to everyone. I have pity for those who have church people thinking they ought to be. As you pointed out Jesus, didn’t jump every time someone wanted him.

  7. The message is so good and firm I appreciate Dan for taking time to help us your fellow ministers. Blessings upon you and your family and ministry work.
    Pastor Richard

  8. Dan I have been subscribed to and read your posts for many years now, and I continue to find them so ‘on point’ and helpful – Thank you so much for this ongoing steady flow of excellent material!
    It’s been my ambition for some years to meet you and thank you in person, who knows one day!

    many thanks
    Mark Thornett – UK

  9. What if the church promotes consistent fideism and has facile teaching? Should they continue the status quo or try to improve?

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