Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Should Sheep Shop? (2019)

  • Dr. James Emery White
    James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
  • 2019 Aug 08
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I was once asked by another pastor how he should feel about all of the sheep swapping going around in his city.

In the Bible, those in Christ are often referred to as “sheep” and pastors as “shepherds.” From this, there have come all kinds of catchphrases in regard to church life, most notably “sheep swapping,” which is when people move from one local church to another. 

More to the point, it should probably be called “sheep shopping.”

So, is that ever a good thing? 

Always a bad thing? 

Something in between?

Yes.

Five good reasons to shop around:

  1. The teaching veers away from historic orthodoxy.
  2. The leadership consistently lacks integrity.
  3. Habitual disunity has infected the community.
  4. The mission has no focus or clarity.
  5. The church’s finances lack necessary accountability.        

These are good reasons to shop around because they revolve around substantive issues.

Five bad reasons to shop around:

  1. You don’t like long check-in lines and parking/exit hassles.
  2. You don’t like capital campaigns for buildings.
  3. You don’t like the influx of new faces and new staff.
  4. You don’t like finding your favorite seat taken.
  5. You don’t like having limited personal access to the pastor.

These are bad reasons to shop around because they center on not liking growth.

Five really bad reasons to shop around:

  1. You want to gravitate to the “next, next” thing out of spiritual insecurity. And then the “next, next” thing after that… and after that….
  2. You are fleeing the community after being exposed and admonished for serious, unrepentant sin.
  3. You voted on a non-doctrinal, non-substantive matter and it didn’t go your way.         
  4. Your toes were stepped on in regard to a lifestyle or obedience matter that, in truth, the Bible is clear on.
  5. You were “offended” by someone, but never practiced Matthew 18:15 to try and resolve the offense.

These are really bad reasons to shop around because they are rooted in sin, or at least immaturity.

Five “gray” reasons to shop around:

  1. Your new address makes it too far to drive.
  2. Your teenager wants to go somewhere else.
  3. Your age group or “stage of life” group is under-represented.
  4. Your philosophy of ministry is different or has changed.
  5. Your passion in ministry isn’t offered or enabled.

These are gray because sometimes they are legit, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes they should be “catered” to, and sometimes they should not. In truth, most of the time “not.” 

Five reasons used most often for shopping around:

  1. I’m not being “fed.”
  2. I’m not being “fed.”
  3. I’m not being “fed.”
  4. I’m not being “fed.”
  5. I’m not being “fed.”

So is being “fed” good, bad or gray?

Yes.

In most cases, it’s bad. The apostle Paul talks about those who still want to be “fed” as akin to a middle-age man sucking on a baby bottle. Most of us already know more at this moment than we will ever act on. We don’t need to be fed more—we need to live more. And, if anything, feed others. 

Being “fed” is often a euphemism for any and all disagreements that desire a spiritual smokescreen for departure. The irony is that I have dialogued with many of the leading teachers of our day – those who write books, have radio programs, have hundreds of thousands of podcasts downloaded (the teachers of the teachers) – and even with their qualifications the #1 reason people give for leaving their church is, “I’m not being fed.”

Go figure.

The bottom line is that continually shopping around as a sheep, as a rule, is not best. What is best is to find a church home, be loyal and committed to it, and work to make it all that it isn’t with a servant’s heart.

There will always be more

… convenient churches,

… hotter churches,

… newer churches,

… better stage-of-life churches,

… hipper churches,

… larger churches,

… and smaller churches.

But there will only be one that is your church.

Like a marriage that goes the marathon, there is a depth and sweetness to staying in a community year after year, decade after decade. 

Knowing the stories, the people, the milestones.

There are people at Mecklenburg Community Church who have been with us since the earliest of days. Some since the very first year. Some since the very first service.

They would tell you that it is among their most precious investments and realities.

Why? It’s their church.

The one that God called them to.

That’s not something you shop for and buy.

It’s something you make.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note

This blog was originally published in 2015, and the Church & Culture Team thought you would enjoy reading it again.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram



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