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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Pastoral Temptation: to Poach

Last night the temptation came on strong. The gym (above) was filled with kids and their parents who came to MCC's week-long children's camp called Noah's Half-Day Camp. It was a great week with over 130 kids K-8th grade participating every day from 8:45-noon. Last night we celebrated the week with the great, high energy band led by Bob Gross and a video produced by Sid Beck, and then an ice-cream social on the patio till dark.
Many of the parents approached me thanking me and the church for providing this excellent children's ministry. Some of them commented how dissatisfied they were with the children's program at their church and maybe they would come and check us out. These people are "catches" in any pastor's vocabulary. Intact families who have been active in other churches. They know how to do church and are familiar with what a church needs. Several of them were very successful professionals who could really add to our church budget needs. They bring to us skills and resources in all sorts of areas. And when they voice dissatisfaction with what's going on in their local church, it's an easy next step to poach and agree with their complaint and offer them something better (us).
But I fought the urge last night, not because I'm so righteous, but because I have been a witness to the poaching that goes on in churches. When former members tell me that pastor _________ invited them to help at this new church (sometimes a church plant) it feels like poaching, especially when these members are well-matured believers with great gifts.
New believers are so much messier! They don't know the rules and the culture of the church. They aren't familiar with our words (narthex, chancel, invocation, intercession, eucharist, etc.) They require so much more hand-holding and up-front work. They often have never read the Bible and need help finding the texts. Some come in deeply wounded and full of needs (versus resources). New believers don't know about tithing. They expect themselves and us to behave differently than the world because of knowing Jesus. They are quickly hurt by other believers' behavior ( poached believers know how church really operates).
But poached believers usually get poached again and again. They are good people who circulated among churches with some degree of regularity. "Before here, we went ______ for _____ years, and before that we went ________." Poached believers expect to be courted like sport free agents. But the kingdom of God does not grow by poaching, just recirculates and juggles the numbers between columns of churches.
Not poaching can cause a backlash too. Some years ago a good friend experienced a wound in his church and sought my advice. We like each other and he and his wife were considering attending the church I served. I told him that he should not consider attending here because his wounded church really needed him and his wife. They needed to serve and bring health to that congregation in need. He agreed with my logic, but the word got back to me that I had rebuffed him from coming to our church! Now they were going to ____________ church. The person who told me this was disappointed in my behavior because "they were leaving anyway, why couldn't they come here?"
What's the proper response to poaching? In our little community there are only four churches (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Covenant). We call ourselves the M-4 and meet monthly for lunch and plan group events together (in September we are working on a local low-income school). In the past we would bring up who is visiting from other congregations. We tacitly refused to participate in church-bashing because we loved and trusted each other. So, if a family from All-Saints visited MCC, at the next lunch I would talk to the rector and tell him that one of his families visited our church so he heard it first from me.
I'd love to hear your take on church-poaching. Is it a problem?

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