Four Types of Church Members Who Destroy The Flock

by Dale Partridge

One of the more obvious differences between a traditional church and a house church is the degree of impact one person (or family) can have on a congregation. Since a traditional church typically has 100-300 members, one divisive individual does not greatly affect the whole. However, in a house church, one member or family might be upwards of 20% of your congregation, and their immorality, without proper pastoral leadership, can greatly affect the entire assembly.

As pastors, shepherds, and lay-leaders in a local house church, we must not only be vigilant in regards to who is admitted into our church’s membership but also watchful within our members to recognize and lovingly correct those who are walking contrary to the Word of God.

Personally, I have been a member of a biblical house church since 2014 and a pastor of one since 2017. While my experience is still somewhat narrow, I am not a novice to the spiritual realities faced in these small biblical communities. To be honest, it is not easy. The relational stakes are high, we are fallen saints who sin, and we have an enemy working against us. In this article, I will share four types of members, that from my own experience, have a damaging effect on a local church and how pastors can identify, confront, and gently shepherd these individuals to the feet of Christ.

1. The Lost Member 

Sadly, the Western church has created a Christian population through decisions rather than through repentance and belief. In other words, many people who regularly attend Sunday assemblies have confused coming to church with coming to Christ. As a result, we have thousands of people within the walls of the local church who are moralists, religious zealots, proponents of traditional and conservative values, even brilliant philosophers of the Christian faith but in reality, have never been born again.

As a pastor, this is delicate territory. As mere men, we cannot look upon the heart of others (1 Sam. 16:7). However, Jesus has offered us a clear path to the evidence that will be present in any born again believer.

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Matthew 7:16-20

In regards to this doctrine, Dr. Albert Barnes once wrote, “The Saviour gives the proper test of their character. People do not judge a tree by its leaves, or bark, or flowers, but by the fruit which it bears. The flowers may be beautiful and fragrant, the foliage thick and green, but these are merely ornamental. It is the “fruit” that is of chief service to man; and he forms his opinion of the nature and value of the tree by that fruit. So of pretensions to religion. The profession may be fair, but the “conduct”—the fruit—is to determine the status of the tree.”

In other words, Christ has not left the church without the means to identify counterfeits, wolves, or simply lost sheep needing to hear the call of the Shepherd. That is, the Word of Christ—the Gospel of our Salvation. (Romans 10:17, cf. John 10:24-30).

This is critical because allowing a lost person (even if they are moral) to remain in a state of false assurance is dishonest and dangerous. Further, because these individuals lack the spiritual traits that foster and maintain unity within a local church, they are often the root of many divisive activities within the body.

In other words, when we see a member who, over long periods of time, is sincerely struggling to produce spiritual responses in their interactions with other members, it is valid to question if they are spiritually alive. That is, we cannot expect spiritual actions from people who have not been spiritually born.

But what should a pastor do if he has spiritually, scripturally, and prayerfully discerned a seemingly unconverted member in his congregation? Unfortunately, there is no one answer to this fairly common question. That said, the Bible does command Christians to hold anyone who is “named a brother” to the moral standards of the Scriptures (1 Cor. 5:11-14). Therefore, any member in the church walking contrary to his claimed identity must be lovingly, yet directly confronted.

Because every situation is different, there is no step-by-step process. However, I will offer a biblical principle derived from 1 Corinthians 13:5 that has served me well in ministry: Be curious before you’re critical. Namely, start with questions before making claims. Ask them about the sin (the bad fruit) you’re seeing in their lives. Listen carefully to their response. Ask them also about their conversion and how their sin sits in light of the Gospel. Ask them if they would explain to you the Good News and how their understanding of repentance and faith has shaped their behavior as Christians. Their answers to these types of questions will offer deep insight that will either confirm or disprove your discernment of their spiritual status.

In either conclusion, I strongly suggest you present the Gospel thoroughly to them. Regardless if they are lost or saved everyone needs to hear and re-hear the story of redemption.

But let me close with a quick word of caution. This entire process must be a deeply sensitive discussion. Use your words like a scalpel, not a knife. A knife can cut out genuine assurance and hope in a backslidden believer. A scalpel, however, is a tool of precision used only after identifying its subject. With this acute device, you can cut out only what is broken, that is, false assurance and false hope in an unconverted soul.

2. The Rogue Member

The Bible teaches that God is a God of order. It also teaches that the church is a place of order (1 Cor. 14:40). Additionally, we see the church is governed; first by Christ who is its head (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22, 23), and second by appointed elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).

In Acts 20:28, Paul asserts this order when he tells the elders of the regional church in Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

In 1st Timothy 3 and Titus 1, the Apostle offers further understanding as he lists the high standard of qualifications for the men holding these two ecclesiastical offices.

However, in an individualistic and egalitarian culture where honor and respect for both age and maturity are scarce, the idea of submitting yourself to the spiritual care and oversight of elders is often foreign and even offensive. That said, any church member who operates in this way and who is unwilling to accept the blessing of shepherding, correction, and discipleship works against the order and unity Christ desires within His Bride (John 17:21; 1 Cor. 1:10).

Pastor John MacArthur explains the anguish experienced as a result of these rogue church members. He says, “It is a serious (and all too common) thing for stubborn, self-willed people in church congregations to rob their pastors of the joy God intends faithful pastors to have. Failure to properly submit brings grief rather than joy to pastors, and consequently brings grief and displeasure to God, who sends them to minister over us. Grief (στενάζω) means an inner, unexpected groaning. It is a grief often known only to the pastor, his family, and to God. Because lack of submission is an expression of selfishness and self-will, unruly congregations are not likely to be aware of, or care about, the sorrow they cause their pastor and other leaders (Heb. 13:17).”

From my experience, it is best, especially in a house church format, to be upfront and clear regarding the doctrines of church government. In other words, potential members must understand the biblical roles and responsibilities between elders, deacons, and church members prior to membership. Too often, pastors are overly winsome and allow Christians to join their congregation under false expectations. This is not helpful or wise.

A local church member who does not submit to spiritual authority is not safe because their concerns are not for the oneness and edification of the church but only of the benefits for themselves.

Randy Alcorn once wrote, “Selfishness is when we pursue gain at the expense of others.” I believe this definition best describes my point. Rogue members do not build up, they tear down. For that reason, pastors must confront both the issue and the heart behind their insubordination that they may restore order, respect, and harmony within the flock.

3. The Missing Member

The West has brought forth a commitment-phobic culture. You can see this by our transient lifestyles where we move from city to city, job to job, school to school, church to church, marriage to marriage, and friend to friend. The idea of long-term commitment in any facet of life has become incredibly rare.

Unfortunately, this ideology has bled right into the church. That is, as soon as something doesn’t meet our personal preferences, it’s time to move on. As soon as a particular church doesn’t meet our schedules, our ideal distance, our taste in music, and our selection of personalities we must find somewhere else to go—and fast. Ultimately, this is simply the result of our self-worshipping society who prioritizes freedom above all else.

But this is more than an inconvenient idea when played out in the lives of individuals and families in your local house church. This is painful. In fact, I recently tweeted a quote I believe catches the essence of this pain. I wrote, “Unreciprocated friendship is one of the most painful hypocrisies in the church.” If you change out the word “friendship” for “relational commitment”, it might help clarify what I’m trying to say. When a community of believers labors to walk out the one-another’s of Scripture but is constantly dealing with certain church members who fail to participate and reciprocate in relationship commitment, interest, frequency, or consistency it fuels a culture of uncertainty and distrust.

For example, when a family has joined your house church but has created a pattern where two out of four Sundays they have something more important to do (e.g. a kid’s soccer game, friends who are in town, they woke up late, etc.) this does not nurture the trust and commitment required to fulfill Scriptures like, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed…” (James 5:16) and “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Rom. 12:10) and “…Admonish one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). These Christian commands are deeply intimate and only experienced within the type of committed relationships that Christ had with His disciples, not within hit-or-miss, unattached, shallow, and unpredictable acquaintances within your Christian community.

For those pastors in America, I’m empathetic—everything is working against you. We are a busy, preoccupied, and selfish culture. We have confused proximity with connectedness. We have believed crowds equal closeness. But they do not. As the pastor, it is your job to nurture a culture of relationships that’s reflective of the bond between believers seen in the Scriptures. This is not easy nor is it a one-time lesson. However, in doing so, you will finally see the sluggishness of your flock subside and the love and connection between members rise to new heights.

4. The Non-Giving Member

Last but surely not least, we must address the non-giving member. As a pastor, it has always been fascinating to me how Christians would never expect free counseling for their marriage, free consulting for their business, free teaching for their children, or free training for their family but will willingly sit under the weekly counseling, consulting, teaching, and training of their pastor, without thinking of compensating them in return.

The 18th-century theologian Adam Clarke in his commentary on Galatians 6:6 (which speaks on giving to ministers) pointedly wrote:

“[We must] contribute to the support of the man who has dedicated himself to the work of the ministry, and who gives up his time and his life to preach the Gospel. It appears that some of the believers in Galatia were receiving the Christian ministry without contributing to its support. This is both ungrateful and base. We do not expect that a common schoolmaster will give up his time to teach our children the alphabet each week without being paid for it; and can we suppose that it is just for any person to sit under the preaching of God’s Word on a regular occurrence in order to grow wise unto salvation by it, and not contribute to the support of the spiritual teacher? It is unjust.”

Giving is always a reflection of the heart. After all, Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Ultimately, when someone invests their treasure in supporting their local ministry it is simply a reflection of their heart’s location. They are Kingdom-hearted men and women. They want to see the furthering and flourishing of Christian ministry in their local area. But more than that, they want to sustain and support those who sacrifice and labor to bring about this Kingdom in their own community.

However, many ministries and ministers have been hamstrung and weakened due to the negligence and theft of those receiving ongoing spiritual care without reciprocation, gratitude, or financial support.

But as with the three previous points above, this too is an opportunity to shepherd souls to a right view of God’s commands. As preachers, we must be willing to speak what the Bible says on giving. We must be willing to remind our flock that all that we have is the Lord’s. We must be willing to help our people understand that giving is not about the amount but about the heart. In my experience, this is an ongoing work. Our world is fiercely competing for our money. Pleasure, comfort, and materialism are very real issues, and as God’s ambassadors, we must constantly wash the minds of our flock with the truth of God’s Word.

Conclusion

As you can probably tell by now, these four characteristics are more common in the church than we might have hoped. In fact, the Bible has warned us of this mixing of genuine and counterfeit sheep (Matt. 13:24-30). For that reason, the pastor must be clothed in discernment and have a keen ability to both feed and protect. John Calvin spoke to this matter by saying, “The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves.”

Shepherding is a daunting task. Therefore, pastors must be trained, prepared, and filled with the Holy Spirit that they may properly face and respond to these difficult realities. May we be men of perception who are marked by wisdom, humility, and love.

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Dale Partridge is the Founder and President of Relearn.org. Dale finished his graduate studies at Western Theological Seminary and is now an M.Div candidate at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles, California. He is also the author of several Christians books, the host of the Real Christianity podcast, and an elder and teaching pastor at the local house church in which he serves. He and his wife have three children.

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