Have you ever received a backhanded compliment? Just beneath the veneer of a compliment lies a stinging insult. It may not register at first, but then you feel the pain.

“Congratulations, I didn’t expect you to get the job!”

“You are so independent; it’s no surprise you haven’t found anyone yet.”

“You really look nice on Instagram.”

“I wish I could be as relaxed as you about all the clutter in the house.”


Several sentences spoken about churches today seem to be affirming on the surface, but they have a negative connotation. I try to give the person articulating these sentences the benefit of the doubt by calling them well-intending.

But they may not be well-intending at all. 

1. “The church is not the building; it’s the people.” This sentence is the most common of these five, and it seems to be coinciding with attendance declines. It is biblically true on the surface, but it usually means that fewer people are gathering in the building. It is also a convenient excuse for someone who does not gather with other believers regularly.

2. “Our church is a discipleship church rather than an evangelistic church.” In other words, our church and its members are not reaching people with the gospel. But we will pretend it’s okay and say our members are growing more deeply as believers. The New Testament clearly affirms that a maturing disciple is an evangelistic disciple.

3. “Jesus and I get along just fine by ourselves.” No, you don’t. Jesus wants you to get off your idle posture and connect with other believers. From Acts 2 to Revelation 3, the Bible is about the local church or written in the context of the local church. The local church is God’s plan A, and he didn’t give us a plan B.

4. “It’s not how many are attending; it’s how many we are sending.” Yes, sending people is important. Indeed, it is the mission of the church. But sending is never put in opposition to attending in the New Testament. It’s both/and, not either/or.

5. “We need to grow in discipleship before we start a new church or a new campus.” The challenge with this sentence is that the level of discipleship growth needed is never articulated. Lack of discipleship becomes a convenient excuse for not starting a new church or a new site. You are never fully ready to start a new family. You are likewise never fully ready to start a new church. You will have to depend less on yourselves and more on the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul was clear that the life of a Christian would be challenging, even painful. Among other things, Paul was beaten, imprisoned, confronted by angry mobs, shipwrecked, worked to exhaustion, forced to endure sleepless nights, and deprived of food (see 2 Corinthians 6:5).

Our life is to be one of obedience. The five sentences above are usually clever verbiage to cloak disobedience.


This article was originally published at churchanswers.com on August 29. Thom S. Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

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