Mailbag #18: Dealing with Anxiety; Lord’s Supper Question; Christians & Multi-Level Marketing; When A Church Member Moves Away

Mailbag
10.30.2015

Dealing with Anxiety »
Lord’s Supper Question »
Christians & Multi-Level Marketing »
When A Church Member Moves Away »

Dear 9Marks,

How does one battle and get rid of fear and anxiety when it eats your lunch for a season holistically? How does one uproot the root issues?

—Dex, Texas

Dex,

Good question. Not normally one I’d answer since it’s outside our bailiwick, but I am doing so just to point you to two resources.

First, make yourself familiar with the resources of CCEF. (This is their bailiwick!) For instance, every church should make the CCEF mini-booklets available for members, like this one by David Powlison called Stressed Out: Becoming Peaceful on the Inside, which answers your question. Ed Welch’s book Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest is also very good on this particular topic. I also wonder if his book When People Are Big and God Is Small would help, as well.

An even more important second resource: Your church. Both your fellow members and elders. They know you. More than me. More than any CCEF booklet. They will be able to help you sort out what circumstances might be adjusted as well as what’s a property of your heart. They will be able to best assess how to apply the gospel to you. There’s a difference between a medical book filled with good principles and a doctor who can take your blood pressure, tap on your knee, and ask you questions. It’s our fellow members and our elders who step into the role of doctor.

If you are not in a healthy church with godly members and elders (or fellow-elders) you trust, my first piece of counsel would be to fix that, if at all possible.

Dear 9Marks,

Would you allow a community group to partake of the Lord’s Supper if an elder was leading the group? If no, would you administer the Lord’s Supper during a Wednesday night (or Sunday night) service when only a fraction of the membership was present? If yes, how are these two “assemblies” different? In other words, both the community group and the Wednesday night (or Sunday night) service consist of only a small percentage of the congregation and both have an elder(s) presiding over them?

Thanks!

—Matt

Matt,

Though I think it should ordinarily be an elder who administers the Lord’s Supper, what’s crucial for the Lord’s Supper is not the elder, per se, but the gathering of the church. So, no, I would not practice the Lord’s Supper either in a small group or any service of the church where only a fraction of the church regularly attend, whether or not an elder is present.

Consider these two passages:

“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17)

“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” (1 Cor. 11:33)

The first verse tells us that participating in the Supper provides a picture of the fact that we are one body. The Supper is a church-body-revealing meal. It exists in part to show who the church is. The second verse follows up with a very practical lesson: churches should take this meal together.

Back to your question then: if one of the purposes of the Supper is to reveal the church as a church, we should only celebrate it in those gatherings where a good majority of the members are present. Or as Paul says, “Wait for one another.”

Our church takes it both Sunday mornings and evenings, but not Wednesday nights. We do that since the vast majority of members return on Sunday evenings, and only a fraction show up Wednesday nights.

Hope this answers your question.

Dear 9Marks,

Hello! I’m wondering whether Christians should be involved with multilevel marketing, like Amway, for example. I’d also like to know what to do if someone who claims to be a believer is ‎involved, but doesn’t go to the same church as I do. 

Thank you!

—Anna, Calgary

Anna,

I’m glad you asked since this is a subject Christians don’t always give much thought to, particularly in the context of their church relationships.

At the most abstract level, multilevel marketing is simply one form of direct sales that is neither good or bad in itself. It’s a tool that can be used well or poorly. A pyramid scheme, of course, would be a very bad (and illegal in many countries) use of the model. At the same time, when a real estate or insurance salesman has someone selling for him or her, and they receive a portion of the commission, that effectively is a form of multilevel marketing. And I don’t have a moral objection to that, as such.

But now let me offer a couple of cautions. First, you should always ask whether the product you are selling actually helps people to live better lives. If your company seems more interested in signing up others to sell than it is in selling the product, take that as a big red flag. Realize also that multilevel marketing organizations, both the good and bad ones, love churches because churches are one of the few remaining places that autonomous Westerners structure their lives around a community, and the organizations are only too happy to take advantage of those relational webs.

Second, whether you are selling insurance, real estate, Amway, Arbon, Cutco, Mary Kay, Juice Plus, Tupperware, or whatever the latest suburban living room party product is, you don’t want to exploit your church relationships to make the sale. Just as I wouldn’t want an insurance agent joining my church so that he can phone his way through the membership directory, so I would caution someone against emailing all their friends at church in order to talk about Arbon or Juice Plus.

The reason is, we want our church relationships to be used to pursue much more important matters, namely, helping one another prepare for eternal life. And we don’t want anything to interfere with that.

I remember people felt slightly suspicious about a couple who sold Amway in my church as a kid. Were they using relationships just to make a sale? To some extent, they jeopardized their ability to enter into fully transparent, vulnerable, sin-confessing, hope-encouraging relationships with other people. They worked against their own spiritual good. And goodness, how much more important to help one another begin living eternally now rather than expanding our current client base!

(Full disclosure: I spent two weeks the summer between college and graduate school selling Cutco knives to my parent’s friends in the church. It was horrible! But I still have an awesome set of knives.)

Am I saying that someone involved in a multi-level marketing program should never invite a fellow church member to consider their product? No, assuming that product is in some shape or form legitimate, but I would strongly caution pastors against doing so, and I would want to have a conversation with any member who was pushing into church relationships with their product. I’d want to know more specifics. I know of situations where pastors needed to tell members to stop involving other members entirely.

On the other hand, my friend and fellow church member Jason is a real estate agent, and he does an exemplary job of serving our church members through his profession (including me). But he doesn’t pursue us. We pursue him. There is no doubt in people’s mind that he loves them as people, not as potential clients.

There is a larger conversation here, and that is, how do we balance church relationships with professional competencies? You don’t want the real estate agents or doctors or handymen in your church to feel like you only contact them when you need their professional expertise.

Much depends upon judgment. Yet thanks for raising the subject, because my sense is that many Christians can be careless about these things, including me. The solution is to make sure we’re loving our fellow members for eternity’s sake more than ourselves for this world’s sake.

Dear 9Marks,

When a church member moves away from the area, at what point do you remove him or her from the roll? I’m talking about cases when a person moves due to a job change or something, not a problem situation. The individual is probably not going to join another church immediately, so allowing for a transitional period would make sense. However, how can church membership happen in a meaningful way if the person lives at a far distance? And what if in the interim the individual falls into serious sin? Could church discipline actually happen? That danger would seem to argue for removing him as soon as he moves away (or at the next members’ meeting). Would appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thanks.

—Ken, South Carolina

Ken,

I like your instincts. My church encourages people to resign their memberships as soon as they move elsewhere because we cannot do much to fulfill our covenant with them from a distance. We cannot affirm or encourage them. We cannot warn them against sin. We cannot be the body of Christ in a 1-Corinthians-12, mourning-and-rejoicing sort of way. So, as a general principle, we encourage them to resign even if they have not settled on a new church yet. Membership is not some sort of force field that magically protects people apart from the active engagement of relationships, which is very difficult long distance.

In fact, I kind of hope they resign on their way out and then do feel a little unprotected once they arrive in a new city. Maybe that will incentivize them to act more quickly in joining another church! Of course, I wouldn’t say this for everyone leaving the church.

If a member leaves and doesn’t resign, one of our elders will probably begin an email correspondence within a month or two just to check in on them and to ask about their church search. This can go on for a few months, sometimes longer.

If we caught wind of the fact that they were engaging in unrepentant sin in another city while in this process, what would we do? I don’t recall encountering that situation. It’s possible we would move toward excommunication, but there would be some reluctance to do so since we are not longer in active fellowship. It’s sort of like taking a person to court for a crime on the other side of the planet, where the defendant, the evidence, and the witnesses are over there, not in your courtroom. Uhhhh? Maybe we would if the facts were super clear and undisputed by everyone, including the member him- or herself.

Here’s the second to last sentence in our church covenant, which we stand and recite every time we take the Lord’s Supper: “We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.” Whenever our church votes people out of membership, the pastors use the opportunity to instruct the church on how to leave well.

The goal is always to get people into a good church. It doesn’t have to be ours!

By:
Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman is the Editorial Director of 9Marks, and an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Cheverly, Maryland. You can find him on Twitter at @JonathanLeeman.