The local church is God’s will for his people. God never saved anyone and sent them on a journey to the heaven as a lone ranger. We need the local church as we journey onward. We must strive to see the privilege of membership in a local church and come to value it far more than we often do. Within the church, there are many different types of people. For instance, there are leaders and followers, men and women, boys and girls, young and old, rich and not so rich, white and black all other colors in-between, along with a multiplicity of other categories.
As we consider the life of the local church, we must beware of three types of people in the church who can bring harm upon themselves while at the same time doing harm to the entire church. Look out for such people and when you identify one in your church—labor in discipleship in order to save them from much error.
The Silent Critic
All criticism is not bad. We can learn from healthy critique, but when we consider the way the certain people offer critique within the life of the church—it’s far from constructive. The silent critic offers smiles in the hallway and seems to be content in the public eye of the church. However, behind the scenes the silent critic speaks with a voice that creates division, diminishes trust for leadership, and causes people to doubt the direction of the church as a whole. This type of person thrives in the shadows causing people to be angry with leaders, and perhaps to leave the church altogether. The silent critic isn’t silent—often employing a sharp tongue dripping with slander and gossip.
The silent critic offers no public voice for people to hear constructive criticism nor does the silent critic approach leadership with the proper attitude and tone—instead the silent critic tries to use their voice behind the scene to drive a wedge between the people and the leadership. This is often accomplished through private discontent, gossip, slander, and “under the radar” conversations that cause division and hindrances within the church. The silent critic often speaks with a spiritual tongue and this functions as a veil over their sinful behavior which causes others to follow them and adopt their rotten attitude. Consider the warning of Proverbs 10:18 which says, “The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.” In fact, Paul writes to the church at Corinth and says, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Col. 3:8). Beware of such people—their agenda is unbiblical.
The Nominal Attendee
The church often has people who hang out around the peripheral without engaging in meaningful membership. The one who is constantly around the outer edges of the church, but not really engaging into the life of the church is a nominal attendee. Such a person may claim to be a Christian, but they place little effort into their attendance, their service, and their worship with the church. The nominal attendee will frequently be absent and will place other things above the church life. Such a person seems interested in the things of God and the life of the church during seasons, but then they cool off. Often the nominal attendee never pursues true membership. Josh Harris makes a clear point in his book, Stop Dating the Church, as he writes:
The church community is where we learn to love God and others; where we are strengthened and transformed by truth from the Word; where we’re taught to pray, to worship, and to serve; where we can be most certain that we’re investing our time and abilities for eternity; where we can grow in our roles as friends, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. The church is earth’s single best place – God’s specially designed place—to start over, to grow and to change for the glory of God. 
While the nominal attendee claims to believe the gospel, they show little desire to go any further by engaging in meaningful church membership and embracing a church covenant with a group of fellow believers. The danger with such a position is that it diminishes the meaning of church membership, keeps the person from serving God, and endangers their soul as they, in most cases, are not true Christians at all. They have fooled themselves. They have been fooled. Remember the warning of James 2:19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Even worse is the warning of Jesus who said:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).
The Church Hopper
One of the greatest hindrances to the local church in our day is the church hopper. This individual often engages in meaningful membership from the beginning, but after a period of time (could be months or years), they decide to “change churches.” Like a shooting star, they appear in the life of the church and then vanish away. Without any job transfer that moves them out of their community and without any heresy within their church that they need to separate from after engaging in church discipline efforts to bring about correction—they simply show up missing in action without any word to the leaders of the church.
The church hopper often uses a spiritual language in their decision to leave one church for another one across town. They often claim that God is “leading” them to that specific church. They claim to have no problems in their present church, but they simply believe they need to be across town rather than where they are presently based on a feeling they experience. Often such decisions are made without seeking the leadership counsel of pastors (shepherds who are given charge to watch over the souls of God’s flock—Heb. 13:17) and approaching the decision through prayer and the Scriptures.
Another version of the church hopper is the church shopper. They often hop from church to church more frequently and it’s often like a consumer who is shopping for something that another church could offer them or their family (especially their children). Maybe it’s the music or perhaps it’s the youth group of the other church—but the church hopper is attracted to something else in another church and they move on from one church to another without considering the impact such decisions will have upon the church as a whole and relationships within the church.
The danger of such practices is that it diminishes a high view of church membership and often creates division or confusion in local churches as people simply walk out the door for another church. This often damages relationships and leaves the leadership clueless as to how to properly shepherd people who approach membership with this mindset.
Paul referred to the church as a family (1 Tim. 5:1-2), he referenced the church as a body (1 Cor. 12), the church is described as an assembly (Heb. 10:25), Peter calls the church a flock (1 Pet. 5:2), and Paul refers to the church as a building (1 Cor. 3:9). When we consider such imagery, it should be clear that body parts down just casually change bodies, flocks stick together, families strive for unity and avoid separation, and building blocks must stick together with the building or it will crumble to the ground. So it must be when we approach our membership in the local church. We can’t approach it with a church hopping mindset. There must be a perseverance and dedicated approach to our membership.
Perhaps you see these different types of people in your local church. Rather than identifying them and avoiding them—why not try to befriend them, pray for them, and labor to help them see the value of a meaningful church membership? The investment in such discipleship matters. Remember, you don’t always have to go across the ocean to make disciples.
- Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church, (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers, 2005), 21.