10 Controversial Issues We’ve Seen in Churches

Over the past few years, I’ve kept a record of things that have caused controversy in churches with whom I’ve been acquainted. Perhaps these things won’t surprise you, but here are 10 of them. I’d love to hear your thoughts about any one of them:

  1. Pastoral access to giving records of members. Some folks believed the pastor should have no such access, but others argued he must in order to shepherd the flock toward obedience. More and more churches are taking the second position.
  2. “Term limits” on volunteer positions. Many churches have a rotation system for some positions (e.g., deacons, trustees), but not for the majority of workers. Imagine the questions when church proposed that all volunteers take scheduled time off to renew their hearts.
  3. Auditions for choir members and soloists. This practice that is typical of larger churches is apparently influencing smaller churches as well. Frankly, I wish we had auditioned some of the singers in the first church I pastored. . . . .
  4. Doing away with “come forward” altar calls. I’ve written about different types of “invitations” we’re seeing, but the struggle in this case related to tradition. The church had always done it that way, and dropping the “invitation” felt wrong.
  5. Administrative assistants who are also church members. When the pastor decided to go outside the church for an administrative assistant, members didn’t understand his reasoning. Arguments for and against this position are numerous, and I encourage you to check them out.
  6. Church discipline of a long-term church member. Most churches have not done church discipline in many years, and many who have didn’t do it well. In this case, both issues were in play: this case was the first one the church had faced in years, and they didn’t handle it well.
  7. Family members of the pastor on the church staff. Two of them, in fact. This arrangement led to all kinds of problems.
  8. Not reporting individual staff salaries in the church budget. The church had been accustomed to knowing every salary. When the new pastor changed the process, some members felt he was hiding something.
  9. Allowing non-believers and non-church members to serve in the church’s ministries. Granted, the church doesn’t allow them to serve in teaching positions, but they do give them other opportunities so they might get connected. Some members, however, stood against this practice.
  10. Inviting children of a different race into the children’s program. I’m afraid that ungodly prejudice still exists in some churches.

What are your thoughts on any of these issues? 


  • Robin G. Jordan says:

    I have been involved in a number of churches in which the pastor has given a “come forward” invitation after preaching a sermon and without fail no one comes forward week after week. This practice is hangover from the “sawdust trail” of the old-fashioned revival and serves no real purpose. Most people are too embarrassed to take this step in the full view of their friends, neighbors, and relatives, having attended worship services and Sunday school at the church for months or even years. Those who did come forward in their teen years report doing so because their friends did, not because the Holy Spirit moved them to give their lives to Jesus Christ. Or they feared the disapproval of the adult members of the church if they did not. For this reason a number of pastors have abandoned the practice and replaced it with a prayer time in which those who do feel moved to give their lives to Jesus Christ can repeat a prayer of commitment in the silence of their hearts while the pastor voices such a prayer. Attendees of the church’s worship services and Sunday school, including longtime members of the church, are encouraged to take part in a discipleship class which explores what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This includes the place of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the Christian life. Those who have not made a public declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ can make such a declaration in baptism.

  • mark says:

    I saw the “come forward” after the last 5-10 minutes of the sermon being the preacher’s begging be used week after week. Every few years someone would go up and the congregation would start wondering what juicy bit of gossip would be spilled or how much the person would say and whispering while the preacher was being told. A better version was when during a song people could go see one of the leaders in a room behind the sanctuary. The Episcopalians have an unspoken “altar call” and have either lay people or clergy in one of the chapels during the time when the congregation is going to the rail to receive the communion. People can go there quietly without being overheard.

  • Gregory Pouncey says:

    We continue to offer the “come forward” invitation each week to give people the opportunity not merely to trust Christ but also to pray with pastors and even to kneel in prayer responding to God about what the Spirit spoke to them about through the message. Just this past Sunday a college student came to let people know she was trusting in Jesus. The “come forward” didn’t save her, but it was nice for our people to rejoice with her. I don’t see a need to draw such a harsh dividing line between those who do and those who don’t. Let the Spirit lead each congregation in the way best suited to their situation when it comes to a time of response.

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    At one of my former churches we had prayer teams who laid on hands and prayed for (or with) with people during the communion time or after the service. Anyone who wished prayer could go to one of the teams during the distribution of communion or following the dismissal. This afforded anyone who wished to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ or renewed their commitment to him to do so with prayer at these times. The existence of these teams also conveyed the message that prayer and the laying on of hands was something that the whole body of Christ does, not just the pastor. It reinforced the idea that Sunday morning worship gatherings were the work of the whole people of God, and not the dog and pony show of one person — the pastor.

  • Tom Jones says:

    Admin assistants who are treated like an elder or the pastor’s personal confidant. When those two things happen they team up to challenge anyone who doesn’t see eye to eye with them on things. The admin assistant is empowered beyond her role especially because she feels personally threatened if there are issues. They then work as a team to control an individual and the narrative on that person. Also family on staff is never healthy. Never once have I seen it done well!

  • Mike says:

    Could you create a pros/cons column on family on staff? Would be curious about it. Before pastoring the small church I do now (only one on staff full time), the large church I came from had several family on staff or as an elder – sometimes I could see nepotism almost in play but I can also understand why family hires (and many churches have sons as assistant pastors). Thanks.

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