In public education circles there is a term called the “Dance of the Lemons”. Some refer to it as “Turkey Trot” or “Passing the Trash”. The idea behind these terms is that a district has a teacher that isn’t performing adequately, and because of tenure issues, that teacher can not be fired or it is very difficult to do so. Rather than fight a long court battle to rid the school of these teachers, the school or district will merely reassign them to other schools or districts. It’s similar to “washing of the hands”.
While it is not the same, there seems to be a similar movement in churches. There are many blogs and surveys covering church hopping. Some blame the hoppers for being fickle and self-pleasing, while others applaud this group and say they are merely searching for the best for themselves and their families. I am not going to debate about those that continually move from one congregation to another as is mentioned in this article, but rather the ones that move because they are in fact lemons.
I have observed many church members who will move to a church, establish membership, stay with a congregation for a few years, become disgruntled (repeatedly), and then move on to another church. I personally do not see this in the same light as the church hoppers mentioned above. Instead, I view it as a deeper issue. One that is spiritual in nature.
First the members leave a church they have attended for a number of years. Upon arrival at their “new” destination, they attempt to persuade their new friends that the move was necessary. They are able to cite example after example of poor leadership, lack of nourishment, etc. The receiving church comforts them and welcomes them with open arms, careful not to repeat the offenses of the former church.
Things go smoothly for a while, even a few years. Then feelings get hurt or someone doesn’t get his/her way. Yes, that sounds childish, but that is exactly what happens. What is really said is that the pastor doesn’t have the vision that I do, or they aren’t moving in the direction I think they should. Or something else with an “I” statement in it. After a few bouts with this, the lemons figure out that they aren’t going to convert the new church or change it’s direction, so they become agitated once again and, you guessed it, move. Only to repeat the process over an over again.
As I observed this phenomenon, I found it interesting that the receiving churches looked at these migrations as blessings. First there is the blessing that the troublesome lemons have left. Second, and probably more so, the receiving churches think that God is moving in their midst and growing their congregations. They walk proudly about touting their numbers as though they personally had evangelized these new members.
While there are legitimate reasons for leaving a church, there are also those who make a habit of it. These are those who only move when they have been confronted with sin, challenged to grow beyond their comfort zones, or are so pious that they feel they have a more direct connection with God than the spiritual leader (pastor) of the church. Rather than making adjustments within themselves and realizing that perhaps they have room to grow, they quickly throw up their defenses of pride, arrogance and wounded spirits and run away.
Something else I have noticed is that when this process begins, it seems to be contagious. In some settings the moves are linked by common denominators, but in other instances it is as though it is in the water! Churches must be wary of calling every move a blessing of God. Sometimes it’s just a move of lemons.