Several years ago I was talking to a new church planter who was starting a church in AL. As we talked and I answered his questions, this question came up: "I am having some people coming to our launch meetings who are from other churches. I had one pastor email me and actually accuse me of stealing his sheep. What should I do?
Here is what I said: "First of all, NONE of God's people are OUR sheep. They are the Lord's sheep. We are just undershepherds called to be "faithful to our Great Shepherd for however long He has them stay with us. We are responsible to help them in their journey to be deeper connected to the true Shepherd of their souls, as well as His mission, for however long He leads them to stay with us. Some may be with us for a few weeks. Others? A few months. Still others a year, 2, 3, 5 years. A few even longer than that, 10 years. Its very rare to see 20 years. That's my experience. So we as undershepherds must hold loosely and love largely, as that is what we are called to do. Our goal is to hear those words at the end: "WELL DONE, MY GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!"
"Let me just say that I believe "sheep-stealing" is over-rated. I definitely DON'T believe it is OK to directly recruit people and try to poison them about the church they attend and the pastor they are under. That is plain wrong and immoral and a clear violation of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We are in this together and as pastors we should support each other as best we can.
But on the other hand, God truly DOES often lead His sheep to other "pastures"/churches for their further development and use in His Great Commission work. How do you know when He is leading you elsewhere? It is not because you are offended. Its not because you cant get along with some of the people. Its because this thing in you is CALLING you, stirring you, not a man coercing and manipulating or guilting you. I call it "Divine Discontentment". The HOLY SPIRIT is drawing you elsewhere to connect with another work and vision in the grand landscape of the Body of Christ because you are needed by Him to help build.
It is based on a POSITIVE, not a NEGATIVE.
I hope this makes at least a little sense. Some people stay in churches because they have grown comfortable. They no longer are vital, no longer are being of use to the Great Shepherd in His Kingdom. Others feel Divine Discontentment but are afraid that if they left the Pastor would get upset. I truly believe they are often frustrating the Holy Spirit as He wants them to be productive and useful in the Great Commission.
To make this clearer, let me give a true story that actually has happened many times over in my 30 years as a pastor: A couple attended a service and asked afterward to have coffee with me. After we had sat down and chatted, they began to complain about the church they were leaving, telling me how the pastor had said something to one of their children that did not sit right with them. They questioned his integrity then asked if they could become members of my church.
My response? "Im sorry, but not right now. At our church we practice as best we can Matthew 18 where Jesus says, "If your brother (including your pastor) offends you, go to that person DIRECTLY." Let them know what they did. My experience is that most of the time, that person didnt even realize what they did and it can be cleared up. So before I would allow you to be a part of what we are doing here, you will need to first go back and talk to your pastor and seek to clear up any offense. We want to keep the atmosphere clear and clean here, free from "YICK".
They made an appointment with their pastor and cleared the matter. They told him that they felt the Lord was calling them to be a part of our church and they asked for his blessing. He gave it to them and they hugged and left on good terms and became some of our most valuable people for many years, totally sold out to the mission of our church. There was never another word of grumbling and they actually helped in keeping the atmosphere of our church POSITIVE and "Yick free".
We must never forget that we are all the LORD'S sheep. We belong to HIM, not man. He alone should be the one directing our steps and we must encourage one another to truly listen and follow His voice, period, whatever that means.
Love you guys!