Church problems are the worst. They are messy and painful for everyone involved. But why is this? Shouldn’t we be more mature, more able to deal with our differences, more loving, more merciful and more willing to lay down our lives for another? In many ways we are (and in some ways we are not) but there are some unique challenges when it comes to church issues.
- They get blown out of perspective. In our attempts not to ‘gossip’ and to ‘keep silent’ we often bottle up our emotions until we are ready to explode, not realizing that seeking wise counsel and actually talking it through with the person you are offended by until the problem is actually resolved are scriptural principles too.
- We have no practice solving problems scripturally. Matthew 18:15-19 tells us how to deal with problems within the church. Rarely if ever is this followed, instead people leave. Getting mad and leaving is not scriptural, but it becomes necessary (for our own mental health) if no one will talk about the issues.
- We do not know how to talk about problems without offending someone. There is a fine line between being mean and being honest. Often people are accused of being malicious when they are merely stating a fact- that they did not like something. People hear about what was said and are then offended and WWIII breaks out. We need to learn to tell the difference between a hurting person asking for help, and expressing frustration, and someone whose intentions are vengeful. We also need to learn when to keep our mouths shut. There are times to say things, and times things are best left unsaid. Typically, we do the exact opposite of what is needed, keeping our peace when we should speak up, and then telling people things that are not productive for them to know.
- Church is family and everyone wants their family to be perfectly loving. It hurts more when you are hurt by those you love, even if they did not mean to do it. Since church is about deep relationships, feelings run deep. Our expectations of the church, and the people in it, especially the pastor (and his wife) are often too high. (In my experience, pastoral husbands have it much easier!) People are fallible; God is not. You must keep that straight. Expecting people, even pastors, to be perfect is to make them a ‘god.’ If you do this, they will disappoint you! Unfortunately many people do just that.
- Churches often have legalistic mindsets. Legalism is great, when you’re on top. It allows you to have a list of ‘sins’ that justifies you’re right to think that you are better than others. The problem with legalism is that no one is perfect. Unless you are really, really good at ‘phony’ someone someday will notice one of your sins. It is then that legalism stinks. The problem is that most people will just storm out mad, join a new church and continue to be very, very happy that they are not like those ‘sinners’ that don’t make the ‘elite’ members list. This legalism also causes potential new believers to walk right out the door, as someone will soon let them know that they do not make the ‘list’ as well. How do you tell if you are legalistic? Some of the ‘catch phrases’ I have heard go like this: ‘I am so glad that our church preaches The Word.’ (What? And what do you think the other churches do on Sunday, sing a few heathen songs and then go home?) ‘So and so’s ministry ‘waters down’ the gospel.’ (Except that you have never heard ‘so and so’ preach.) Phrases like these are warning signs that you like feeling better than others.
So what do we do? We teach, and teach and teach some more until our church culture is to preserve relationships, talk about our problems effectively and confront things head on. We then set an example by being ‘real.’ (Especially those of us who are older, and/or hold positions.) No more phony Christians. No more legalistic stupidity that places the people who hide their shortcomings the best over those who do not. And we help. When we see a shortcoming, our first reaction becomes ‘how can I help them,’ rather than trying to avoid the person for fear our reputation in the church will suffer by association. We need practice being merciful but honest, while also practicing not getting easily offended. It won’t be easy, but if we are to ‘do likewise’ and love our neighbor as ourselves we need to value our relationships the way we value God and try to not let them be destroyed by pettiness. True, scripture says that some people are doing things that are best avoided, but not without our seeking to help them make a change… After we get to a point where our church won’t just drive them further from God, then we are ready to go out into the rest of the world and love people in a way that shows them the real Jesus. Wouldn’t it be great if every Sunday someone, maybe a lot of someone’s, got saved? I’ll give you a hint- the churches that use their baptismal a lot are not the ‘perfect’ churches- they are the ones who actually seem to care. ‘Love’ really does seem to cover a multitude of sins…