Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

Archive for the ‘Church Problems’ Category

Hijacking the Bible

Somewhere along the way the church, our church of which we are all part of the body, allowed scripture to be ‘hijacked.’ No longer was it wisdom for a way to live, but instead, in many congregations, it became a set of rules to bash people over the heads with. And many of the rules are so twisted they no longer make scriptural sense. Let me give you a sense of what I am referring to.

The Slippery Slope:
Today many will warn you to stay far away from people committing sinful behavior or you will surely fall. (This argument amuses successful people who have done much better in life than those who are issuing this warning without ever falling into the sins these people say their associations will surely lead to.) This is also not scriptural. Let’s use alcohol as an example. (Though you could also use some of the current arguments about men working too closely with women.) Jesus drank wine, and spoke to and ate with sinners. There are even times the Bible tells us we may drink (which are typically conveniently left out of the slippery slope argument) . There were also drunkards who existed during Biblical times, so their existence is not a call for abstinence. While we are not to tempt those who have issues in this area, nor are we to put others in danger by driving after we have had something to drink, complete prohibition is not Biblical, nor is it a sound argument. What prohibition leads to is a separation of Christian from non-Christian that more resembles the rules of the Pharisees than it does the behavior of our Savior. But people continue to use this argument to keep Christians from witnessing in bars, on the streets and in other places where people are obviously in need and could use a loving Savior, as well as a loving relationship with a caring human being.
What is a sound is that we are to live joyfully, and help those who are falling. Unless we have a weakness in the area they are failing in, we are to get close. We are to help, not avoid the person in trouble. We are to be like a brother and help them out of whatever sin is destroying their lives (which may mean that at times we give up our rights in order to not tempt their weakness, as Paul gave up meat). And we are to continue helping as long as they keep repenting. Sure, there are times the Bible tells you to avoid someone, but these times are when they are rebellious and stubborn in their sin. When they want help, as messy as it may be, we are there for them.
Real life: Our church has a women’s group that goes to the strip clubs. The women bring presents and get to know the employees. At first it was weird, but now the staff loves them as much as the women love the staff and lives are being changed. No good Christian woman has been tempted to get on a pole, and the men of the church have an added reason for not showing up; their wife’s friends might be there!

Avoid the Appearance of Evil:
Surely we are not to pretend we are doing wrong in order to appease the crowd and avoid confrontation, but today this phrase is commonly used to mean a bit more than that. People who commonly use this phrase seemingly forget that Jesus was accused of being a drunkard, because, unlike John the Baptist, He drank alcohol, and He explained to the crowd that there was no pleasing them. If He abstained like John they would accuse Him of having a demon, if He did not abstain, they accuse Him of being a sinner. (Mt. 11:18-19) Most of the time, when people are told to avoid the appearance of evil, this is choice they have: Either they are not to fit in with common culture, and alienate the sinner who is seeking Christ, or they risk being called a sinner by those in the church. Does this mean you must drink or engage in other things that become vices when done in excess? No. John the Baptist was clearly correct in not drinking because that was the life God called him to live, but it is not everyone’s call, and we must be sensitive to that truth.

There are No Grey Areas:
There are many, many grey areas discussed in scripture. There are times when something is right to do, and times when it is clearly wrong. Here are a few examples:
David and his men were given the bread of presence, which is reserved for the priests alone to eat and they did not sin. (Mk. 2:25-26)
Aaron’s sons were smote for not following God’s commands regarding the incense at the Tabernacle, yet Aaron’s other sons were shown mercy when they did not obey the rules regarding the meat. Why? Because one set of brothers was rebellious while the others were trying to be humble. Motives matter. (Lev. 10:1-2, 16-20)
God does not punish the women when they become prostitutes because the culture of the time has pushed them into it. (Hosea 4:14)
Samuel is instructed by God to not tell the whole truth about his trip to Bethlehem. (1 Sam 16:2-3) Rahab and the midwives who save the Hebrew babies are also praised and rewarded for their lies. (It seems the scriptural admonitions about lying are do not do it unless someone is trying to kill someone and then you may mislead them.)

No Foul Language or Name Calling:
The Bible is full of not-so-nice language. Why do we not see it? Because most translations clean it up to conform with today’s Christian Correct standards. Here are a few examples:
In Philippians 3:8 what Paul considers ‘garbage’ or ‘rubbish’ should actually be translated as ‘excrement.’
The ‘filthy rags’ in Isaiah 64:6 are used menstrual rags.
God will smear people’s faces with ‘dung’ in Malachi 2:3 for what they have done.
Jesus and others call the legalists of the time ‘white-washed tombs,’ ‘broods of vipers (demons),’ and told them that their true father was the devil (John 8:44). I’m sure they enjoyed that….
So while we are to avoid being crude for the sake of crudeness or merely to injure another, it does seem that using strong language is appropriate at some times in scripture.

The Rules Are The Rules:
Isaiah 28:9-10 ” “Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that [fn]; a little here, a little there.”
Mature Christians are to rely on wisdom and understanding, not strict rules that say do this/ don’t do that. Further, the weak are those who need extra rules and restrictions. So while those who are mature are to avoid doing things that are permissible in order to not cause the weak to stumble, it is the weak who need the rules who are the less mature, indicating they are not to be the ones in charge. (1 Cor. 8)

Men and Women Must Maintain a Proper Distance:
In the New Testament Jesus had female followers who supported His ministry and whom He called disciples. (Mt. 12:49, Acts 9:36) He ate at their houses and allowed a woman to dry His feet with her hair (a very inappropriate thing to do at the time). He also spoke to women in public (also extremely risqué behavior for a man). Paul had many close co-workers who were female, and John wrote a very personal letter to a woman in 2 John. Prophets also stayed in widows (no men in the homes) houses, some of whom were young enough to have dependent children living with them.
The scriptural admonitions are not to sleep with the women, and if you are tempted, to maintain a distance because you are weak. But only the weak need these rules. In society today doctors, police and firemen deal with naked women as part of their job, and we expect them to be appropriate. Men can obviously obtain a level of maturity necessary to do this, and it is sad that many in our churches teach that they can’t.

Women Cannot Lead:
The issues with many churches current views on women are numerous, but let us examine a few of the whopping lies that are out there:
Women cannot be in charge of men, yet Deborah was in charge of Israel, Samson’s mother and Rebekah were given prophecy from God even though their godly husbands were around (and Samson’s father wanted to learn more. Judges 13) Abraham is told to listen to Sarah regarding what to do with Ishmael even though Sarah’s wishes are in conflict with his. (Gen 21:12) Women supported Jesus’ ministry financially (Lk 8:3), and were the first to proclaim that He is risen.
Women are also not perfectly suited to housework according to scripture. The Proverbs 31 woman has servants for that and works outside the home, even to the point of managing a vineyard, which we can assume has males working which she must supervise. She is a wealthy woman in her own right and she is to be praised. Sheerah too is credited with being a working woman, building at least three cities that stood for many, many years. (1 Chron. 7:24) Women helped rebuild the wall during Nehemiah’s time (when the elite men would not)(Neh. 3:12), were assigned jobs at the Tent of Meeting (Ex 38:8, 1 Sam 2:22), and many were shepherdesses (not a safe, or dainty profession).
Men too get the shaft in these teachings when they are told they are not nurturing and are to be less emotional. (Have you seen how many times men cry in scripture! ) Instead what we see in scripture is that men are to be highly involved in the rearing of their children, and that even God chooses female imagery to describe Himself.(Is. 66:13, Mt. 23:37) The line between what is male and what is female is not as finely drawn as we are sometimes led to believe, cheating the man out of activities that build a strong relationship with His children. (Further, the teaching of children is something God will do when the earth is renewed, making it the most important job in the church! Is. 54:13)

We Are the Moral Police of the World:
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 tells us that we are not to judge those outside the church. Why? Because they are not followers of Christ and therefore we should expect them to sin! Instead our focus should be on cleaning up the problems within the church, and probably not the ones you are thinking of. Among those we are not to give the Christian name to are: the sexually immoral- with an emphasis in other places on those who do not care for their families (1 Tim. 5:8), the greedy, the slanderer (so many Christians spend so much time putting down other people for how bad they are this would clean out the church!), the unrepentant alcoholic and the swindler (those who use Christ to gain money? Living off the church in ways that are not quite right…). This is not to say that we do not try to help these people before we stop calling them ‘brother in Christ,’ (Matthew 18: 15-17- the three strike law- is still in effect.) but we do not allow our church to become a cloister for mean people who do not treat others well. The church, like Israel, is to be a beacon to those who are lost showing them that there is a better way to live, and it involves a relationship with a God who loves us. How can we do that if our relationships with others in the church suck?
Instead many churches focus on the sins of the world. Who cares what the world is doing? What matters scripturally is what we are doing. Was there any class of sinner Christ refused to forgive? (No.) Then our mission outside the church is to show people Christ’s love in the same non-judgmental way He did. He ate with sinners, conversed with prostitutes etc. (But today we put down those who try to preach in bars and do not lovingly accept the immodestly dressed woman into our midst when she shows up on Sunday.) What He did not do is call the overly religious, legalistic people of His time His followers. Today too many in the church spend much of their time complaining about how bad the sinners are, and not enough time figuring out how to love them and help them into a relationship where a powerful Holy Spirit can do more for them than rude remark or disdainful look ever will. So WWJD? Judgmental attitudes and nasty labels were for the religious who thought they were better than everyone else; let’s follow His example.

But we keep putting legalists in charge (where they admittedly like to be) even though the Bible tells us not to…
The mature in the church, the ones to be called ‘elders’ and have positions, are to be respected in the community. They are not to be the weak, who need extra rules, but those who have shown wisdom (including mercy) in doing justice. These are not to be new believers, yet many times that is exactly who we put in charge. Like the Jewish people in Jesus’ day, the legalists are the ones we look up to and revere. This is not to be so. Let us do a better job, putting people who have gained wisdom are respect into position, and let us stop beating each other up with what people suppose is the Word, but truly is not.

The Declaration of Independence on Relationships

The Declaration of Independence describes to all nations, not just England, what tyranny looks like, and when it is right and proper to end a relationship. While this is a relationship between Mother England and her colony, it reasonably follows that tyranny is tyranny no matter what the relationship and that the same principles that defined a tyrannical leader in the 1700s should be applicable today.

So what principles can we apply to church, home, employment etc to ensure that we, whenever we have authority, are exercising it properly, and so that we, whenever we are under authority, know when it is proper to say enough is enough?

1. Everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Any behaviors that physically affect a person, keeps them from being free to leave the situation or keeps them from pursuing their dreams is an oppressive relationship. Sure, there are always choices that must be made, and one choice often precludes another choice, but the person whose life is affected by the choice should be either part of the choice, and/or be allowed to leave and choose to pursue happiness elsewhere. (The exception to this is incarceration, where your behavior required you to be separated from others for the good of society.)

2. People should try to restore the relationship, and should not break relationships for ‘transient’ causes (things that are short-lived), but when there is a ‘long train of abuses and usurpations’ then it is a person’s right and duty to throw off this form of government.

There are two important points here:

-The colony (the person under authority) has rights that can be usurped. Being in a position of authority therefore does not give one unlimited power.

-The person who is oppressive is the one who forced the other to break the relationship. It is therefore the oppressive persons fault the relationship failed. The oppressed was correct to leave.

So let us look at the specific things that England did, and examine how an individual may oppress another individual in a similar way.

1. The King, a tyrant, refused to consent to laws for the public good.

Many leaders have this problem. They either do not like to make decisions, or do not like to take advice, so there is little guidance and direction given to the people who are under their authority. Or, if there are rules in place, the leadership undermines these rules by refusing to back up the person charged with enforcing them, by somehow negating the rule or by telling the person in violation ‘not to worry about it.’ Rules provide protection from oppression, as well as a framework that defines how the work is to be done. Too few rules, or no back up leads to the chaos of anarchy, where everyone does whatever they feel to be ‘right.’

(Today, this would be the federal government not enforcing immigration laws, and denying the states the right to handle the problems this lack of enforcement creates themselves.)

2. No one can make necessary rules without the king’s consent.

The people under the king, but over others are not able to make decisions on their own. Everything must pass through the leader (king), except that the king is not available, so when a problem occurs no one feels like they have the right to handle the situation.

3. The person in charge creates situations that make discussions, or meetings so difficult that they are not worth having.

In a marriage, or an employee/employer relationship this may be a person that refuses to listen, yells and goes on the defensive whenever they fear someone may say anything they do not wish to hear. Or they may walk away. There is no way to solve problems since there is no easy method for communication.

4. When someone does stand up for what is right, the leader removes the person, or committee, or shuts down the methods of communication.

This may be shutting down the committee that brought the problem to their attention, removing the suggestion box, refusing to go to counseling/mediation or just being generally unavailable so that no conversations may occur. The person does not like the methods used by the person bringing the matter to their attention and makes no effort to offer another solution to facilitate conversation in a timely manner.

5. The leader makes the people under them aware that life will not go well for them if they do not cater to his whims.

The people under him are scared to disagree. They know that there will be things withheld or they may even lose their position if they do not keep the leader happy.

6. A tyrant also harasses people.

Why? To let them know that, if they think life is bad now, he has the power to make it worse. This keeps people fearful. They know the situation is bad, but they also know it will get worse if they make the leader unhappy by trying to change it.

7. The leader also uses an unreasonable amount of resources.

The person in charge feels that, because they are in charge, they are entitled to use the resources freely, without thought about the people under them and what they might need. In a home, this may be watching what you want on T.V. without thought to what others may wish to see, or what might be appropriate for young children. It may also be spending recklessly, even if it is within the ‘rules,’ even money is tight. In the home this attitude would be, ‘I make the money, so I am entitled to enjoy it.’
A leader in the workplace, or in government is responsible for making right and proper decisions, not skirting the rules so that things work to their, or the people they prefer’s, advantage.
This is not the attitude of someone with a servant’s heart who wants to see their family, business or country prosper.

8. A tyrant also maintains methods of keeping people in line when there is no reason to do so.

The people under this leader have given no indication that they may behave badly, yet the tyrant sets up rules and processes by which to catch people in the act of committing crimes there is no reason to assume they will commit. This creates an atmosphere of fear and perfectionism, where everyone under this authority is afraid of being caught making a mistake. Leaders who do this, like the King of England, often have a group of informants whose word trumps even the most respected people outside their circle. Signs of this type of leadership include excessive security cameras trained on the staff and people who fear meetings since they assume they may be called on the carpet for something at any minute, even though they cannot think of anything they could have done to deserve such treatment.

9. A leader does not respect the rights of the people under them.

For the King of England, this meant that he could quarter troops in private citizens’ homes. In a church, this style of leadership causes members of the congregation to feel that they cannot say no to requests on their time, hospitality or donation of money. In a family, this means you really should talk with your spouse before inviting people over, especially if it is for an extended stay. In the extreme this means, do not tell your mother she can move in with you without speaking to your spouse first!

10. Mock trials: A leader pretends to listen and play fair, but everyone knows the situation has already been decided and the process is a sham.

I attended a meeting once about a Bible study curriculum I did not feel was accurate. When I arrived the DVD series was not available to reference, and it was clear the decision was already made, regardless of what I may have to say, since the ‘decision maker’ was absent and someone was sent with typed notes in their place. Any time you decide to ‘humor’ a person, rather than getting to the root of the problem (which may be the person’s behavior, stubbornness or lack of knowledge) you have circumvented the process of true justice which, if done correctly, should lead to increased knowledge and maturity.

11. Cutting off trade and imposing unreasonable taxes.

A leader who limits what people can do outside of their authority, or makes a person jump through unnecessary hoops to serve is in spirit doing the same thing. They are restricting the opportunities a person has to use their skills in a productive way. This may occur in a marriage when one spouse places unreasonable demands on another that thwarts their ability to get a job or an education, instead of coming up along side of them to help them succeed. In a church, this may be excessive requirements for even the most qualified to go through before they may serve. Often these are tests of ‘loyalty’ designed to produce ‘yes-men’ who will give the leader little trouble even when what he wants to do is complete folly.

12. Creating pretend offenses that people under them must answer for.

A despot of a leader often has thin skin and believes that many completely innocent actions are really secret passive-aggressive moves aimed against them. Typically this is because the leader engages in passive-aggressive behavior and so believes that everyone around them is as guilty as they are. Sometimes is it the result of past bullies, who, because the leader was not sure of himself, were allowed to attack him and those he loves for far too long. Many discussions about supposed backstabbing are a sign that this may be the issue.

13. Arbitrary and constantly changing rules that the leader does not apply to everyone.

A tyrant by definition wants things his or her way. They are controlling and a symptom of this is that the rules do not apply to them, or the people they currently favor. Why? Because the rules are not about right or wrong, they are about controlling the people they do not see as worthy. The rules change frequently because they are based on the leader creating the environment they desire and not about what is truly right in each situation.

14. A tyrant feels free to change agreements whenever they wish, even agreements that were put into writing.

This type of leader believes that leadership means they can do whatever they want. Meeting times and other plans will often change at the last minute to fit their needs, because their schedule and what they do in life is very important. They do not see that this has any negative affect on those around them, since they view others as having less important things to do.

15. Declaring people ‘out of his protection’ and waging war against them is his way of maintaining control.

If you do not please this leader he will deny you the things that are under his control that are necessary for you to do your part in the relationship. He will go further and punish you for not doing what he has denied you the ability to do by withholding the resources (which may be information), or creating a time crunch so you will have to rush to get what he wants done, even though others have known about it for weeks.

16. He will enlist others to ‘punish’ you as well.

There are many types of mercenaries, and many reasons why people will be a mercenary even today. Sometimes it is just lack of information. The leader, who is trusted because of his position, has twisted the facts and painted such a bad picture of the person they are thwarting that other people react badly to the person as well. At other times, blind loyalty, or not wanting to be on the leader’s bad side themselves motivates others to avoid and alienate the person the leader is currently displeased with. The addition of these ‘mercenaries’ typically makes the person under such authority leave the situation. While this happens in a church or work environment, this can also happen in a family. Be cautious of the person who is always on the phone telling you how awful so-and-so is.

17. A tyrant incites trouble within the organization or group they are in charge of.

These are people who stir up strife. They are typically experts at making it look like they are not involved and are the only sane person in the situation. But, when there is a pattern of upset people around the person in charge, look closely. There are people who know exactly what to say to create contention. Why? So they can be the heroes; the only person everyone likes, and the person people go to with their problems. It is a way to gain power and control, although it may just be a sign of ineptitude. (i.e. I do not know how to lead, so I play the devil’s advocate to avoid a decision, and then blame the people I riled up for the delay in progress.)

Also contained in the Declaration are the things good people do to rectify these situations. They:

1. They address their problems to the appropriate people humbly.

2. They warn others of the leader’s behavior because they do not want to see them hurt. (This is not malicious gossip, since its intent is to help and the information is pertinent to the situation.)

3. They remind people of the agreements that were made, and show how the leader violated these agreements. (These are not charges with no basis, but things that can be proven and reviewed by others. Good people want the matter out in the open, where people can decide for themselves what is right or wrong. Tyrants want everything hushed up and kept secret. They believe that no one, even people who are appropriate to help in these situations, needs to know their business.)

4. Good people understand that oppression is intolerable and that there is a time when separation is necessary, although that time is only after many, many attempts to reconcile have been tried.

In short, a tyrant’s goal is not justice, but control. Their wish is for everything that is not to their liking to just go away. They punish anyone who doubts their way of doing things, they do not like constructive criticism and tend to see others who do not share their views as being out to get them. Tyrants create fictions about why people should blindly obey or follow them. Even when their motivations are good, they do not feel the need to explain themselves, which makes it difficult for people to follow them, since they do not understand why they are doing the things they were instructed to do. Tyrants may appear anywhere, and are not always the people who have actual positional authority. (For example, many three-year-olds are effective tyrants in homes where parental authority is lacking.) The root of tyranny is selfishness, and a belief that my way is the best way. A tyrant may do many good things, but it is because it serves their own interests (which may be being perceived as good) and not because it is the right and proper thing to do. Life with a tyrant has many ups and downs because it is the rules of whims and not the rule of righteousness that takes precedence (though a tyrant may cite the law, and what is right, when it suits his purpose, but abandons it, or sites a contradictory rule, when it does not).

I hope this helps you sort out the situations you are facing. Many people feel guilty leaving oppressive situations, or standing up and doing anything about them, when the fault and reason something must be done has nothing to do with their behavior, and everything to do with the person over them behaving as if they were the only one whose wants and opinions truly matter. (And yes, we can apply this to the situations in our government as well…)

The Truth About Discipleship

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

I was watching the movie Courageous (good movie, by the way). At the end of the movie they show a man ‘discipling’ an obviously troubled younger man. This is good. I wish more people would take younger people under their wings and help them in life. The problem is that it is not easy.

In the movie the young man was intently listening and obviously hungry to hear what the older man had to say. This is a rare case, and typically only happens when the young man has grown up in a decent environment so he learned how to behave, just not about Christ. These are not the young people who most desperately need to be discipled.

The people who come to Christ and need to learn a new way of living come with a lot of baggage. And it is not just about having them clean up their lives. You are going to have to tackle the thought processes that have enabled them to believe that doing the things that have been messing up their lives is good. And this is a difficult thing to do.

Here is what you typically see:

1. Stinking Thinking:

– “I don’t see who it’s hurting.”
-“What about me and my rights?”
-“I don’t see why I should have to…”
-“If they don’t like me the way I am they can just…”
-“My boss hates me…”
-“If everyone would just leave me alone…”

With ‘stinking thinking’ it is never their fault. The blame is always shifted onto another person. Trying to explain how they could have done things differently is nearly impossible because their focus is on how unfair everything is to them and how they should not have to do whatever it is they do not want to do.

2. Emotional Instability:

-Hot-headed behavior

This can be yelling, cursing or physically lashing out. They may shove you or otherwise try to physically intimidate you. They may stand up and/or get in your face. They have learned that intimidation causes people to back down and it gets them their way, at least in the short term. You will need to stand firm and set good boundaries.


Somehow you will have said or done something that hurt their feelings. They become over-emotional and want you to come over and fix it immediately. Again, you need to not let this shake you. Set good boundaries and do not go running to them, or you will be doing this again next week, and the next week, and the next… They may even threaten to kill themselves. Taking them seriously and going to the ER typically ends this, if it is a bluff, when they realize that you are willing to leave them in the hands of a mental health professional for a three day stay against their will. (This is standard treatment for someone who is suicidal. It is a good thing when the person truly needs help. It is a colossal waste of time for a person who is faking it to get attention.)

3. Life crisis:

-There will likely be late night phone calls about things that you need to ‘fix’ for them now. They may ‘remind’ you in not so pleasant terms that you promised to ‘help.’ Typically these situations can wait until morning to be figured out and do not require you forking over sums of money or allowing the person to move in with you and your family. (By the way, people who move in at 3 am are often difficult to evict, and do not behave. That is why they found themselves homeless at 3 am.)

4. Manipulation:

You will likely be made to feel guilty about something. People who have lives that need changing are used to getting things by any means possible. If that means taking advantage of the fact that you are ‘nice’ and using your soft-heartedness for their advantage then that it was they will do. They may not even realize they are doing it. It is a pattern they learned growing up and it works.

5. Lying:

Everyone wants people to think the best of them. People who truly need help typically did not grow up being honest. Check everything you can and question everything before you give advice and help. Typically they are not used to being called on their lies so they unravel if you just probe a bit, but some people are experts at the craft. If you are going to truly help you need to know what is truly happening in their lives. You may even want to establish up front that your ‘help’ stops as soon as the lies start, and that they may come back when they are ready to be honest.

The point is: Do not believe everything they say. Let me repeat: Do not believe everything they say, even if they seem to have proof. Why? Because their lives did not get to the point of them needing your help because they were wonderful people who did nothing wrong. Even if they seem to have everything lined up, ask yourself, ‘How could things get so messed up if this person was doing everything so well?’ Ninety-nine percent of the time you are missing an important piece of the picture. (I know a person who went to job interviews and just stared at the person doing the interview saying nothing the entire time. Still wondering why she didn’t get the job? You never think to ask, ‘Did you talk to the person at all when they interviewed you?’) Remember, you can ask their permission to talk to the people they interact with. Most employers or interviewers, when they know that you are trying to help will give you the information you need. These are generally nice people who would like to see the person you are working with succeed.

6. Broken Relationships:

In truly messed up situations broken relationships are the norm. While you need to help them ‘fix’ their relationships the other person in the relationship typically has just as many problems as the person you are working with, and you have little to no influence over them. Occasionally this is not true and their parents, spouse or children are doing well, but since the person you are working with came out of the same environment these people are in this is typically not the case. It will take the wisdom of Solomon to unravel some of these estrangements.

7. More problems than you can handle:

Typically people who have lives that need help fixing have more problems than people who have lives that work are typically equipped to handle. Have people you can bounce ideas off of, and who can help you problem-solve and/or emotionally support you. Also get to know what services there are in your community. Financial counseling, continuing education, work counseling, GED programs, short term assistance or housing are all things that may help the person as well.

8. Burn-out:

The goal is to help people as much as possible. You cannot do this if you become burnt out. Remember, the good Samaritan left the man at the inn with someone he trusted while he finished his business. He did not move the person in with him and neglect all he needed to do in life. When you are helping someone you need to keep a good balance. If their problems begin to overwhelm you then you will end up breaking the relationship. This is not good for either of you, and because of your bad experience you will be less likely to help the next person who comes along. Keep yourself strong and you will be able to help this person, and many more. And, if this person succeeds, then they will be able to help others as well.

Also remember that not everyone ‘succeeds.’ God gave us all free will and sometimes, even if you do everything humanly possible, some people choose to fail. (Remember, there were only two people in the garden who had complete access to God, who is perfect, and they chose to do wrong.) Re-evaluate to see if there were things you could have done better, but don’t beat yourself up over it. At least you tried, and that is more than what most people would have done.

Discipleship is a dying, but necessary art. It is like fine weaving. It is difficult, and sometimes you have to back up and undo much of what is already there because there was a serious flaw in the fabric, but when you are finally done, the results are beautiful!

The Problem With the Position of the Pastor’s Wife

My doctoral dissertation was about dealing with difficult people in the church. While conducting interviews one person was specifically mentioned over and over again: the pastor’s wife. Whether she was actually to blame, or merely a scapegoat, her contribution to whatever occurred seemed to cause more emotion than anything anyone else had done. And pastors’ wives feel this. They often take the brunt of the emotional assault that accompanies many nasty church leave-takings. Why is this?

Now this is only my opinion. It cannot be proven, and is based on accumulated second hand information. Not the best data, but often the only data we have when dealing with church turmoil. Re-stirring the pot to get to the true root of not one, but many church crisis after-the-fact is probably not healthy, so conjecture is an unfortunate necessity.
So here’s my conclusion: The problem is not with the pastor’s wife, but with her position in the church.

No one would take this job in the secular world, even if it paid well. No one with any business sense that is. Why? Let’s look at the job description. Oh wait, there isn’t one! And therein lies the first problem. The function of the pastor’s wife is poorly defined. Everyone seems to think they know what she should do, but everyone’s ideas are different. She must therefore be all things to all people (and she must guess what those things should be) or be labeled a disappointment. So let’s look at some common expectations:

1. She is her husband’s helpmate. This seems to mean that if there is anything left in the church that no one volunteers to do the job is hers. Lead choir, then run to help in the nursery, and make sure the communion trays are filled, all while taking care of her own nursing baby? Sure the pastor’s wife can handle this!

2. Her children must be perfectly groomed and well behaved. And so must she. I have seen pastor’s wives criticized for leaving the price tag on the bottom of their shoe (seen while praying for someone at the altar) and because their handbag was deemed too expensive for their position. The level of critique inherent in this role is out of control.

3. She must be every woman in the church’s best friend. She has to be there for them if they are having a bad day, or celebrating. She cannot act anxious to go onto something else, and must show up to every special event. And if the event is at the church, and she misses it, that is double the insult!

4. She is not on the org. chart. This is probably the worst thing we do to this woman, though it may not seem like it. She has no real position, yet she runs much of the church, and she is only accountable to the pastor- her husband. She is at no meetings, so she does not get to voice her opinion. And the man she loves is in charge of telling her when she doesn’t meet expectations. There is no impartial third person who can soften the blow. Now this may seem like a kind, gentle way to hear about something that goes wrong, but trust me, it is not. It hurts marriages. There is too much interpersonal conflict in an organization like a church that is based more on relationships than on productivity. Hearing repeatedly from the man you love that you are not measuring up in some way, no matter how gently he puts it, hurts. So often he simply does not tell her. So, until some other brave soul tells her, usually in a frustrated and inappropriate manner that blindsides her, she is clueless. Everyone needs accountability. This system where one of your major workers is left out of the loop is a recipe for disaster. Think about having a job where you were overworked, undertrained, allowed to go to none of the meetings, and then they called your spouse to tell you they have had it with your incompetence, and your spouse’s job is in danger if they do not ‘fix’ the situation.

5. She cannot be moved to a position that would be a better fit. Like it or not, she is it. The pastor’s wife is the pastor’s wife- for life. She is part of the package. Her behavior affects his job. It is one of the few jobs where this is so. This is a lot of pressure for a woman to be under, and yes, it is scriptural in the sense she must be godly, but we ask a lot more of her than that!

6. She receives no training. She is often second in command in the church in many ways, yet she did not go to one course on running a church, nor was she required to sit through one class on the Bible. Occasionally a denomination has ‘pastor’s wives classes’ but compared to what she is called to do, they are still sorely lacking.

Are you beginning to see the problem? You have an employee who works for free, who has no real authority, while seemingly having all the authority since, after all, her husband is the pastor. People obey her since they believe she speaks for him, yet she goes to no meetings and no amount of ‘pillow talk’ can adequately fill her completely in. She is expected to do everything, though there is no one who will tell her what everything is and no one assigned to warn her when she is doing it wrong.

Oh, and did I mention the types of people who typically surround the pastor’s wife? The first set is the ‘yes-men’ (women?) who like to suck up. They are great, but tend to turn rabid the first time she disappoints them. And the second are the ones who like to criticize. She cannot get away from either, because she must be sweet and diplomatic. Heaven forbid someone leaves the church because the pastor’s wife didn’t say ‘hi’ to them and give them all the time they needed!

This situation is untenable. Only a few get through well. Depression is common. Many develop health issues. Becoming calloused, and feeling lonely like you have no friends is also an issue. Some wives wrap themselves up in their families. Others become mini-tyrants because they have learned to not care what other people think, but not in a healthy way. In my opinion: Their lives become skewed because the expectations are insane.

The wives who do the best seem to fall into three categories.
1. They have a job outside the church. People then understand that they are not the church-slave and treat them more like they would treat anyone else. This is healthy.

2. Their husband repeatedly reminds the church that his wife’s ministry is to him, not the church. If she does anything in the church it is because she wants to, not because she must, and she may quit said function at any time. The husband sets a clear boundary between his wife and the church and does not let her take on too many roles. If no one in the church wants to do it, then some things get left undone.

3. She is officially part of the church staff. She has a defined role and goes to meetings. Many times there is also a salary.

So, next time you see your pastor’s wife love her. Give her a break and some space to be human, and remember, if you promise to do something and drop the ball, it often falls to her to do it, so keep your commitments. And let’s see if we can make life better for these women, shall we?

*By the way: My husband was ‘the pastor’s wife.’ Because there were no real expectations of a male spouse, and he had a full time job, we did well.
**We used the term ‘pastor’s wife’ when referring to him as a joke because, even though our denomination allowed women to pastor, they often forgot some of us were not male, and many times referred to the pastor’s spouse somewhere in their communication as a ‘wife.’ One year they sent the church suggestions as to how to appreciate the pastor’s spouse. The suggestions were read by the elders to the congregation to everyone’s amusement! (My husband is large and very masculine looking, so if you can imagine the gift certificates for a perm, or mani-pedi were quite amusing. He was a good sport and enjoyed it as well.)

Why Men Leave the Church

Remember I grew up in a dojang filled with men. They talked. I have never seen any list or book on why men are not more active in the church actually cover anything I heard these men say. Their complaints typically fit into two categories.

1. The pastor’s a wimp. (This does not mean that the pastor is ‘feminine.’ It means he does not ‘do justice’ when he, and only he, has the authority to do so.) The man does not deal with problems, and when anyone does try to do anything about very real problems he shuts them down. He is more concerned with not upsetting people than he is with dealing with the issues in his church. Since these men have real jobs, with real bosses they assume that dealing with problems is a bosses’ job, and they see the pastor as a ‘boss.’ By not dealing with problems the church becomes essentially run by the people who don’t behave. If the men say or do anything they are labeled ‘trouble-makers.’ Real men do not like to stand around helpless while some people are being mean in front of them. They feel ‘neutered.’ This has nothing to do with the women. Usually it is the women they are trying to defend, but can’t, since pastor does not like controversy. Further, they do not enjoy seeing their wives abused, taken advantage of and looked down on by the ‘mean elite.’ They will not tell their wives not to go and do, but they will not watch it either.

2. The pastor is perfect (perfectly phony that is), and they are not. Many pastors give the impression that they are ‘perfect.’ They share only what they do right, and share it in a way that advises everyone to do it just like they do. The pastor never shares his faults, nor does he realize that his life is a lot different from a man who holds a 9 to 5 job with mandatory overtime. Now we come to the real problem. Because the pastor has been pretending to be ‘perfect’ (and his wife knows better than to say otherwise) the women in the church are in awe and spend much time talking about how great their pastor is. What the men hear is, ‘Why can’t you be more like pastor?’ They resent this, and are less likely to want to be too close to the man.

The problem is not women ‘usurping’ authority. The problem is men who either do not want to do the hard parts of the job they were hired to do, or pretending that they never do anything wrong, that their wife and children are glorious and that everyone would be awesome if they were exactly like them. ‘Too little’ and/or ‘over-the-top’ and the men leave. The women stay (mainly because they are invested in the children’s programs), and end up doing more. Then at some point someone starts complaining that the women are ‘taking over’ the church…

Church is Like A DoJang

Growing up we moved around a lot and I went to a lot of different places to study the martial arts. Some were ‘just fine,’ average. They taught their style and that was it. Once in the dojang you were unaware that any other style of martial arts existed.
A few dojangs were exceptional. They interacted with other martial artists. We went to tournaments, demonstrations and seminars that were given by a wide variety of different martial arts styles. When we returned to our dojang we examined what we had learned. Some techniques were deemed ‘good’ and were added to our list of self-defense teachings. Other techniques were discarded. Some, when more thoroughly examined were found to have flaws in them that showed they only worked when your partner went along with it. Still others were ‘okay’ but did not fit in well with how we did things. We learned much in these schools.
Another group of dojangs not only isolated themselves, but felt the need to put down all of the other martial arts schools in the vicinity. In almost every class we heard why our school was better and why the teaching at the other schools stunk. How our instructor knew this, since we never interacted with the other schools, was beyond me, but most people bought it, felt proud, and repeated it to others.
Churches are like this too. Some churches keep to themselves. They are nice places to go, and everyone behaves pleasantly, but there is little interaction with the greater body of Christ.
Some churches however do more than keep to themselves. They put down the other churches. Sermons frequently mention some other church, or people group, with the intention of putting them down. The church, or people group has done nothing ‘new’ to deserve comment, and typically no one in the congregation was even tempted to join that group in doing whatever they are currently ‘bad’ for doing. For this reason the preacher gets a lot of ‘amens’ because no one is questioning anything he is saying. He is speaking on a topic no one in his congregation is confused about or needs clarification on. They already know how the church feels on this subject and agree. This is not Christ-like. This is puffing yourself up for no other reason than to make yourself feel good that you are not like them, the sinners.
Other churches do not mind interaction. They will encourage their members to go to concerts, seminars or other events in other churches because they are a good opportunity to learn, or worship. But, like the Bereans, they will also be open to honest discussions. Some are theological, but others are more mundane, like ‘Do you think we should have a coffee bar?’ Either way the church grows and functions more like the church that was described in the New Testament, giving hospitality to people who traveled far to share what they have learned and to learn from their church as well. It is this type of church that we should strive to be.

Why Do Good Workers Leave?

I was recently talking with a few friends and the topic of volunteering came up. Now these friends are great people, successful in their jobs, and all of them would drop anything in a minute to help anyone if needed. But there are people and places they will not help anymore. Here were some of the reasons given.

1. The place was disorganized. They did not mind helping, but many times they showed up and had to stand around waiting for someone to make a decision. The people in charge did not respect their volunteer’s time. They would have stayed and helped for hours, if needed, but they did not like having their time wasted when they have other important things they could be doing.

2. They felt like there was a bait-and-switch. They volunteered for one thing and then were roped into doing something totally different. Again, they may have volunteered to do whatever they were roped into, but they did not like being ‘tricked’ and were left feeling that the organization was not ‘upright.’

3. Once you volunteered you were ‘on the list,’ which meant you were going to be called for everything. They felt taken advantage of because they had helped before. The frequent comment was, ‘I am not the only person who attends this church, whose kids go to this school etc., so why am I the only one who seems to get called?’ Many organizations burn out their best volunteers because they ask too much of them. Whenever there is a need, they know who to call, and then they can’t figure out why that person either won’t help anymore, or the family leaves.

4. They did not feel appreciated. When they volunteered they were treated poorly. There was a list of rules that seemed to assume they were either mean, lazy or immature. Or the leaders yelled at their volunteers frequently. Even if they were not the ones being reprimanded, the environment was oppressive.

5. The things the organization did to appreciate their volunteers were weird and not enjoyable. Know your audience. There are people who never want to be up on stage, so don’t make them. Others do not see being invited to watch an hour-long teaching tape you thought was ‘edifiying’ as fun. Still others do not want to be involved in ‘group participation’ games. If you are going to thank people, try to make sure it is in a way that they will appreciate. If not they may be thinking, ‘I would love to help but if I do I am going to have to live through that again.’

6. They were made to feel bad when they said ‘no.’ They did not feel that they had the freedom to say ‘no’ without people becoming upset. They did not want to break a relationship over this, but they also had very real reasons for not being able to do things at the moment.

7. They were pressured to do things that were unreasonable, even after they explained why. Many people have professional skills, and do not mind sharing, but at times what is being asked cannot be done for a variety of reasons. It could be that their insurance only covers them on the job, and you are asking them to put themselves at a steep financial risk. It could also be that they need equipment that it not available to them at home, or that what you are asking is not in their area of expertise. (ex. My husband is an ER doctor, most dermatology concerns require a dermatologist. I have heard lawyers, accountants, electricians, plumbers etc have the same problems.)

8. They have to put up with jerks. While this does not sound charitable, it is Biblical to deal with problem people. Unfortunately many organizations do not and people get tired of being mistreated, even if it is by other volunteers. Since they are not getting paid, the volunteers eventually stop putting themselves through the misery. (When they are getting paid, this is a reason they look for another job…)

9. It looked like there was enough help already. Busy people don’t mind volunteering- if they are actually needed. Having a bunch of people standing around doing nothing makes it look like there are already more workers than you need. If the reality is that there are a bunch of people who show up and then do nothing, you may need to motivate the people who are standing around before others get the wrong impression. One place we do not volunteer at for this reason had us stop working after 2 hours even though the job was not done so that they could get the next group started. We assumed that they had more volunteers than they knew what to do with, so we did not feel the need to volunteer there again. This may not have been the case, and may have just been poor planning on their part…

Remember, professional people who have skills you might want to use are used to being treated well and not having their time wasted. They do not have all day to stand around waiting for you, they do have other things they could be doing and they are used to being paid well for their time (and usually thanked as well) so they will expect a thank-you when they are done. (Not that this is why they do things, but it is proper behavior to thank someone who has helped you and they know it.) If you want to keep these people involved, you need to keep these things in mind.

If you think of anything else, please feel free to share.

The Problem With Church Problems

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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…

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