Throwing rocks (from a safe distance) #2

Throwing rocks (from a safe distance) #2

We live in a very critical society. People don’t automatically change from stripes to spots just because they are part of a church environment. To be sure and regrettably, we “church folk” can judge and criticize with the best of them. Let me hasten to say much of our “observations” and potential negativity doesn’t just stay between our ears. It finds its way over our lips and into the ears of others. This is a breeding ground for gossip and possibly slander. Both are enemies of the gospel.

The church has been likened to a hospital, a place where those needing care and healing and those who are troubled and hurting may find healing, safety and rest. That’s a pleasant and reassuring analogy, isn’t it?  Many who are part of a church family are hurting, some even carrying scars from wounds created through previous church experience. It’s been said that “hurt people hurt people,” and we have all probably experienced that to some degree. The larger the church, the more diverse the church “family” and the broader the variety of “baggage.”  Thus the opportunity for internal challenges increases. To a degree, the size of a church can influence the distance between leadership and congregants.

Having served in churches for a significant number of years, I have been exposed to and educated in a range of experiences, not unlike the Farmers’ Insurance agent who says “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”  A lot goes on within the life of a church, and much of it is confidential. The details of what leadership is made aware of regarding what goes on in individual people’s lives is mostly private and must be kept so. Often there is information that goes into decision making for the church that is not disclosed in detail. In a healthy church, there frankly is not as much need to know as in one with a history of internal problems. Trust and confidence in leadership are factors that ought to draw people to a particular assembly as much or more than the power of its message or music. A church’s reputation is highly significant. While the track record may not be spotless, how a church governs itself should be a matter of great concern and meticulous integrity. There ought never be a “rug” under which troublesome issues are swept.

Having said these things about the responsibilities and character of leadership, there are responsibilities of church members and attenders that contribute to the health or disease of the organism. Of course Matthew 18 describes the biblical pathway for dealing with sin among the church. As awkward and challenging as these steps may appear, they are still God’s prescription for church health and order and they are to be followed, seasoned with grace. Perhaps more common than sin in the church are disagreements and misunderstandings about church policy, decisions or the way certain ministries are conducted. While trust in the goodwill of both staff and membership are important, when there are significant concerns about issues within the church, they must be satisfied.

Too often we can be too quick to judge or to speculate on matters when a respectful line of questioning would clarify and solve the issue. Church and ministry leaders are not immune to blind spots in themselves, nor are they always aware of their shortcomings or deficits in skills and abilities. Like you and me, they are human and limited but hopefully doing their best to seek excellence, recognizing that perfection is an illusion. Hurting or loosely engaged people are often more sensitive and harder to satisfy than others, and they need to be aware of their vulnerability to being overly critical. People coming to a church off of a bad experience elsewhere need not assume all churches are the same nor do they need to microscopically inspect their new church home. 

In a healthy church where leadership is open, approachable, inviting and possesses humility of character, questions about the “whys” and “hows” are welcome, and the opportunity to clarify questions and cloudy situations while still respecting confidentiality is imperative. Too often people depart from a church they have been attending without taking the fair and considerate approach of asking questions of the appropriate people and getting facts. Often helpful insights are given to church leadership which opens their eyes to things which call for a change of course or a correction in method. These discussions are invaluable, healthy and biblical! Yes, in cities where there are hundreds of churches to choose from, people often take an “escape route” without considering how they might improve a situation or possibly clarify their own misconception. When church members slip into the shadows and disappear, this often gives rise to confusion and negative speculation and the church is hurt.

One last observation offering two remedies for church dissension. 

  • No church is perfect. Nor is any person in it. What I have found over time is that when people are connected in community with each other through fellowship and voluntary ministry service, they are drawn closer to the core of body life and they are more understanding of the grace, patience and “give and take” required to maintain good church health. They are much less likely to be “stone throwers” because they are in the midst and are therefore more in the know, understanding the realities and challenges of body life.
  • Ask questions. Ask them soon and ask them of the appropriate people. Don’t allow personal speculation to snowball into a conviction which has a limited basis of truth. When church leaders refuse to face issues or answer the questions reasonably put to them, then is the time to put on your running shoes.

At New Life, know that you are valued by your leaders and your well-being is a paramount concern. Let’s remain healthy by practicing love, grace and honesty, and never give the enemy a foothold which enables him to place a wedge between us. Think About It.