When the screaming reached a crescendo, I wondered, “what are we doing at the church?” I had long ago stopped asking, “What can I do to help the church heal?” It was painful to stay at the church. They hadn’t been able to agree on a pastor in years. Each person in leadership was fighting to keep his position. The teachers sabotaged anyone who wanted to teach. Musicians were having a knock-down, drag-out over who got the most singing or playing time. The Deacons were fighting the trustees over control of the church. The ordinary church members were lying around wounded. Moving to another state was a good solution.
Why is this much more common than one would expect? As I studied Romans, I began to understand much more clearly what was going on. One problem is being unequally yoked. Many churches have a very lax membership requirement, such that many non-Christians are members. They have other agendas, such as, this is a church for Swedish speakers only (substitute whatever group you want for the Swedes.) It might be where the rich businessmen meet, or where ultra right (or left) wing gather for political meetings, almost anything but the Gospel. When people treat the church as a social club, they are not welcoming of outsiders, of another group. You go every week and everyone ignores you while running to the people of their group (often more than one group at a single church.)
Unfortunately, there are other problems. Remember the two strict Jews that saw a hurting man on the side of the road? They were earning their way to heaven. As such, they couldn’t allow themselves to become spiritually impure. They walked to the other side of the road and continued on. In so many churches, people are focused on earning their way to heaven. Each of these churches has a different set of laws to obey (Catholic, Methodist, Baptist) if it is a legalistic group. Each person is focused on number one, myself, have I done enough? They only notice you if they can use you to earn more points with God. Can they get you saved? Will you sit under their Sunday school teaching? Will you join their group that is ministering to left handed blind people? Again, if you don’t join their program, you will be left out.
One on the most difficult to see as a problem is the Lone Ranger types. This type knows he is gifted by God and has let it go to his head. A minister can get caught up in numbers. We had 439 people sitting in church last week. That is up 10% from last month. Let’s shoot for another 15% by next month, all sitting under my great teaching. The problem is that this can become pervasive. There is one music minister, so don’t be more talented than her. Five people have been teaching adult Sunday School for the last 15 years. George is about to retire, and seven people have been waiting for four years for an opening and been intensely infighting to get his spot for the next 15+ years. With this type of attitude, where is the room to care for others? The replacements learn to be worse than the teachers. Only if you are a faithful and obedient member of their Church, choir, Sunday School, do they care. If you hunger and crave to do something other than be someones trophy for God, you are likely to get stomped on.
One final area to focus on is the Strong and the Weak. The “Weak” are thoes who live by a set of rules. They pray every morning at 6 am and then read their Bible for an hour every day. They go to every church activity, and criticize you when you don’t. The “Strong” say, I can have a drink, I study the Bible and pray when God shows me something needing studying or needing prayer. I can even Go to just one or two church events a week. If you live by those rules, you are a legalistic wimp, thus criticizing you. Is this what church has come down to, criticizing those who don’t live by what works for me? If so, no wonder there is so much church hurt, and leaving church altogether. Are these the only options?
By no means! Think of Church as a factory or a hospital. You bring raw materials in (New but hurting Christians), process them, (teach and train them) and send the finished product out (Mature Healthy Christians.) A true church is lead by Humble people (Meek), the ones who say, you are greater than me. I want to see you attain great things. Since the church core is a group of people with complementary gifts, our goal is to see your gift, put you in a group that works together and send you out. This takes listening and caring at every stage of the Christian life, so each person grows as fast as they are able. There are no sermons for sermons sake, no Sunday School classes that last a life time, but all are with the goal of training and have clear graduation standards. When everyone’s goal is to work themselves out of a job, they never do. God sends more work. If the leadership focuses on your healing, growing, serving and teaches you to have the same humble attitude, would there ever be Church hurt?
Good insight into a sadly common set of difficulties. Thank you for writing clearly about a messy subject.
I am reminded of an elder who remarked at one point, ‘why are all the people coming here so low class, but the true word used escapes me. It really hurt to hear that.
Not surprisingly he didn’ t invest in the church much longer before he was led elsewhere… And the quality folk he sought never seem to materialize. He went through major burnout and is a shadow of his former self. In the goodness of God we’re called to come in close, without judging coarseness or refinement, to bring healing truth and kindness.
I often forget that passing on the baton is part of discipling. And entrusting responsibility to the next generation honors their maker, our Lord.
It is hard to be faithful in season and out. And hard to delegate authority, check in, encourage, correct and give more space to serve in. It’s hard to let go of our little domain of skills and expertise. Hard to be vulnerable. Hard to be intimate. Hard to open up to grow up. Hard to move towards the unlovable among us… But it’s the only place of Christlikeness and hope.
Walking by faith means to be humble and meek. That is to be powerful, but like a mother with a baby, consumed by seeing the baby grow.