Every day it seems I am reading more and more articles, written by well meaning Christians, about how much the church sucks. The pastor of a big church beating down the pastor of a small church because the church isn’t growing. The pastor of a small church beating down the pastor of a big church because all he wants is power and fame. The attendee of a house church beating down all other expressions of church for being a part of “organised religion” and on and on it goes. I read these things and think ‘you’re right, the church- in all shapes and sizes- does suck’ (Am I allowed to say that?)
It was always going to suck. Want to know why?
Because you are a part of it. Yes, you.
Sounds harsh doesn’t it? But I am also to blame.
Want to see a perfect church? It will be the one with no people in it. The minute people get involved in church sin and dysfunction enters the picture. The only perfect church would be the one where there were no people around to mess it up.
But the church is people and is for people, right? So it’s always going to have problems, because a church without people isn’t really anything at all.
Perhaps we have missed the point.
As someone who works for a church I see its flaws probably more than most. Some days it is really hard to be positive about the future of the church. But I also see its potential. The way God uses it to change lives and help those who need it. Funny how very few people are writing about that. I must admit that I fall into this category as well – often because I simply find it easier to criticise. Mark Driscoll says, “it’s easier to be a critic than a pastor”. So often, without realising, we continue to take the easy road, writing negative things about our family and creating more divides between those who we think are “right” and those we think aren’t.
Erwin McManus says: "living within a Christian context, it becomes easy to divide according to theological distinctions. The difference between a Baptist and a Methodist actually used to matter to people. In many ways we seem to have had too much time on our hands... While we were dividing among ourselves, we missed the growing divide that really mattered. We were losing the battle for the lives of people who were without Christ".
The more time we spend divided amongst ourselves, the less time we have to accomplish the mission that Jesus left the church. I mean, isn’t our goal at the end of the day the same? If we spend all our time fixating on how people are doing church “wrong” we will lose sight of our core focus. Is it really worth spending so much time writing things to put “different” Christians down? Don’t we get enough of that from the world already? In fact I would go so far as to say that adding another voice to the negative barrage of church publicity only gives the world more fuel for the fire.
While I completely agree that, within the proper relationship, it is good to call people out on sin and behaviours that aren’t fitting for the people of God; I’m just not convinced that the negative and critical blogs from the church about the church are helping. Dr Larry Crabb says, ‘never speak hard words to someone unless your love for that person is formed by a vision of who that person could become, a vision that generates tender feelings for the other.’ We need to keep who we are writing to in mind and think about whether we are speaking hard words out of a vision to see things improve so that we don’t just join in the mud slinging.
My dream is to see the church- all expressions of it- healthy and on mission in the world. I know there are lots of churches that aren’t there yet, and quite honestly I think a lot of them know it too and are struggling with not knowing what to do next. There will always be exceptions to this, but most pastors and churches are humbly and faithfully doing the best they know how. Somehow I don’t think that berating them on social media is going to help them reach their God given potential.
If you are one of these people writing blogs about other churches, I am going to assume the best in you and guess that your goal is not to see these pastors and church leaders give up because they can’t do anything right? You may not know it, but pastors are reading your blogs and being discouraged by them. So why continue to put them down? What about building up the body of Christ (Eph 4:12, 29)? Notice that Paul didn’t write “only for the building up of people in the body of Christ who you agree with”?
We don’t need more division; we have enough of that already. I think the devil is having a field day watching us argue amongst ourselves while the rest of the world goes on not knowing Jesus. Unity and peace doesn’t mean compromising your convictions but it means holding these views with humility and being willing to work with and love people that aren’t the same as you.
In our culture, putting the church down is easy. Standing up for it is hard. Standing up for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, even when you don’t agree with their methods is the hardest. But can you imagine what the church could accomplish if we learnt to stand with those who, while their approach to worship or how to take up an offering or the ideal church size may differ to yours, believe that Jesus is Lord and that he is what the world needs most. (And let’s face it, most of the time we aren’t arguing over theological issues, we are arguing over practice. What a waste of time.)
There are days in ministry where I just want to pack up and quit. What I need on those days is not someone to come along and point out all the ways I am doing a crap job. I need encouragement and a reminder of why I am doing this crazy thing called kingdom work. I need someone to remind me of the bigger vision. And if I am in a bad place because I am doing something wrong than I need to read something that shows me another way to do things. There is a place for admonishing and correcting, but I don’t think it is on social media. Particularly when you can’t control who sees it and what season they are walking through. I think we owe our brothers and sisters more than that. (“They could just not read it” is not a good enough excuse either. Don’t abdicate your responsibility in this.)
So what’s the alternative you ask? Good question.
Surely the time has to come where we stop tearing other Jesus followers down. Especially with all the stories in the media at the moment about Christians being persecuted, now more than ever, we need to set aside the negativity over our differences and stand together.
By all means disagree, I do it often. But does it need to be posted? I find these are some handy things to ask myself when deciding what to post about.
- Does it honour God? (Not “how much can I get away with before I dishonour God?”)
- Is it best?
- Can I do it with a clear conscience?
- Is it helpful or harmful?
- Does it build others up? (Ephesians 4:12, 29)
- Does it set a good example? Does it represent God well to others? (1 Tim 4:12)
- Here’s a good way to check what you are saying. Add “…and that’s the way I want it” to the end of sentences. For example “the church sucks… and that’s the way I want it”. If that isn’t what you believe then either find a new way to say it or just don’t. (Try re-phrasing: this is not operating the way it could but I believe it has the potential to reform and make a big difference. Here’s how…)
- If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all- Ephesians 4:29
- If you think something good- say it! Proverbs 16:24
Encouragement and positivity aren’t as easy as ranting and criticising and it is a lot harder to find people to agree with you when you present an idea positively rather than point out a flaw but as Christians we are called to a harder road. And I seriously believe that it is our responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ to stop tearing them down, but rather use our time to build them up. What does that look like exactly? I’m still figuring that out myself (I'll keep you posted). But I know that it starts with stopping the negative posts about the church.