Our messy Church

A reaction to the events at our Church body and what I feel the Scriptures are teaching us how we should respond.

As events happen in a Church body, people will respond differently. That is normal since we are all different. However as people who call ourselves Christian, are there more appropriate ways to respond than others ? Does the Scripture teach us anything on how we should respond ? These are my musings I wrote down several weeks ago as quite significant events happened at our Church. After much prayer, I finally decided to post this. Perhaps it helps some people work through the grieving and coping process

For those who are not familiar with our Church, here’s a little background. And a note of warning for those who are. Our Church is an elder-led, non-denominational Bible Church. We are not a congregational Church. We are not affiliated with any formal denomination. Yet for many years we have been a very Godly, Bible inspired body. With great people, with great teaching, with sound Scriptural doctrine and with excellent leadership and servants alike. On June 19th, the elder board announced a fundamental change in leadership to the Body. The structure and principles didn’t change. The worship didn’t change. The direction didn’t change. But the leadership did change. Please realize there was absolutely no moral or character based challenges that inspired this decision. The person that was impacted is a very upstanding Christian man and leader. I love him dearly and have benefited from his wise council on more than one occasion. For most members, this decision came as an absolute shock and the Body has been in mourning and transition since then. Hence this posting which may perhaps help. For those that would like to comment, voice an opinion or share feelings, this is exactly why I decided after weeks of prayer to post this. But here is the warning and reminder: please remain courteous, loving and respectful. I will remove any posts that are not of that nature or character. This is a public forum, potentially read by outsiders, so please keep references anonymous. If you do mention names, I will edit your post and remove them. Besides those two little guidelines….feel free to comment.

June 20th, 2011

Life is messy. Life is a mess. And our Church is a reflection of our lives. Over the close to a dozen years we have been members at our Church, we have been able to rejoice many, many times. But we have been driven to tears as many times, if not more. People leaving. For work, for family or just because they left for a different Church body. People losing jobs, people being ill, people passing away. Good people. People we loved and cared about. People we rejoiced with at the birth of a new baby or a wedding. Our Church body is a reflection of life in that it has its ups and downs. After all, it is a community built of sinners who live in a fallen world marred by sin.

The events of the last week are sad. They sadden me beyond imagination. They sadden me more than the passing of a fellow brother or sister in Christ. Because in that case, I know they are at peace. They suffer no more, they hurt no more and are somewhere waiting for His return. But with the current events the hurt has just started. The grief has only just begun. And it will linger a while longer.

And as I was pondering these events, I noticed myself go through the normal stages of change. The psychologists and change management specialists have figured it all out. On paper at least. Different models will provide slightly different phases, but in general they are all characterized quite similarly. First the shock or denial. “Surely this isn’t true” or “Are we sure nothing more serious happened”. Then comes the anger: “How dare they”. And understandably we saw a lot of that on Sunday. For many people this was a shock they had to deal with quite suddenly without symptoms or pre-warnings. And then comes the sadness. And even more understandably, we saw a lot more of that as well. Tears for a mentor and teacher who will no longer be part of our family. Grief for a loss, as sudden and as painful as a sudden death. So let us grieve. It shows our love and our compassion. It shows we care. And I for one care. More so than words can express. And no matter whether the psychologists have figured it all out… it hurts ! It “Hurts like H – E – double hockey sticks” my mom would say.

And finally at a certain point comes acceptance.  As a person once told me when my father passed away at a young age, “It is good to grieve. But it is unhealthy to nurture your grief“. Grieve, be sad, weep. But don’t hold on to that loss. The best thing eventually to do is to loose the loss. It takes time. And for different people it takes different amounts of time. And we have to understand and be respectful of that. Yet at the same time, one day we will move forward. And at that time, we should accept the decisions that were made.

So do I accept the decisions that were made ? In short.. yes I do. Do I like the decisions that were made ? No. Do I understand the decisions that were made ? Not in detail. Do I trust the men that were put in a leadership position at our Church and that had to make this difficult decision ? Yes I do. I know some of them and I do trust them. As one Bilbo Baggins once put it “I don’t know half of [them] half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” Especially note the second part of that phrase: I [like] – love less than half of them half as well as they deserve. How often do I pray for these men ? How often do I reach out to them to express my appreciation for their service ? How often do I go and ask them how things are ? How often do I reach out ? In hindsight, it is quite easy to cast blame, it is more difficult to look in the mirror and ask myself “What did I do to avoid this ? Did I ever contribute to this by participating in gossip ? Or slander ? Or choosing sides ?”

And here comes the first danger. That we end up choosing sides.

On my drive down to Austin last night, I couldn’t stop but think about the 1 Corinthians passage. For near 2,000 years our church communities have struggled with choosing sides. Some chose Apollos, some chose Paul, some chose Cephas or Christ. (1 Cor 1:12). Even then, roughly 1,900 years ago, the church in Corinth was divided. Since Paul touches many subjects in his letter (immorality, marriage, lawsuits, resurrection, …) we don’t know exactly over what the church was divided, but we do know the division was there. And Paul very clearly admonished the church to not let this divisiveness be part of the body. Paul continues in 1 Cor 3 to point that as long as there is divisiveness we are “of the flesh and behaving only in a human way“. Instead Paul reminds us that we are “God’s field. God’s building“. We are His Church. And as such as we are called to stick together, to comfort, to uphold, to pray and above all to love one another.

A second larger danger looms as well. We seek to blame someone.

Of course this whole messy sequence of events has to be somebody’s fault. Things don’t happen without a reason. And nothing is easier than to find that one person. That one responsible party. Then we can let loose or deserved indignation on our fellow Christian brother and crucify him for the sake of making us feel better. Does this sound harsh to you ? It does. And unfortunately it is the hard reality that we tend to find a culprit. We need an avenue, an escape valve to let our grief finds it way out. And if we cannot find these escape valves, we tend to look for scape goats. I only find it ironic that we call them a “scape goat“. As Christians we shouldn’t be able to find a goat in our flock of sheep of which Christ is the shepherd. And yet we look for one. The only thing we should find are lost sheep looking to our shepherd to find the way. So l exhort everyone to refrain from trying to find blame and pray for all elders and staff that they too may find peace, comfort and strength in this difficult transition. Anything else sounds way to much like we are judging those around us. Matthew 7 is way too clear for me to even venture down that path. Unless you are willing to give an account in front of Him as to why you judged someone and blamed them for the challenges we face today, perhaps it is wise council to refrain from doing so.

Does this then all mean that there doesn’t need to be any change ? I don’t know. I am not in a position to say whether there needs to be or not. All I know is that God led us to this body 12 years ago in quite an amazing fashion. Since then we have been welcomed and blessed beyond belief. And we have tried to serve where we could with love, kindness and patience in as much of a flawed way as any sinner can hope to do. For me, this body is more than the sum of its parts. We have lost a part. A big part. An influential part. A part we dearly love, respect and shall miss tremendously. But I pray, hope and trust God that this body is stronger than any of its given parts and that it will survive. That it will continue to be a blessing to many and above all that it will continue to be honoring to Him who is truly the head of our body. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For as we regularly sing and exclaim during our worship:

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. 

After all.. it is His Church…. we’re just borrowing it from Him while we’re here. Until that one day, that one day we all hope and pray for. That one day we are reassured of. That one day when He returns, it will be a Church of never ending joy and continuous worship. In which sin shall be no more. But until that day, we deal with the fallenness, the brokenness, the hurt, the grief. And we do so by holding each other up. By hugging each other, comforting each other and praying for one another. So I pray we stand together and not have to face Him one day and account for why we chose any sides but His.

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One comment

  1. I agree, Michael. It’s really important to pay attention to the Scriptures and Do What They Say. It’s not about taking sides, but about obedience to Christ.

    God uses the things that hurt us to reveal our hearts and uncover our idols. It shouldn’t be a surprise that He wants our attention, but it always seems to catch us off guard.

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