Jesus promised that the “gates of Hell” won’t prevail against His church, but someone once opined “Satan couldn’t beat the church, so he joined it”. While this might be a bit melodramatic it does sadly portray what has become of “church” in so many ways – whether it be the world coming in and turning the church into nothing but another display of the flesh, or if it is the more subtle, and I believe unintentional acts and words of otherwise well-intentioned people. One aspect of that is the harm done, both to pastors and leaders, and often to an entire church body by its own members. The bits below have been gleaned from personal experiences, adventures others have shared with me, and a handful of articles that have touched on the subject.
A disclaimer – this post is not intended to point out any one individual, group, or church body, but to hopefully – by drawing attention to what many don’t think about – edify local churches and ultimately to glorify God.
I. Don’t Show Up! That’s right – if you wan to to kill a church (or at least muffle the Spirit) and discourage the pastor, then just don’t show up. This technique is one of the most used, and least recognized weapons against the church. There is a reasoning to the writer of Hebrews’ words in Hebrews 10:25. When we neglect the meeting together of the local body, we hurt ourselves and our fellow believers. Jesus created the church for many purposes, with the “Great Commission” being the most important and outward of those purposes, He also knew (knows) that believers need each other. They need the fellowship with other believers. We need the teaching, we need to proclamation of the Word, and we need each other. If we look at the First Century church as illustrated in the book of Acts, we see believers (remember – thousands of believers had been “added to the church”) meeting together “daily” – in many ways and forms to help each other, to lift each other up, to walk through life together. They needed each other! How arrogant for professed believers today to claim through their actions, if not words, that they don’t need fellow believers!
II. Careless Words – This could come in the form of comparing your current pastor to previous pastors or to other preachers. This could come in the form of literal backbiting and rumor-spreading. This could be demonstrated in emotional outbursts. We really cannot control how people take what we say, but we most certainly can think about what we say and how we say it. And let us not forget how the Bible (James) describes our tongues…
Interestingly enough, Jesus and the Apostles were well-known for speaking openly. Even John the Baptist used the phrase “brood of vipers” when talking to the Pharisees. Yet our words must always convey the grace of God. If your conversation immediately goes silent when someone else walks in the room, theres a good possibility the discussion was not edifying or God-glorifying. Which leads to:
III. Radio Silence – I have witnessed this both within and outside the local church. Some who have been open and willing to talk, who regularly have an encouraging word or cheerful conversation suddenly become uncharacteristically silent. Even those who may not be regular conversationalists will for whatever reason go silent. Often, this is the product of hurt feelings. Maybe it is due to #2 above (Careless words) they have received. Or maybe it is due to incorrect perceptions. Or just maybe there is a genuine issue that they are recoiling from. Regardless, I can find nowhere in scripture that would indicate that the right way to handle any of the above is through silence. Indeed, the New Testament is rich in instructions in dealing with brothers who have been hurt and/or wronged by another. Every step involves speaking to the offender to seek reconciliation and restoration. Radio Silence leaves hurts unhealed, raises further questions, often leads to innuendo and damaging assumptions, and never leads to God-glorifying restoration.
It is unfortunate that Radio Silence is often accompanied by a sudden commitment to #1 above. Church members, for whatever reason, chose to just go quiet and walk away from the local church. Never an explanation (or at least an open and honest disclosure), and often further complicating words and actions that discourage, divide, and destroy.
IV. Raw Emotions – Why is it that some of the most ungodly and ugly behavior I have ever witnessed has been carried out by “church members”? Emotions. We as the church are called together in a special, close, and very personal relationship. In the course of carrying out our duty to each other, we have to lay our hearts out on the line. That opens us up to a lot of “targets”. More than once, a pastor has preached the God-given message, only to find a church member so upset and even enraged that said preacher “picked them out to pick on”. That member blows up, causes a scene, and divides congregations – all because of an out-of-control (and generally illogical) emotional reaction.
Or similarly, a brother or sister speaks a careless word or is perceived to have somehow wronged a brother. The reaction – a blow up of epic proportions, all as a knee-jerk, emotion-fueled outburst that again, divides and destroys.
V. Unreasonable Expectations – How many perfect people have ever walked the face of this earth? Other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the answer is ZERO. We all have shortcomings, weaknesses, flaws, and “issues” to deal with. We all are sinners who desperately need the Savior! As we mature in Christ, many of these shortcomings should become less prominent. But as long as we are flesh and blood beings, we will struggle. We will fail from time-to-time.
Among these human beings are pastors, teachers, and other leaders. Certainly the Bible holds these people to a high standard – with the Pastor answering directly to God Almighty for every word and action! But often these people are held to unreasonable expectations. We forget that pastors are humans too. We forget that he has a family, bills to pay, and his own Christian walk/race to run. Pastors are not angels, able to flit from home, to the church building, to hospitals, to parts unknown around the world to magically minister personally, and with all the right words, in each and every situation. Teachers have their own lives and situations to deal with, in addition to preparing to teach those in their charge – and again, with the most important curriculum in the world – the Word of God.
We as church members sometimes let other down. Yes, within the local body of believers, there should be an expectation that we will do our very best to fulfill our commitments and be people of our word. But again, we are human and will sometimes fall short.
I once hear told of a church that wanted to call a bi-vocational pastor. Among their expectations listed in the job description:
– Seeking a bi-vocational pastor
-A man with an Seminary Degree who spends several hours daily in study and preparation of the Word.
– Has a wife who plays piano
– Well behaved children
– Will regularly visit the extensive list of shut-ins, invalids, those in nursing homes, and in the hospital.
– Will keep the church building clean, and the grass mowed, flower beds clean and attractive.
– Will teach Sunday School
– Organize the Choir
– Attend associational meetings
– lead regular canvassing of neighborhoods
– organize Vacation Bible School
– keep his home (or church parsonage) up so church members can drop in at any time.
– keep regular office hours
– preach two services on Sunday, and one on Wednesday
– Pay is $100 per week
And all of this does not include the unwritten and unstated (but just as expected) abilities and actions!
While the above may sound improbable, such has been the expectation of many a pastor! But what really hurts is that many of the expectations are not stated at all, yet church members engage in many of the numbers above when said pastor (or other church member) fails to meet those expectations.
VI. Complain – in contrast to those who go “radio silent”, shutting others out, others are what one of my seminary professors referred to as “Joy Suckers”. A Joy Sucker is the person who has a knack for finding the negative in every situation. In all things, they seek and actively highlight everything bad (even if it is only in their perception).
Some find every possible flaw to whine about with the pastor: he preaches too long, he preaches to loud (or quiet), he is more of a teacher – not a preacher, he sweats too much, his suit isn’t pressed, his wife didn’t talk to me, his children are too loud, he didn’t come see me when I stubbed my toe… My personal favorite: “why didn’t you go visit _________ in the hospital?” (all while having never been informed that _______ was even IN the hospital or even was sick!).
But it isn’t just the pastor who is the target of those who are Joy Suckers – Sunday School teachers receive a lot of the same condemnation. The sanctuary or classroom is always too hot or too cold. A bit of painting needs done or carpet laid, and the color is never right. Too much (or too little) emphasis is placed on kids or youth. The music is too loud (or simply “I don’t like that music”). Joy suckers find every way possible to quite literally suck the joy out of each and every aspect of life, and sadly – most don’t even realize what they are doing!
Remember, if there is something genuinely wrong, there is a biblical course of action to take.
VII. Turn a Blind Eye – in contrast to those who live life as a malcontent Joy Sucker, is the church member or even church body that turns a blind eye. The Apostle Paul wrote repeatedly of sin within the church that was going unaddressed. Adultery, selfishness, pride, sexual sin/fornication, and even incest had reared their ugly heads. Add to this the false doctrines and theologies that were coming in, and we see a recipe for disaster.
Scripture indicates that judgment must begin within the church. The church is called out to show the world there is a better way, a way which is pleasing to God. A way of genuine joy, changed lives, and righteousness that satisfies much better than the world can. When those within the church look more like that outside the church than they look like Jesus, we have a problem. But remember, accountability does not mean we are suppose to condemn. Accountability is about love. About desiring better, God-pleasing lives for our brethren. But that also means we have to speak the truth (in love).
VIII. Lie – few things will destroy, discourage, and divide like lies will. This is an awfully old problem. Satan is described as the father of lies (John 8:44). When we say we do not sin, we too are liars (1 John 1:5-10). How do people within the church lie?
One of the most common way is by not sharing their burdens. A brother or sisters asks if they are ok, if there is anything they can help them with or pray about – and the answer is “no – we are doing fine”. It is a rare thing for a Christian to have it “all together”. We all face daily struggles. Most of us deal with far larger trials and obstacles that should lead us to welcome any prayers we can get! Further, often our burdens could be made lighter were we to simply allow others to help us with them.
Still other lies are far more nefarious – like when a church member says one thing to the pastor, and a completely different story/version to other church members. Or when a church member deals dishonestly with another (business transaction, loan of money or materials, or making commitments there was no real intention to keep).
Many churches, especially those of Baptist lineage, hold to a “Church Covenant” much like this:
Or as some churches have chosen, a “Membership Agreement”, which fulfills the same basic purpose as a Covenant – to give a point of commitment by members to the local church and to each other for accountability, service, spiritual growth, and provision for the church. Yet how many members don’t every take said covenant or agreement seriously? Is it a lie when a church member doesn’t make an effort to uphold what they have said they would do? Is it a lie if they act contrary to said commitment?
If you want to damage a church, then choose to ignore your commitment to each other and the Lord. Deal dishonesty with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Refuse to allow others to share your burdens. Tell everyone you are “doing fine” when you really do need some encouragement, help, or prayers. Pat your pastor on the back and tell him how great the sermon was, while complaining to other how awful your pastor is.
IX. Bickering – One of the big discouraging activities sometimes found in churches is bickering, usually connected to personality conflicts. This is amazing, considering how the New Testament portrays what a right-relationship within the local church looks like. Unfortunately, bickering is often the product of selfishness and pride. Personal preferences/comfort (connected to THIS post) trump what is best for the body. It is a crying shame when brother turns against brother, usually over the smallest, most insignificant blip on the radar of life. And it brings down everyone around them.
X. Just Go Away – One of the most undermining of all way s to kill a church and discourage you pastor is to just disappear. One Sunday, you are there, participating – the next, where did brother ___________ go? When asked, be sure to tell different people different reasons, so that none have the whole picture. Particularly helpful in dividing and discouraging the church is when you say you will return, but never do. If there was a real reason for your withdrawal, and that situation is rectified in a God-glorifying way, then why remain withdrawn from fellowship?
Yes, indeed – Satan is always on the prowl. As the author of lies and deception, he inserts himself even within the walls of churches, seeking how he can use our weakness to derail the work of God. When Christians are constantly seeking the Lord, humbling themselves to serve one-another, love each other in such a way that personal preferences take a back seat to the will of God, and when the Glory of God is most important, then Satan has a hard time gaining a foothold.
In contrast, when our “self” rises in importance, we give Satan just the crack he needs to come in and begin his pattern of destruction and discouragement. Once he is allowed a foothold, it rapidly grows more difficult to kick him out.
The question then becomes – are we willing to put all aside for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel? Or are we content just plugging along, ignoring problems until the damage is done?
Will we let our own actions become stumbling blocks to others? Will we ignore the reality that when we do any of the above 10 actions, we do damage not only to the church, but to the leadership God places before us, and to our own walk with the Lord.