Between the Covid wars of masking, vaccinations and social distancing, every pastor I know has felt like they are at war with many previously reasonable, spiritual people in their church.
At my own church many have left our church permanently over these issues. And sadly, I think our church is better off without them. Life is too short to just tolerate their repeated disrespect of our church leaders over decisions our elders have done their level best to make on these health matters.
A half dozen years ago, the elders at our church were wrestling with the issue of how much of a role should patriotism play in our church (4th of July, Veterans Day, etc.). Our elders encouraged everyone to celabrate all these holidays as citizens of the U.S. But when we enter into worship, our only allegiance is to God and the Kingdom of Heaven. There was a small group who opposed us at every turn, which of course is their right. We let them address all the elders privately and also at at several congregational meetings over many months. We truly listened to them and others, right up until our leaders made their final decision.
After a tough congregational meeting on the issue, one couple came up to me, (an elder at the time) and made this accusation, “We simply don’t trust what we’re being told. You’re wrong.” (Which we readily admitted we could be.)
I was very hurt. I know the prayer and hours of discussion that went into our decision and there’s not an elder I don’t respect deeply as men of integrity. So, I made an appointment with our Senior Pastor to discuss why this couple and a number of other people would ever think we’re capable of intentionally misleading them. In all fairness, we elders have made some stupid decisions, but not dishonest or deceitful ones).
“Clare, I’ve counseled with that couple and their adult children for years. The reason they’re suspicious of the leaders of the church, is because they have so many family secrets themselves, and lie to each other all the time. People with secrets and people who lie, tend to be suspicious that everyone else is just like them. They’re simply projecting their own experiences and personalities, on the church leadership.”
I thought his observations was very wise. Since then, I’ve been aware, even in my own life, how true that is. We all are products of our past and the sins of others taint our worldviews.
But back to the current Covid wars. It used to be that it was our families and the church which had the most influence on Christians. But now news outlets, websites, blogs and facebook posts are the source many previously devout devoted Christians are turning to as their authority. In fact, the influence of social media and politics has not only caused us to doubt our political and healthcare leaders, it has caused some to doubt their own church leaders. The authority and trustworthiness of elders and pastors is eroding month by month, with no end in sight.
So, what do we do about it?
Examine your own life first. Has anyone close to you, who you respect, ever observed that you are highly critical or not trusting of people, especially leaders of your church? If that’s true, have the courage to sit down with them and give them permission to speak honestly to you, even if it hurts. Ask this question without defending yourself, “Please give me some examples of how I tend to be critical of my church leaders ” “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26 Then confess your sins to God. Finally, get some help from your pastor or a Christian counselor, if this is a pattern in your life. The roots of a critical spirit are often deep and bad habits die hard.
Talk to a fellow Christian about his or her critical attitude. But, doesn’t the Bible say, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Yes it does. And if you too, have a critical spirit, you should repent of that before you ever speak to a fellow believer about this sin. That way you can come to them and confess your own struggle with a critical spirit. But the Bible also says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1). This and other verses of scripture, tell us that the health of the church is best served by gentle, humble and prayerful confrontation. I’ve gone to dozens of men and women and given them my observations of what I perceive to be sinful, or destructive behavior. (It goes well only about 75% of the time). And, I’ve had fellow Christians come to me with questions about my own behavior or character. (I didn’t like it either, but in almost all cases, they were right and I was convicted to change and glad they had the courage to confront me.) “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
Go with another Christian to speak to a brother or sister in Christ. Matthew 18:15,16 says this, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” Strictly speaking, this passage speaks only to a personal offense against you. However, serious followers of Jesus have always applied the principle behind this teaching to gently confront others who hurt the reputation of Christ by their behavior. The goal always is restoration, not confrontation. And any meeting for these purposes, need lots of prayer that the Holy Spirit gives you the right words, and to the person you’re confronting, a teachable spirit.
Do not permit others to be critical of your church leaders. We’ve all stood around after church and have had conversations about decisions the church has made, that we’ve disagreed with. Church leaders can, and do, make mistakes. That’s a different issue than accusing them of deceit, ignorance and ongoing complaining about them and their decisions. That is a sin. If ever you hear a fellow Christian making a moral accusation about a leader(s), ask this question. “Do you know for a fact that the leaders or this person willfully deceived or is willfully making a bad decision for the church? If you have facts that you don’t think our leaders have in their possession, then you ought to meet with the leadership. However, at the end of the day, if and when the elders make their decision, the Bible warns against the sin of “sowing discord.” “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” 1 Timothy 5:19 “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” Titus 3:9-11 Our church takes these warnings seriously and we’ve excommunicated a number of people, unwilling to accept a decision of the leaders, who continued to grumble and complain about it. That may appear harsh, but unless church leaders take this sin more seriously, complaining and discussion will contaminate the while body. Given that the ”vaccination, masking and social distancing decisions,” that our church leaders are making are not biblical, moral decisions, there should be even less reason to oppose them.
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7