As a Christian mediator who works in conflicted churches, it is a normal thing for me to spend hours with people who are disgruntled with their church leadership and members. I’ve listened to furious people and heart-broken people. I’ve taken notes as people shared off of the tops of their heads stories of deep pain and suffering in the church, and I’ve sat, slightly amazed, as church members handed me copies of pages and pages of (dated) notes listing out every single thing wrong with their church.
Thinking about these experiences, and mulling over just how easy it can be for us to only share our criticisms and complaints with our church leaders, I recently wrote my church leaders a letter listing in great detail some of the strengths and blessings I have observed in our church for the fourteen years we have been members.
Is my church perfect? Of course not. Do we have huge areas for improvement? Absolutely.
But I am grateful for each member of my church and I owe a particular debt of gratitude to my leaders. So in addition to praying for them, protecting their reputations (especially by encouraging people who are upset with them to go to them and not talk to others about them!), I try to be particularly intentional about thanking them in writing from time to time.
I encourage you to to do the same. (Thank your leaders, I mean, not necessarily my leaders—unless you happen to live in Billings, Montana, and are a member of RMCC too. :) )
Oh. And if you are SO dissatisfied with your church that you are thinking about leaving? Then please! Oh pretty please! First read this article by Pastor Anyabwile:
It is brilliant! It is a MUST read.
The only thing I would have added to his list is this:
Before you write a long list of all of the weaknesses in a church and dump it on the leaders’ heads, ask yourself one honest question: To what extent were you laboring to help to strengthen this church in these areas? The youth group activities were lame? How were you helping to improve them? “This church” doesn’t do enough to serve the hungry and shelter the homeless? Tell me about your hours of volunteering and encouraging others to do the same. Our Easter Brunch just doesn’t measure up? Hmmmmm. I can’t really picture you in an apron running around the fellowship hall. We are unfriendly and cold and no one greets anyone on Sunday morning? Ah. I see. And you’re making that statement from your perch in a pew where you sit, each Sunday morning, with arms crossed, greeting no one?
I will never forget the time in college when Steve Engstrom (a senior) confronted me (a freshman) about my attitude toward one of our Christian fellowship groups. I told him:
“It’s dorky! It’s poorly run! The teaching is shallow. The leaders are weak. There isn’t enough prayer. You don’t care about evangelism enough. All the people involved are uncool. There aren’t enough Bible studies geared toward seekers.”
To which Steve rightly (wisely, lovingly, confrontationally) responded:
“Then don’t stand back and criticize, Tara. GET INVOLVED. Help us to be better. You see areas of weakness—great! Use those insights to help us to grow and improve.”
I wasn’t convinced. But THEN he said:
“Fine. You don’t want to get involved because we’re so bad about reaching the lost and serving the needy—whom you claim to care so much about—so how about this: will you meet with me once a week to PRAY?”
Oh, man. He got me. Now I had to put my money where my mouth was. All of my criticisms of that organization had to do with my (seemingly) heartfelt passions for the evangelizing the lost and furthering justice issues and strengthening God’s people. The truth was—the MOST IMPORTANT thing I could be doing and should be doing was PRAYING. Was I? Are you? (And before you stomp out of a church with your focus on all of the weaknesses in the church, ask yourself how much you were praying for the church.)