My church’s new fundraising campaign makes me uncomfortable—should I just leave my church?

Q: “Our church is in a building program and we are also seeking to expand the number and size of our outreach programs. While I think this is all good in theory it seems that realistically we won’t have the money to do everything our church leaders are planning. Lately, it seems like the major theme of the sermons and other teachings is about money and how we must give sacrificially. This makes me very uncomfortable. I know I am not alone because some people have left the church because of this new emphasis on giving. Should I just leave too? Or is there a better way for me to think through this situation?”

A: First, what would be the best way for you to ask the best questions about your situation? You have taken a membership vow to God and the leaders and other members of your church not to flee simply because something is taking place you may not personally agree with. That means you owe God and your fellow worshippers the benefit of your every effort (see Eph. 4:3) to craft your present concerns in a way that serves God’s interests and the interests of others in your church (see Phil. 2:1-5).

From God’s perspective, what best questions would He have you ask at this time that leave out your personal bias and unwarranted presuppositions? For example: “What does God’s Word teach me about the use of money entrusted to me?”, “What does God’s Word teach me about trusting him when personally in doubt?”, “What does God’s Word teach me about how I should tell my pastor about the discomfort I experience when his teaching and preaching seems to me unbalanced in light of all that the Scriptures reveal and all that the Gospel implies for my life as a Christian?” Try writing down every question like these in order to prepare yourself for a time of thoughtful interaction with your church leaders and other members. By approaching your “discomfort” in this manner you will demonstrate your spiritual maturity, trust in God, and honor Him by honoring your membership vows.

-Dave Edling

Posted in When is it valid to leave a church? | Leave a comment

My church is having HUGE conflicts over homeschooling vs. public vs. Christian education. How should I respond?

Q: “A huge conflict has been going on in our church for many months over the education of children.  Those who home-school their children believe the church should be investing more resources (money and  time and effort) in support of home-school programs  and activities that will help parents provide greater variety of experiences for their children.  Those who don’t home-school and have their children in either public school or Christian school don’t agree. They believe the church should be the church and not favoring one choice of education over another by using church funds to favor one group over another. Both sides have tried to recruit supporters to their position, even among us who don’t have children in school any longer. How should I respond when being asked to take a side in this messy situation?”

A: Your question is a good one: “How should I respond when being asked to take a side?” This is a question of process. Jesus was asked a similar question in Luke 12:13-15 when one brother asked Jesus to tell his brother to share the inheritance with him. Jesus saw through the apparent legitimate request by discerning what the real heart motivation of the one making the demand was (selfishness and greed). While we can never possess the ability to see the heart of another the way Jesus was able, we can practice wise discernment by asking those making demands on us appropriate questions that may reveal their motivation and intent.

When being “recruited” by either “side” to this controversy you could ask questions like: (1) “What do you desire the church to do? Is your desire for your favored outcome leading you into a James 4:1-3 situation that may contribute to conflict?” (2) “You know I don’t have children in school. Why do you feel you need my support?” (3) “What are you doing to understand better the interests and concerns of the parents on the other side of this question? How are you seeking to apply and live out Philippians 2:1-5 in this situation?” (4) “What are you and those who agree with you doing to ‘make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3)’ in the church while you search for a reasonable solution?” (5) “What are you doing to protect your children from the damage this controversy could have on them and the relationships they have with other children in our church?” Questions like this will show a larger concern for your fellow church members far beyond becoming entangled in the substance of their crusade by choosing a side. You will be reminding them of the importance of placing the priority God has for peaceful relationships among his eternal children ahead of personal agendas concerning secondary matters.

-Dave Edling

Posted in Secondary matters vs. relationships | Leave a comment

“One reason people cling to the hurts they have received is that it gives them an excuse for being angry …”

My friend and one of my heroes of the faith, Ajith Fernando, graciously gave me permission to share this with you. It includes some of his key teachings from Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World (which I just ordered and am looking very forward to reading).

Ajith has a particular burden for this topic because of the deep hurt that angry Christian leaders can cause.

RESIDUAL ANGER
Ajith Fernando

A few days ago I realised that Paul used the words “rejoice,” “rejoiced,” “joy,” and “glad” a total of sixteen times in the Epistle to the Philippians. The great Bible scholar A. T. Robertson aptly named his classic exposition on Philippians, Paul’s Joy in Christ. This Epistle was written from prison. Paul was an activist with great plans for what he wanted to do for the gospel. But though he was confined to a prison cell for a significant period of time, he remained joyful. This emphasis on joy in Philippians lends credence to the claim of Christian writers like C. S. Lewis that joy is the hallmark of the Christian life. From prison Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).

Then why is it that so many Christians are unhappy people? I think there are several reasons for this. One of them is that many Christians harbour what I am calling “residual anger.” Bad things have happened to them, and they have not fully got over the anger over that. God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34); but they keep remembering the sins done against them. I am not saying that we will always have the supernatural ability to completely block out the memory of unpleasant events from our minds. But we can live as if they are no longer having an adverse effect on us. That is what is meant by Paul’s statement that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1Cor. 13:5 NIV). The Greek word used here (logizomai), which we often translate “reckon” or “count,” can be used in the field of accounts, where bookkeepers keep a log of financial transactions so that they could be referred to at a later time. When we forgive, we refuse to reckon the harm done to us, that is; we refuse to keep recalling it as something that has a significant effect on us. Interestingly Paul uses the same verb in 2 Corinthians 5:19 when he says that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Just as God does not count our sins against us, we must not count sins done to us against people.

We have good reason for refusing to reckon wrong done to us. Paul says, “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). There is no reason to harbour anger because God is going to turn what was done to us into something good. If we continue to keep resentment over these things we make a statement which insults God: that the person who harmed us is more powerful in our lives than God is. That is an honour that person does not deserve. When the Bible commands us to be joyful, it is actually commanding us to believe in God. It is belief in God that enables us to be joyful despite what happens to us. This is well expressed in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” When we believe that God is with us and for us and will turn everything to good; we open to door to “joy and peace.” But that is not all. When we believe in God we “abound in hope.” Yes, bad things do happen. But because we believe in God we can hope that even these bad things will be turned to good. With such hope we can always be joyful.

A king once made a list of the names of all his enemies in his kingdom. And beside the list he marked the sign of the cross. People thought that he had done this with a plan to take revenge on these enemies. But he explained that he marked a cross beside their names in order to remember to forgive them as Christ did at the cross. He made a decision to obey the call to forgive.

The British Methodist preacher William E. Sangster preached and practiced a philosophy he described as “remembering to forget.” Though he was often criticized, he tried to “remember to forget” the wrongs committed against him and to focus on serving God instead. His wife once saw him addressing a Christmas card to someone and was shocked. She exclaimed, in disbelief, “Surely you are not sending a greeting to him!” She reminded him of something that man had done to him eighteen months earlier. In truth, Sangster had entirely forgotten the incident! He had actually remembered to forget!

One reason people cling to the hurts they have received is that it gives them an excuse for being angry and for their unkind behaviour. Their anger results in them hurting others. They say hurtful things; they become overly critical of others. Finding errors in people helps buttress their belief that people do bad things. This in turn is an excuse for their ongoing anger. When someone makes a mistake, they pounce upon it with a reaction like, “See! See! See how dishonest these people are!” Paul says that love “believes” and “hopes” all things (1 Cor. 13:7). That is, it yearns to see people being good and doing well. It wants to believe the best about people. It wants to see the possibilities of grace enacted in people’s lives. But these angry people end up doing a lot of damage by giving the worst interpretations to people’s actions. They spread false stories about people based on their misinterpretations, forgetting how the Bible so severely condemns the sin of bearing false witness. The command not to bear false witness may well be the most neglected command among evangelicals today. Many of these unhappy Christians are leaders who have suffered because of their good principles: they are “righteous” people who act unlovingly and hurt others!

What is the answer to this problem? Let God love you! Believe what he says about his awesome love, and his ability to heal our wounds and turn our tragedies into triumphs. Then unencumbered by the weight of anger, you will be freed to love people and to face difficult people and situations with a positive outlook. A few days ago I told my wife that if we got really annoyed over each other’s weaknesses, our home would be like a war zone. As we get older some of our weaknesses, like forgetfulness, get worse! How good to know that God is the most important factor in our home, not us or our performance. He is strong and he is good. By being undergirded by his strength and his goodness we also have strength to show sacrificial love to people and to be patient with them.

When F. B. Meyer, a prominent twentieth century preacher, was travelling on a train, a lady with a very sad face was seated next to him. They struck up a conversation and Meyer found out that both the lady’s husband and her only child, a daughter, had died. She told Meyer how she had enjoyed caring for her sickly daughter. She said that, now with the daughter gone, she did not like going to her home anymore. Meyer told her something like this. “When you come home from work every day, and when you put the key into the keyhole to open the front door, say, ‘Jesus, I know you are here.’ When you light up the fire at home, tell God what happened during the day, just as you would tell your daughter. When you switch off your light to go to sleep at night, stretch out your hands into the darkness and say, ‘Jesus I know you are here.’”

Some months later this lady came for a meeting at which Meyer was preaching. Her face radiated joy rather than announcing sorrow. She told Meyer that she had done what he suggested and that it had made a huge difference in her life.

If only we would keep remembering how wonderful Jesus is; how wonderful his love for us is in spite of our continuing disobedience! Then we would not continue to harbour anger in our hearts. Yes, when we are hit, we will first react with anger. That is because of the God-given sense of justice in us and also because of the hurt we feel. It is natural and right that we get upset over wrong. But after an appropriate period of lament and groaning, faith takes over and affirms that God’s power and love are greater than the hurt we have received. Then, though the hurt may remain, the vision of the beauty and power of Jesus drives away resentment and gives us reason to rejoice.

Earlier I said that a key to overcoming our anger over what has been done to us is to let God love us. But sometimes in order for us to be open to his love, we may first need to have our wounds healed. We may need to get the help of another in whose presence we bring our wounds to the surface so that God’s grace can be applied to them and bring healing. Those who are serious about their walk with God would be so eager to overcome our resentment that they will seek out help to heal their wounds. Most of us have personality weaknesses which make us particularly vulnerable to the attacks of Satan. We must pay special attention to them and get all the help we can get to overcome them. Resentment is such an area in the lives of many Christians.

Don’t let residual anger take your joy away and cause to you hurt others! Believe God and let his love banish resentment over the evil things people have done to you.

Posted in Anger and Church Conflict | Leave a comment

Before You Criticize the Leaders, Besmirch the Fellowship, and Stomp Out of A Church …

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:

Five Things to do Before Leaving Your Church

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.)

Pastor Anyabwile was spot-on in his counsel about such things. I strongly encourage you to read his article.

Posted in Confrontation, Disappointment in the church, RedeemingLINKS | 1 Comment

How to Spot a Manipulative Church Leader

Sobering!

How to Spot a Manipulative Church Leader

(HT: The Aquila Report)

Posted in RedeemingLINKS | Leave a comment

Seven Reasons Pastors Burn Out

Worth the read!

7 Reasons Pastors Burn Out: What is unique to this vocation that causes such a dramatic dropout rate?

(HT: The Aquila Report)

Posted in RedeemingLINKS | Leave a comment

Why Pastors Need the Body of Christ

(Reblogged from Paul Tripp Ministries. All Rights Reserved to Paul Tripp.)

Why Pastors Need the Body of Christ

Pastor, have you ever asked the question, “Who am I, and what do I spiritually need?” Or, church member, have you ever thought about your pastor and asked, “Who’s my pastor, and what does he need in order to remain spiritually healthy and to grow in grace?”

Does it seem right and healthy to you that, in many churches, no one gets less of the ministry of the body of Christ than the pastor? Does it seem best to you that most pastors live outside of and above the body of Christ?

If every pastor is in the middle of his own sanctification, shouldn’t he receive the normal range of essential ministry from the body of Christ that God has ordained for every member? Is there any indication in the New Testament that the pastor is the exception to the normal rules that God has designed for the health and grow of his people?

Is it possible that we’ve constructed a kind of relationship of the pastor to his congregation that can’t work? Could it be that we’re asking something of our pastors that they’ll be unable to do? Is it biblical to tell pastors that they won’t be able to be true friends with anyone, that they must live in isolation that we’d say is unhealthy for anyone else?

BLIND LEADING THE BLIND

You only need to take seriously what the Bible says about the presence and power of remaining sin to know the great danger in allowing anyone to live separate from the essential ministry of the body of Christ. How much greater is the danger then, for the person who’s charged with leading, guiding, and protecting that body as a representative of Christ? If Christ is the head of his body, then everything else is just body. The most influential pastor or ministry leader is a member of the body of Christ; therefore he needs what the other members of the body need. An intentional culture of pastoral separation and isolation is neither biblical nor spiritually healthy.

Let me suggest one passage, which I’ve written about before, that powerfully reinforces this point. It’s Hebrews 3:12-13.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

This passage gives a critical warning and an essential call that together reinforce the presence and power of remaining sin and the need for the daily ministry of the body of Christ.

I don’t know if you noticed, but the warning in this passage pictures the progressive steps of the believer’s heart hardening. (The greeting, “brothers,” tells us this passage is written to believers.) The warning reads like this: “See to it that none of you has an evil—unbelieving—falling away—hardened heart.” It‘s a picture of what sin does if undetected, unexposed, and unforsaken.

Pastor, could it be that many of us are progressing toward hard-heartedness and don’t even know it? Could it be that we spend so much time warning others that we fail to heed the warnings ourselves? Could it be that there are subtle places where you’ve already fallen away? Could it be that even in your heart as a pastor there are pockets of unbelief?

So pastor, here’s the critical question: have you taken this warning seriously? Do you properly observe the presence and power of sin that remains in your heart? Does this cause you to live and minister with a personal sense of seriousness and need? Does it drive you to daily seek the forgiving, rescuing, transforming, and delivering grace of Christ? Does it lead you to seek, participate in, and submit to God’s instruments of grace readily available in the body of Christ? Or have you attempted to do alone (your walk with God) what was designed to be a community project?

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Five Ways to be Unsatisfied with Your Church

The Aquila Report pointed to an excellent article today that we both commend to you:

Five Ways to Be Unsatisfied with Your Church

 

Posted in Disappointment in the church, RedeemingLINKS | Leave a comment

Resilient Ministry: What it takes to survive and thrive

I greatly enjoyed this article by Megan Fowler and thought you might too:

Resilient Ministry: What it takes to survive and thrive

“What makes pastoral ministry so difficult that, although men feel called to pastoral ministry for a lifetime and spend years training in seminary, they often quit after a few years? What does it take to sustain lifelong pastoral excellence?”

Posted in Strengthening the Church | 2 Comments

What difference does church membership make? I do everything in my church except vote …

“I am a regular attender, not a member.”

Those were the sad words I heard; another person explaining to me the nature of their relationship with the church that they had been attending for eight years.

I asked her:

“I know your church practices formal church membership, why haven’t you joined?”

She replied:

“I had such a bad experience in my former church where I was a member that I resolved to never again join a church. Conflicts in that church hurt me a lot and, being a member, drew me into situations I would rather have avoided, so I said ‘NEVER AGAIN!’ Besides, what difference does it make? I do everything in this church a member does except vote.”

Here, again, was an apparently sincere Christian declaring that her personal past experience could, and would, trump God’s Word. God’s declared will as revealed in the Scriptures was irrelevant when stacked against her own experience. When I pointed out to her that the Bible consistently presupposes that believers will form relationships of spiritual accountability, service, and soul care within a local church she became indignant and said:

“What does that have to do with anything?”

And then she walked away.

I don’t usually quote Universalist pastors, but in this case, Edwin Hubbell Chapin (1814-1880) said something that applies well here:

“Tribulation will not hurt you, unless, as it often does, it hardens you and makes you sour, narrow, and skeptical.”

That certainly seemed to be the effect that this woman’s prior experience with church conflict had on her. Here she was, years later, carrying the baggage from a prior church conflict. She claimed to be a Christian who “believed in” God’s Word and who attended a local church. But since her church was properly organized, she would not be allowed to:

    • Serve in any children’s ministries (legal liability limitations)
    • Use her spiritual gift in the care of others (accountability and oversight issues)
    • Receive the benefit of corrective care through the appropriate church discipline of her elders (1 Corinthians 5:12-13 and legal limitations)
    • Participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (never having publicly professed her faith in the church she now called her home church)

Her perspective was that she was just like any member of her church, but, in fact, she was not (in any meaningful sense) a part of her church at all.

The heart of the New Testament  church is meaningful engagement through full enjoyment of what it means to be a “member of Christ’s body” (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 6:15, 12:24; Ephesians 3:6, 4:25, 5:30; Colossians 3:15). Church membership means being a part of something eternal. It does not merely mean “getting to vote at congregational meetings.” As Pastor Edmund Clowney has written:

“The lists of names in the book of Numbers give evidence of God’s concern to define membership in his people; God’s book of life is the archetype of the earthly register of his people (Ex.32:32-33; Mal. 3:16).” The Church, p. 104

This poor and misguided woman had allowed her prior experience to stand between her and what life as a member of Christ’s body—the church—was all about.  More significantly, she did so by believing that her personal experience was more valuable and trustworthy than the Word of God, a book she professed to believe in. Her actions spoke far louder than her words, however, and she was actually a hypocrite who didn’t realize that failing to join her church was an act of unbelief that set her in the company of those apart from God. Again, I quote Dr. Clowney:

“Those who say that church membership is not necessary, or even that it is unbiblical, fail to grasp what the New Testament teaches about the church and the administration of the sacraments. Jesus accompanied his promise to build his church with the gift of the keys of the kingdom. Those who do not heed the final discipline of the church are to be regarded as Gentiles and publicans, that is, as outside the membership of the community. (MT 18:17)” Id.

The other sad aspect of this story is what unintended effects her prior church’s conflicts had on her present spiritual life. That past conflict situation stood as the root cause of her present unbelief in the church as Christ’s body. Few church leaders and members fail to count the cost that conflict may inflict on others or themselves—presently and in the future.

May we be careful and wise as we live before the face of God!

Grateful for the church,
Dave Edling

(This article was originally published in 2012.)

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