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.


About Tara Barthel

Tara Klena Barthel formerly served as the Director of the Institute for Christian Conciliation. As such, she oversaw hundreds of conciliation cases (including conflicted church interventions) through the international network of trained conciliators. Tara also provided oversight and leadership for all advanced conciliator training. Currently, she serves her family as a homemaker while occasionally accepting cases as a mediator, arbitrator, and conflicted church intervention team member. Currently enrolled at Reformed Theological Seminary and pursuing her Master's Degree in Religion, Tara consults with businesses and ministries on the legal risk management issues attendant to conflict; designs and presents custom training on biblical conflict resolution for churches, missions agencies, and parachurch organizations; speaks frequently at women’s conferences and retreats; and is currently working on many new writing projects. Tara is the author of the Living the Gospel in Relationships video series and co-author of Peacemaking Women—Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict (Baker Books, 2005), and Redeeming Church Conflicts--Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care (Baker Books, 2012; second imprint Hendrickson Publishers 2016). Prior to moving to Billings, Montana to join the staff of Peacemaker Ministries, Tara worked as an attorney and business consultant in Chicago. Tara earned her law degree and M.B.A. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and her B.A. in psychology from Augustana College (Illinois).
This entry was posted in Confrontation, Disappointment in the church, RedeemingLINKS. Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Pingback: In the Midst of Church Conflict . . . | iconobaptist

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