Posted tagged ‘conflict’

When Christians, and Their Churches, Disagree

March 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 2, 2019

 

In my 36 years of shepherding flocks (“Pastor” comes from the Latin for Shepherd), I guided congregations through a few briar patches of heated discussions and thorny issues. Sometimes my style fit and sometimes it didn’t. When I was president of the Mason School Board back in Michigan, since again, my style fit and, although we had a few disagreements too work through, we always managed to come through the discussions with a high respect for one another.

As a pastor I remember differences that we had about renovating the sanctuary. Two different churches I pastored over the years had the wood paneling on the sanctuary walls…you know, the paneling that showed up in the basements of homes back in the 50’s and 60’s! Each was gradually brought along to seeing that a change would not offend Jesus…but it took time. We considered switching out pews for chairs in one of the congregations, but one person protested vehemently. Her concern was for one of the senior saints of the congregation, that he might fall over in his chair and hurt himself. We disagreed with her, but did not force the issue. The saint, who lived to the age of 91 was loved by all and anything that might harm him (though we doubted that a chair would increase the chances of injury) became a point that we longer wanted to debate. 

Churches are hot beds for conflict and disagreement. When people are passionate about an issue or situation…and there is passion on both sides…the depth, or lack thereof, in Christian community becomes evident. In that respect the church mirrors the world instead of becoming different from the world. 

Let’s be honest! Too often the church is simply a commercial for the world instead of a repository of the love and grace of God. What I said to a 7th grader student a couple of weeks ago, who was trying to minimize the amount of classwork she had been asked to do, I could also say to a  number of church folk. “So what you’re saying is this is you.” I made an imaginary dot in front of me, and then drew an imaginary large circle around it. “And this is the world, and the world revolves around you. Is that what you’re saying?”

Our churches are dotted every service with people who have that mindset!

True confession: I’ve been that “dot” a few times myself!

Words like “surrender”, “sacrifice”, “servant” echo through the Bible. “Sacrifice” appears 54 times in the New Testament and “servant” gets mentioned 157 times. They are words we say in our liturgies and write in the church covenant, but often get pushed to the side when things are going against our opinion. Sides then get chosen and sometimes all holy hell breaks loose! 

In recent times a few churches have resembled more hell than holiness. Prominent church pastors have gone to war with some of the leaders of their churches. When the pastor of a mega-church gets relieved of his duties it rarely ends well for anyone. When denominations have doctrinal disagreements or differences over contemporary issues, unfortunately, it rarely ends in a good way. The battles make for good news in our drama-addicted culture, but after the heated fog lifts there always seems to be a lot of wounded people laying around. 

Of course, even Jesus couldn’t bring his disciples to 100% agreement! But after he rose from the grave, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, his remaining eleven were able to unite to the point that they changed the world!

All things are possible!

Fanatics, Fans, Followers, or Faithful

April 11, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 11, 2013

I’ve just returned from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in Atlanta. What an experience! My son and I thoroughly enjoyed everything but the MARTA train ride after the Saturday night games were over. We now know how it feels to be a cow being herded!

In Atlanta I experienced four types of basketball people: fanatics, fans, followers, and faithful. Each type gives the church some clues about momentum, fickleness, and congregational life.

“Fanatics” were evident for each of the teams. They were people who took on a different appearance for a few hours. A Michigan fanatic dressed up to look like a big banana…or at least that’s what it looked like to me. Another one painted his face maize and blue. A Wichita State fanatic wore a full body gold suit. Fanatics are people who are different for a few hours, before going back to who they really are.

Church fanatics get worked up for a cause or an event, but it is only a surface appearance for a moment or a time, and then they take on their usual nature again. Fanatics get attention, but the energy that they expend usually can only endure for a season. To use a basketball analogy, they are like the slam dunk that gets highlighted, but in the scheme of things is still worth just two points.

“Fans” wear the team colors and show up in the good times. We use the term “fair weather fans.” Fans are loyal as long as they are benefiting from it. If they don’t perceive there being a benefit they get testy, and look for the best possible scapegoat. Fans are willing to invest as long as it’s the popular thing to do. If the team’s success starts sliding fans often head for the exits.

Church fans are committed until there is a conflict. If they don’t care for the pastor, and can’t create enough discord in the congregation to get him ousted, they will head for the exits. Fans are not early adopters of change. They are late adopters, joining in when the buy in from enough people reaches a tipping point. Fans were amazed at the teachings of Jesus, but joined the crowd that shouted for Pilate to put him on a cross.

“Followers” wear the team colors, and check the Sports section the next morning after an away game to see how the team did. They are usually a member of the team’s Facebook page like “the Big Blue” from Kentucky or “Duck Nation” from Oregon. They are more invested than fans. Their car probably even has a bumper sticker proclaiming a team name like “Duke Blue Devils” or “Marshall Thundering Herd.”

“Church followers” are not necessarily Jesus followers. They are loyal, but maybe not for the right reasons. There is attraction to the music, or the location. The pastor could be the focus of their following. A new pastor comes in and it could be a different story. Church followers may follow the trimmings, but not the Core. Fellowship time conversation may revolve around the professional basketball team or the new store that just opened in the mall, instead of it being conversation that flows out of spiritual journeys.

To use another story from the sport’s world, it’s like a professional baseball player who couldn’t figure out how to get off of the I-285 that went around Atlanta. He kept driving around and around, missing the game he was to play in, and could never get to the core…the center…the destination.

Finally, there are the “faithful.” The faithful know that it is not all about them. That the point they are presently at has been paved by many years of tradition, principles, and wise people. The faithful know that valleys happen and mountains don’t go on forever.

The “Church Faithful” know where they have come from, but also know that there needs to be movement from where they are at. They understand the source of their energy and filter the good times and the bad times through Christ. Perhaps, most of all, the faithful are not fickle. They can applaud a good high tide without getting swept away by a tidal wave.

Final Four madness! Memorable even beyond the guy dressed up like a cardinal!