The “church conflict” question that will get you laughed out of church

“Why do you not rather suffer wrong?” (I Corinthians 6:7)

A dog can whip a polecat, the saying goes, but it’s not worth it.

Some fights you need to walk away from.

We’ve told here of the time in 2004 when a small group of members of a local Baptist church was taking the pastor and trustees to court over what they perceived as breaches of scripture, ethics, and good sense.  As their new associational leader, I was invited to sit in with them one evening and hear the reasons they were taking such serious action. Toward the end of the evening, the leader said, “So, what do you think?”

I said, “I think you should walk away from this. No one is going to win on this thing except the lawyers. Everything about this is wrong and bad.”

He said quietly, “We can’t. It’s gone too far for that now.”

He was wrong. They could have stopped that train in its tracks by a phone call to the lawyers. In doing so, they would have saved a church from going out of existence (within a year, the church “gave” itself away to another church that would take over its indebtedness), saved themselves and the church a ton of money (both sides hired teams of lawyers from high-priced New Orleans firms), and saved the cause of Christ a lot of bad press (the media jumps all over these things).

It’s never too late to back away from a fight.

It’s just hard. And takes more strength than most people can muster.

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Rethinking divorce: What if we started believing Scripture?

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).

Many churches have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a member from being considered as a pastor or a deacon.

I’m suggesting we need to start believing God’s word and quit making divorce the unpardonable sin.

In the qualifications for deacons (I Timothy 3:8-13), verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.”  That “one wife” business has been interpreted in a dozen ways–everything from a deacon must be married (no unmarried person, whether single or widowed, can be a deacon), to no divorced person at all (no matter how many years ago and what kind of record of faithfulness you have achieved over the decades), to no one in a polygamous relationship, and so forth.

Likewise, some churches have women deacons because, while verse 11 says “the women also”–traditionally interpreted to mean wives of deacons–no similar statement is given in I Timothy 3:1-7 which gives qualifications for pastors.  If this refers to the deacons’ wives, shouldn’t there be something about pastors’ wives? But there isn’t. So, many have decided verse 11 refers not to wives of deacons, but to women deacons.  (Argue if you wish, but Paul is not here to tell us what he had in mind.)

The point is: Since these verses are not clear, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ interpret them in various ways.

Why then do our churches insist that I Timothy 3:12 prohibits a divorced person from becoming a deacon?

I suggest the answer is found in Matthew 19:9. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  This seems to state very clearly that unless a person has “grounds” for divorce, remarriage amounts to adultery.

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What we wish for the preacher-killers among us

They asked Andrew Murray the greatest thought that had ever entered his mind.  “My accountability to God,” he said.

My pastor friend Albert was facing a crisis in his church.

Twice the treasurer has threatened to cut my pay if I announce plans to stay on.  He tells everyone that our church cannot afford a pastor.  A couple in the church is spreading gossip about me.  A recent survey of the congregation assessed me and my ministry–which is fine–but the board chairman plans to discuss it at the upcoming annual meeting without clueing me in on the results ahead of time.

Nothing about this bodes well for Albert.   I’ve seen too many of these disasters-in-the-making to be optimistic.  Some people are determined to have their way and run “their” church as they please.

My friend concluded, “Pray for wisdom, shrewdness, strength and peace for my wife and me.”

Ask any pastor.  The stresses from these forces are preacher-killers.

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The preacher said something I disagree with. Horrors!

“…they received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

When I asked where he went to church, the man working on my house said, “I used to go to church across the river.  But the preacher said something I disagreed with.”

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.

But he was serious.

After giving him a moment to elaborate, which he did not do, I said, “Man, I would hope so.”

He seemed interested.

I said, “Wouldn’t it be terrible to have a preacher who said only the things that I know and taught only what I believe? What would be the point of going to hear him if I already knew what he was going to say? There’s so much more to God than what little I already know!”

Lord, make us teachable.

It’s a mark of maturity to welcome correction, to recognize and appreciate constructive insights to make our lives better. The godliest person comes to church hoping to hear something that blesses, something that corrects him, something that inspires her, whether they had previously known it or agreed with it or not. 

A quick scan of Scripture produces a long lineup of people who heard God calling their name, who made themselves available to Him, and then were told something they didn’t want to hear!

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Why we need a little conflict in our lives

“Where there’s no friction, there’s no traction!”  –Overheard from an elderly Baptist preacher in North Carolina 30 years ago

Tim Patterson, executive of Michigan Baptists, had a great insight about catfish and codfish, who are natural enemies, that fits here…

In the northeastern part of our country, codfish is a big deal. However, shippers discovered that freezing the fish to ship destroyed the flavor.  So, they tried shipping them alive in tanks of seawater.  In addition to that being too expensive, for some reason the cod still lost their flavor and arrived soft and mushy.  Something had to be done.

Eventually, someone hit on a solution. After the codfish were placed in the seawater tanks, one more thing was added:  catfish.  Their natural enemies.

“From the time the cod left the East Coast until they arrived at their destinations, those ornery catfish chased the cod all over the tank…. When they arrived at the market, the cod were as fresh as the day they were caught.  There was no loss of flavor and the texture was possibly better than before.”

There’s a lesson there.

All sunshine makes a desert, the American Indians used to say.  We need the rain and the occasional storm.

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What to do when the pastor stirs the pot

“….according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal….”  (2 Timothy 2:9)

Pot-stirring: To take a stand on a controversial issue.  Known colloquially as “opening a can of worms.”  Rocking the boat. Rubbing the old cat’s fur the wrong way.  Upsetting apple carts.

Expect it.

It’s a poor pastor who doesn’t stir the pot from time to time.

They didn’t crucify Jesus for sweet-talking the 23rd Psalm, for explaining the symbolic meaning of items in the Tabernacle, or for spending six months on the Greek verbs.  He took a stand on what matters most, and when people didn’t like it, He held His ground and paid the ultimate price.

I remind pastors if they’re in this line of work for job security, they might want to think again.  Right after reading Matthew 10, beginning at verse 16.

–Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to their courts, and scourge you in their synagogues

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People who need to tremble before God

“The devils believe and tremble.”  –James 2:19

The devils shudder, my NASB says.

I know some people who need to be shuddering and shaking in their boots.  They are going to stand before the Lord and give account–as we all are–for the deeds and words they have used as weapons. They’re going to be called to account for the disrupted churches and destroyed lives in their wake.

The odd thing is that these are church members.

The prospect of such a confrontation ought to leave them trembling and shivering in their boots.

I think I know why it doesn’t.

“By God’s Word at last my sin I learned; Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned, Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.” (Hymn by William Newell, 1895)

Asked for the greatest thought he’d ever had, Andrew Murray is said to have answered, “My accountability to God.”

That’s what is missing in the minds and hearts and lives of some of the fiercest of troublemakers who wreak havoc in the Lord’s churches.

They do not believe in God.

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Those frustrating times with some church members

Pastoring God’s people can be exhausting.

Even when you do your best to serve God by ministering to His people, some are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt on anything nor forgive you for not living up to their impossible expectations.

You didn’t do it their way, weren’t there when they called, didn’t jump at their bark.

Those are the exceptions, I hasten to say to friends who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty.  It’s the 2 percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else.  It’s the 2 percent of society who require us to maintain a standing army to enforce laws.  Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that two percent will kill you.

I say to my own embarrassment and confess it as unworthy of a child of God that I remember these difficult moments with God’s headstrong people more than the precious times with the saints.  Perhaps it’s because the strained connections and harsh words feed into my own insecurities.  Or maybe it’s because there are so many more of the blessed times.

Even so, here are two instances from my journal that stand out….

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When church isn’t fun any more

My journal records one of those pressurized times in a church I served some years back.

Consider that the church was still recovering from a split five years earlier, leaving us with a diminished congregation but an all-consuming debt.  Consider that some of our people still carried guilt over their actions during the fight, while others nursed hurts and anger from the same tragic event.  I’d not been around during that catastrophe, I’m happy to report, but the Father had sent me in to help the congregation pick up the pieces and return to health and usefulness.

It was hard.

I was weak personally, having just emerged from a brutal three-plus years trying to shepherd another congregation that was divided.  So, I came in gun-shy, hoping to avoid conflicts with church leadership and the demoralizing griping from church membership.

Naïve, huh?  Probably so.  People are going to look and act like who they are.

Daily I was being undermined by the angry, criticized by the hurting, ostracized by the pious, and scrutinized to the nth degree by leaders, self-appointed and otherwise.  When I tried to do a few things I considered normal and healthy, these also were thrown back in my face.

The journal records my efforts to bring in community leaders for a forum during which the guest would speak and be questioned.  Our people could not understand why in the world I would want to bring a congressman, for example, to our church.

I was stunned.  They don’t see the need? Aren’t they citizens who vote and who are affected by the actions of political leaders? Do they not care?  Where have these people been?

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Church members who practice atheism

All these things they will do to you for My Name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.  (John 15:21).

The problem with preacher-haters and trouble-makers in the church is that they do not believe in God. That statement might require a little clarification.

Those members who are determined to have their way regardless of the cost to the fellowship of the church, the unity of the congregation, the continuance of the pastor’s ministry, or the sacrifice of programs of the church are not without religious convictions.

They may have even had religious experiences. Of a sort.

Regardless of what they believe, most are atheists in the purest sense.

Whatever belief in God they possess is theoretical. God was in Christ, yes. He was in the past. And He will be in the future, they confess, when He takes them and others like them to Heaven.

As for the present, alas, they are on their own.

What, you may be wondering, would lead me to say such outrageous things about some people who are members of churches and who frequently get elected to high positions of leadership in those churches?

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