For the most part, I have experienced tremendous blessing through the Church. The church has been a great source of life, love and encouragement. As a pastor, the Church has shaped me and helped form me into the person I am today.
However, there are times when the church has a tendency to behave badly. Most of the time, I think the misbehavior is unintentional. However, there are times in which churches are intentional and methodical in how they cause harm.
There are times when, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the church hurts those it is called to love and care for. There are times, when the people and institution that is supposed to be your biggest support is the biggest cause of pain.
And, I speak not only as one who has experienced church hurt, but as one who has caused harm and church hurt.
To be honest, I’ve never understood the competition that exists between churches. We are on the same team. We desire to point people to the life-transforming love, grace and mercy of Jesus. And, yet, there are times we actively work against one another.
We belittle one another’s methods.
We demean and discredit signs of life in other churches.
We gossip and spread rumors about the leadership of other ministries.
We ignore opportunities for collaboration.
Unfortunately, the list could go on and on.
To be honest, the competition doesn’t just exist between different congregations. Sometimes the biggest competition lies within the walls of individual congregations. Churches with multiple service times and worship styles have set the perfect stage for competition. “My service has more people than your service. My service has better music than your service. The pastor wears a robe during my service…that makes it more holy. The pastor wears jeans during my service…that makes it more authentic and relevant.”
There are times when we actively work against one another. We plan our big events at competing times, requiring people to decide which ministry they are going to support with their presence and gifts. We decide not to promote other ministries and events. And, we can say it’s unintentional. But, the reality is that it’s too often calculated, intentional and hurtful to those who have put their time, energy and effort into those ministry areas.
I know this because I’ve done it myself. I know this because I’ve experienced it myself.
Then, there are the obvious signs of church hurt – when big profile Christian leaders proclaim hurtful, harmful and often unbiblical “truths” that cause pain, division and harm not just to individuals put to entire people groups (immigrants, Democrats, Republicans, LGBTQ, pro-life, pro-choice).
The harm done in Jesus’ name is not reserved for one brand of theological or political persuasion. Progressives do plenty of harm. Conservatives do plenty of harm. Moderates do plenty of harm.
I’m reminded of Mark 9:38-41. “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”
Rather than focusing on what divides…rather than focusing on our differences…maybe we should be more concerned with who we can be FOR one another.