This may not apply to everyone reading this, and if it’s not you, consider yourself blessed. But if it’s not happening where you attend, don’t assume that it’s not happening anywhere. If we’re being honest about things, the local church (not the universal body of believers) can be one of the meanest places that we’ll ever attend. Not all churches, but a lot of them. There’s gossip, backbiting, judgment, sinful behavior, and people with self-serving agendas. All of this amongst people that claim to be worshipping a loving God. All of this amongst people that claim to love everyone. How can a place established by a loving Savior be a haven for this kind of behavior?
Understand that this behavior isn’t representative of the God we serve. The reason so many people go running out of the church after being mistreated is because they fail to remember that they’re serving a perfect God amongst imperfect people. Only people that are still capable of hurting one another can cause a term like “church hurt” to become popular. But that isn’t God’s plan, nor is it His doing.
Being mean, disrespectful, or hurtful is like a disease, and any disease that goes untreated can fester and become a detriment to your overall health. Pretending that it’s not there doesn’t help either. We all know that church can be a difficult place at times, and some of us are even brave enough to say it out loud. But knowing it isn’t the same as addressing it and treating it.
How many times will we turn a blind eye and deaf ear to things happening in the church that we know are wrong? How many times will we allow those with the wrong disposition to continue on without correcting them in love? And how many times will people go running from our churches in pain, and rather than trying to fix what’s wrong, we either try to convince them to come back to a bad situation, or just let them go?
Let’s look at 5 things that I believe that are causing our churches to be mean, and one word that we can all look to in order to change it all:
1. Lack of group study – Loving those that love us is easy, but we must be taught to love everyone else. The Bible classes are the least attended service in the church, and yet our pews are filled each Sunday morning with people that claim to have a deep understanding of God and His Word, just based off of church membership. But even a 9 to 5 job will send you to training periodically just to make sure you’re still capable of performing. In the church, such training isn’t mandatory, but it’s even more necessary. But if it’s not mandatory and we don’t see the benefit, we will refuse it.
We’re quick to tell everyone that Jesus was all about love, but we don’t study Him enough to find out just who He was loving on: people with issues, people with illnesses, people with demons, and people less fortunate. He even loved people that blasphemed His name and crucified Him. And yet, we struggle to love people that disagree with us from time to time because we refuse to acknowledge that we’re all capable of being wrong.
How can we throw our Bibles at people when we don’t know it as we should? I’m amazed that we feel that we’re able to know and love the God of the Bible, and carry out His mandate, without ever spending time in His Word with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25). In order for us to truly know how God wants us to live and how God wants us to love, we must go away from our own understanding and get to God’s understanding (Proverbs 3:5-7). If we can’t stand one another to the point that we can’t even study together, how will we ever carry the love of Christ out into a world filled with sin and in need of genuine love?
2. We don’t preach about sin anymore – We’ve become so afraid of offending, that we’ve softened and/or watered down our message. These days, no one is offended, but at the same time, many don’t know when they’re out of order. Preaching about sin isn’t to be done in order to beat the people down. It’s done to let them know where God’s boundaries are. When we fail to correct the church, how will the church ever know what is and isn’t acceptable, according to God and His Word?
The truth of God’s Word should never be compromised for the fleshly comfort of the people. There are no comfortable seats in hell, and not telling people the error of their ways not only puts the preacher in danger, but it also causes naïve Christians to go out into the world and live below the Word of God, due to a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).
When we fail to raise the bar of Christian conduct in our churches, we in effect adopt an “anything goes” attitude. If we don’t understand the sin in mistreating one another within the church, how much harsher will we be outside of it? Something we must all understand is that people that are kind in church may or may not be that way outside of it, because man can’t look at the heart so we don’t know whether or not a person’s heart is genuine. But if a person is mean in church, it is highly doubtful that they improve outside of it. In fact, they’re probably worse.
3. Our preachers are now celebrities – This isn’t all the preacher’s fault, but many times it is. For most celebrities, the primary focus is to get people to like them in order to garner support. This often means compromising their truth in order to be what the public wants them to be. Preachers must guard against such things.
If there’s anything that isn’t popular, it is truth. Therefore, it stands to reason that popularity and preaching should often be at odds. If you’re preaching in truth, there will always be a section of the church that doesn’t want to hear you. I may be old fashioned, but I grew up in a time where people may have loved their pastor dearly, but if they weren’t living right, he was anything but popular among them because of the message he carried.
Celebrity preaching goes hand in hand with the lack of preaching on sin. Such preaching may garner some people screaming “amen”, but has anyone been changed? Has anyone been challenged about their ways? Has anyone been rubbed the wrong way because what you said hit too close to home? Has anyone questioned your call, not because your theology was incorrect, but because you dared to speak God’s truth, even if it meant that people wouldn’t speak to you after?
Understand that some preachers are popular through no fault of their own. Some are naturally charismatic and that draws some people with impure motives and inauthentic praise. Some preachers are gifted with song and that draws people that have no interest in God’s Word, but they just want to be close to what they perceive to be a man-made fire.
This isn’t to suggest that any popular preacher isn’t preaching in truth. This is to suggest that any preacher that preaches to gain celebrity status and not to spread the Gospel truth of God’s Word, even if it offends those closest to them, will compromise their message. And anything that isn’t the whole truth is a whole lie, and there is no saving power in a lie.
4. The old guard fears their replacements/tradition – No one wants to move forward. People are comfortable where they are and they’ve dug in. Seasoned saints won’t engage the youth in a spirit of training and preparation to take over, and the youth are afraid to challenge the status quo. In our flesh, we all feel threatened when we think we’re being replaced. In the church, we often feel threatened when it seems that God is ushering in a new way of praise, a new way of worship, and even a new way of preaching The Word. And when people feel threatened, they fight.
Doing things the way you’ve always done it, with the same people, is a good way to stunt church growth. The arguments often come about because the next generation tends to mature faster than the previous one, which means young people may be prepared for leadership sooner than the generation before them were. This can breed resentment and animosity from older church members that not only believe more in time (how long it takes to achieve certain positions in the church) than they do in God-given gifts (something that’s beyond our understanding), but also aren’t quite ready to move over or let go. This poisons the congregation and causes infighting.
The truth is God never changes, but we do. Because we change, how we do things changes. We’re serving the same God, but generations and methods of communications change. Some traditions should remain because they are our link to the past. Some traditions keep order in God’s house. However, there are some traditions that need to change in order to keep the church both fresh and relevant. When the old guard refuses to train their replacements, not only do they hold on to traditions and positions too long, they also block the progress of the church and things become stagnant. Who can maintain a pleasant disposition in a situation like this? You either leave or you stay and become bitter.
When you refuse to let go of the position that you’ve held for 30 years in the church, God can’t give you the next assignment that He has for you. We must release this idea of being “old and useless” in God’s church. As long as there is breath in your body, God has a use for you. We should never discount the role of seasoned mentor!
5. Politics – God has been phased out in favor of factions and cliques. People that aren’t doing anything in the church have control of certain positions and certain people. If you don’t kiss up to them, they’ll sully your name throughout the congregation, even when it’s obvious that God has a call on your life. Study of The Word would show them the dangers of such things, but political people don’t feel that Bible class is as important as membership.
I stated on Facebook once that principles haven’t driven people out of the church, politics has. The idea that you need man’s approval to do anything is God’s house in a hindrance. A Holy Spirit-filled church has the ability to see when God has called someone to do a work for Him. It doesn’t matter if that person has been in the church 10 months or 10 years. If you’re filled with the Spirit, you can see God’s hand on someone’s life, and when God is ready to elevate them, you’re ready to receive them.
When we look at the world we live in, politics are only used to push certain agendas and often to crush the voice of people that supposedly have no power. It’s also used to cause divisions and create anger and animosity among the people. Is this how God wants us conducting ourselves in the church? Does God want us so political in church that we drive more people away than we draw? Politics are designed to control the actions and thinking of people. Aren’t we supposed to be under God’s control?
So what do we need?
If there’s anything that’s made us mean in the church, not only has it been bringing all of these worldly attitudes and attributes into the church, but it’s also been our comfort level with these ways. However, acknowledging one word can help us to rid ourselves of these things: Accountability. We have to stop letting it go. We have to stop saying “That’s just them, they’ve been like that for years”, because if that’s true and we’ve said nothing, we’re partially responsible for who they are. We have to stop pretending that we don’t see it. We have to stop pretending that we aren’t hurting.
We must get back to being Bible-based, and not agenda driven, because agendas can and will clash. God’s Word is steeped in His way of love and His judgment. Therefore, we must remove our will from this equation and live His way.
It’s strange that we’ll sing songs about challenging the enemy, but we refuse to challenge him when he’s in our congregation. When he’s destroying the very fabric of what we are, we won’t lean on James 4:7 which tells us to resist the devil (stand on the Word of God) and he will flee. We must confront the wrongdoing in our churches with The Word and with prayer. If we can’t love in the church, then surely we can’t love in the world. It’s time for a change. It’s time for love. But we’ll never get there if we don’t address the hate and anger.