Sooner or later, we in the church will have to take responsibility for what we’ve done to influence the negative behavior of the world. Didn’t expect that from the Reverend, huh? Yes, we often talk about how worldly ways are creeping up into the church, and that’s very true and it’s a very real issue. However, we often fail to realize that we’re doing damage to the world as often as they’re doing damage to us. The world may not be fighting us as much as they’re fighting us back for what we’ve done to them.
The church used to be a symbol of peace, love, hope, and salvation for the wayward souls of the world. They knew where they were wrong, but they saw us as the hope that they could one day get right. But we’ve changed. We’ve blurred the lines. We’re not what we used to be. We beat on them as much as the unsaved does. We’re no longer doing the missionary work we’re called to do. Our most active auxiliaries now are The Complaint Board, The Backbiting Board, The Judgment Ministry, The “I Won’t Forgive Or Forget” Team, and The “You Ain’t Been Called” Outreach Program.
It’s true, some of the worst behaviors we’ll ever learn, we’ll learn in the church. We’re overly concerned about the world coming in and tainting us, without realizing that we’re already tainted. We shouldn’t fear the world coming in because that was actually God’s plan. What we need to do is better prepare the people that are a part of us, so that they’re able to receive the world when they come and impart Christ onto them, instead of teaching them how to fight people by using a few scriptures that they’ve memorized, but don’t understand.
With that being said, here are seven things I’ve learned from “Christians” during my 40 plus years in church. See if you can identify:
1. Some people will only follow a leader if they can lead them – In a place where leadership is desperately needed, it appears that many are actually looking for glorified sheep of their own. The problem is everyone’s an expert, but never a student. They claim to want leadership that will listen to their concerns and guide them, but what they really want is someone that they can control. And in the event that they get a leader that they can’t control, they assume someone else is controlling that person. It couldn’t be that this person is following God’s orders, and those orders just happen to be contrary to their thinking, oh no. As I’ve always stated, those that plot and scheme will always assume that everyone is plotting and scheming. I submit to you that sheep need a shepherd, and if your leader is following you, you’ll both end up lost because you’re both sheep.
2. Those that contribute the least will always have the most to say – Have you ever been having a political conversation with someone that has all of the answers for the country, but they’re not a registered voter? They give you excuses like “my vote won’t matter” or “it’s all a conspiracy”. Then why are you here in America? Why are you complaining? Church is no different. The people that contribute the least in church, whether it’s time, effort, or money, are always the ones filled with suggestions and complaints. They’re the first to tell you what to do with an account full of money that they’ve contributed little to nothing to. They’re just like people that don’t wanna pay taxes, but somehow expects the government to take care of and protect them. Which leads me to my next point…
3. People will only work when conditions are “ideal” (Which means they’ll never work) – There are people in church that will tell you that the only reason they won’t work or contribute is because “things aren’t right”. But once they do get right, they’ll jump on board. What they’re really saying is “I want it done my way and I work when I want to, not when the church needs me”. But when are conditions ideal for discipleship? When people sought to be disciples of Jesus (Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 8:19-22), He explained to them that conditions aren’t always favorable. He told them: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head”.
There is no comfortable way to serve God. It’s hard work, but the pay is out of this world! If the church must be perfect for you to work in it, I gather that you’ll never do a thing of substance there. The church doesn’t need workers to keep it perfect, it needs workers because it’s perpetually imperfect. As Jesus ended that discourse on discipleship, He said: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God”. If God isn’t worth the sacrifice, especially when things aren’t perfect, then you aren’t worth the Kingdom.
4. Forgiveness is sometimes just a word. Some people stay mad forever and ever! – For a group of people that have been saved by a graceful and forgiving God, we sure are on short supply of forgiveness. We say we’ve forgiven and are ready to move forward, but no church member is really ready to move forward if they’re standing still (see previous point) while talking about the past and old issues. True forgiveness is about disconnecting from the past so that you can move forward. However, the first time something happens that we don’t agree with, we connect it to a 20 year old issue that we’ve allegedly let go of. There seems to be no such thing as water under the bridge. We assume that talking about it doesn’t mean we’re not over it, but I challenge that theory.
For example, if someone broke your heart years ago, but you rebounded nicely into a nice marriage with the love of your life, you don’t spend all of your days talking about your ex. You’re over it and you’ve moved on. That’s forgiveness. You remember what happened, but you don’t waste time talking about it anymore because you don’t want it disturbing your peace. You remember the pain it caused, but you’re not hurt anymore. That’s healing.
Scripture tells us that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21), and the reason some issues won’t die in the church is because people keep bringing them back up and implanting them on a new generation of believers. I submit to you that if someone joins your local church and you feel it’s your job to tell them who to “watch out for”, if you mention anyone other than Satan because he’s not pleased that they’ve turned their life over to Christ, you have unresolved issues and the person they really need to watch out for is you.
5. Everyone’s a witness, but no one’s a criminal – Speaking of forgiveness, isn’t it strange that sometimes in church, everyone is owed forgiveness, but no one owes? We all know who messed up things in the church, but we fail to see our hand in it? Never realizing that even inactivity can be sinful if you know what’s right and did nothing to confront wrong (Luke 12:48). We saw what everybody else did, but it would take an O.J. Simpson-sized trial to convict us, and we’d still expect the glove not to fit. We’re so aware of everyone else’s shortcomings, but are surprised to find out that we’re guilty too.
Even as I’m writing this piece, I have my faults just like everyone else. Scripture tells us that we’ll often look past our greatest sin to see the smallest fault in someone else’s life (Matthew 7:3-5). But how much stronger would all of our churches be if we just took care of the wrong in our lives? If everyone on the block maintained their own lawns, we’d live in a beautiful neighborhood.
6. Anyone that disagrees with you is an enemy – Disharmony doesn’t come from disagreements alone. It comes from people’s inability to accept the fact that they’ve been disagreed with. Church folks are the worst at this. They fear individual thinking. They see every dissenting opinion as an attack on their own intelligence. Heaven forbid that someone has a differing point of view.
No one has ever grown without someone else challenging their thinking on their most dearly held beliefs. Even if you never change your mind and come to agree with the person disagreeing with you, it should force you to strengthen your argument. It should force you to further research your position to find out why you feel the way that you feel. And if you find out you’re wrong, you should be strong enough to own that and change.
When you have close relationships, especially the ones we should have in the Christian community, you should be able to handle a difference of opinion here and there, even if it becomes heated because we’re passionate, without having to promise to be mortal enemies afterwards. More than anything, we have to accept the fact that there’s a difference between what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s opinion. Right is right, wrong is wrong, but an opinion is how I feel about it. And we all have a right to one.
7. Many have scripture in their heads, but not in their hearts – Herein is the crux of the matter. All that we have discussed here is a matter of scripture. Not just the memorization of scripture, but the application of scripture. Even good, well-meaning Christians struggle with this one. Many people in the church can tell you what the Bible says, but they can’t always show you how they’re living it. Bible class is still the least attended of all services in the church, and that’s true no matter how large or small the congregation is. And that’s not the fault of the church (unless it’s not offered), it’s the fault of the Christian that refuses teaching.
Consider how we learned the secular songs that we love. Once we’ve committed to them, we learn them “by heart”. It’s written in our hearts to the point where if we hear a song that we grew up on 20 years ago, we not only know all of the words, but we remember all the dance steps that went with it. We don’t blandly recite them without feeling either. We apply them with emotion. The memory of such songs elicit a response. Scripture should be the same way. We shouldn’t repeat scripture without a desire to act something out. Knowing scripture is important, but living it out brings about a change in your life.
What we learn in church determines how we affect the world around us. We can’t show love in the world if we can’t show love to those that we call brother and sister. That’s even true in a secular sense. If you don’t have a sense of love for those that you call family, those outside the family have no chance. If we really want to know why the world is bringing a lack of love into the church, it may be because we keep sending people that lack love out into the world.
So what have you learned in church? That’s a rhetorical question that begs for an answer. We must remember that some of the “messed up” people in the world got messed up at church. The feeling of superiority of a few people that know a few scriptures and give a few dollars in church, but have issues with everyone in the church because they don’t live the love they claim, is crippling us.
We can no longer allow just anyone to be our voice, whether inside or outside of the church. “Jesus is the head of the church” is just a catchphrase for some people, not a mandate. There needs to be a new shift. And much of the negative that we’ve learned in the church needs to be unlearned for our own sakes.
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