If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, then you’ve likely experienced church conflict or scandal. For those of us in the church world, it’s always difficult to reconcile the various troubles that churches experience. So often, we have thought, “How can Christians treat each other like that?” and “Shouldn’t we be better than that?”
Aren’t Christians supposed to get along? Aren’t they supposed to exhibit a higher standard of moral integrity? Aren’t they commanded to prefer one another in love, to turn the other cheek, and to walk in quiet holiness and humility? If so, then what’s with all the division, scandal, and controversy?
Well, the problem isn’t the Church, nor is it the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
The problem is us. We are human, broken, and prone to failure. As long as the Church is made up of us, it will experience seasons of difficulty and embarrassment.
Having been directly involved in church leadership for forty years, I have weathered plenty of conflict and controversy. I can tell you this: it’s always hard, hurts, and leaves behind the scars of broken relationships and disenchantment. I have sometimes grown weary of the Church and have been tempted to quit it altogether. Yes, a few seasons have been that bad.
To be honest, the Church isn’t the only group to experience conflict. Years ago, I pulled my son out of a local Little League because of infighting between the coaches and parents. It was awful. Our last day with the team was the day a fistfight broke out right in front of our car as we were preparing to leave. Conflict isn’t a Church thing; it’s a human thing. And Christians, whether we care to admit it or not, we’re just as human as the next guy. We fool ourselves when we think that just because we wear the label “Christian,” we are somehow immunized against conflict and scandal.
This is why the world often holds us in contempt. We act like we’re better than everyone else, and then a terrible scandal hits the papers or a church splits, and our facade comes crashing down, exposing our humanness.
To be clear, the news isn’t all bad. The Church is a miraculous organization. It accomplishes vast amounts of good around the world. Of course, good news doesn’t make the news, but that doesn’t mean good things aren’t happening. It would be impossible to fully record the amount of good accomplished by the Church each and every day, both locally and globally. The world would be a much darker place without the Church.
That being said, it takes just one bad act to destroy years of good work. What happened to Penn State Football due to a terrible scandal illustrates just how quickly a great program with an outstanding coach and a stellar reputation can be destroyed. Like it or not, our screw-ups are always going to gain more attention than our achievements. We really need to stop screwing up.
To guard the Church and the good name of our Lord, we Christians must learn about and overcome the vulnerabilities that have always plagued humanity. Jesus had to confront these vulnerabilities in His disciples and in the early church. See the gospels and Revelations 2 and 3. If Jesus had to confront these five human failures right from the start, then rest assured, the confrontation must continue.
Let me be clear: the Church doesn’t need to be fixed. The Church belongs to Jesus. There’s no problem there. The problem is us and friends; there is something we can do about that.
Using Revelations 2 and 3, several key interactions between Jesus and His disciples, and several stories from the early church, we are going to explore the five vulnerabilities that cause humans to fail. Maybe if we are more aware and better prepared, we can protect ourselves and experience greater seasons of peace and missional success in the Church.
Here’s one final thought to leave with you as we begin this new series of articles:
I have a dear friend who often reminds me, “We have all been the jerk in someone else’s story.” I don’t like hearing it, but I know it’s true. If we Christians are going to grow and learn, then we must look in the mirror and confess our own broken failures. It is in humility that our hard hearts soften and are able to receive the healing rain of grace.
David was hand-picked by God to be the first king of Israel. Even with that in his resume, King David still messed up royally. See II Samual 11 and 12. In his confession, recorded in Psalm 51, David assumes a position of broken humility. His prayer would be a good starting point for all of us:
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
Dear God, please help us to be the Church Jesus and this world needs us to be. Amen.