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Posts Tagged ‘Christians leaving churches’

My wife and I were enjoying a fine dining experience at In-N-Out Burger the other night when I overheard a conversation at the table next to us.

An elderly gentleman … after using the terms “church” and “split” … told his assembled friends, “We are not going to get tangled up in church anymore.”

There was a time when I would have thought, “That man and his wife will not be able to grow spiritually outside the realm of a local church.”  And there is undoubtedly some truth in that thinking.

But I’m hearing of more and more people who are walking away from church … not for doctrinal reasons … but because there are just too many conflicts.

One Christian friend told me that he and his wife really liked their pastor … but one day, their pastor resigned and disappeared.

So the church called a new pastor.  My friend’s wife especially liked him.  But after he was there a short while, a bully forced the pastor to resign.

At that point, my friend and his wife said, “We’ve had enough of this.  We’re not going to invest our lives in church anymore.”

They still love and follow Jesus, but they’ve tossed in the towel on the institutional church … at least for now.

Another Christian friend told me that he had attended five churches over the past few years.  And in every church, a major conflict eventually broke out – almost always involving the pastor – and my friend decided that he couldn’t take it anymore.

So he no longer attends a local church.

When I was a pastor, sometimes newcomers would tell me, “We’ve just come from a church that suffered a horrific conflict.  We’re a bit shell-shocked right now, so we want to take time to heal before we volunteer to do anything.”

At the time, I didn’t completely understand.

But after being in the middle of a major conflict several years ago, now I do.  Going through a conflict can make a believer more guarded … less trusting … and even paranoid.

I’m all for winning unbelievers to Christ.  But while we’re seeking to bring the lost into our churches, how conscious are we that conflicts are driving the found out of our churches?

Several weeks ago, I met a Christian leader who travels the world presenting the gospel.  When I mentioned to him that American churches are rife with conflict, he responded matter-of-factly, “It’s not just America.  It’s a problem all over the world.”

How can we reduce and resolve conflicts in churches?

Let me offer four quick solutions:

First, pastors need to teach the biblical way to resolve conflicts at least annually.

If the pastor doesn’t do it, it won’t happen.  If it’s not done annually, people will forget.  As a pastor, I used to plan a brief “unity” series every November … right before our church’s annual meetings.  Whenever this is done, it should be viewed as essential.

Second, pastors need to model biblical peacemaking.

Most pastors try and cultivate an image of perfection … even when it comes to relationships.  But when pastors act like they’re always right … which they aren’t … they don’t model biblical confession and forgiveness.  I used to admit to my children when I messed up, hoping to demonstrate humility and reconciliation for them.  Pastors need to model healthy interpersonal behavior as well.

Third, church leaders need to address potential conflicts sooner rather than later.

Whenever a church suffers a pastoral termination … or a church split … the signs of discontent were usually present beforehand.  Let’s learn to read the signs and resolve issues before the sun goes down (Ephesians 4:25-27) or it’s like giving the devil the keys to our church.

Finally, bullying in church must be exposed and outlawed.

There are people in every church who use intimidation to get their way.  They threaten to leave the church … take others with them … withhold their giving … and throw the church into chaos unless church is done their way.  Bullies use threats and make demands.  Spiritual people share their concerns and abide by the decisions of their leaders … or leave quietly.

And most churchgoers are unaware of this behavior because it happens behind the scenes … and because bullies usually charm their followers in public.

This behavior in our churches must stop.  We need to realize that bullying has consequences … including the damaging of people’s souls.

Many years ago, I attended a major league baseball game with a friend (who happened to be chairman of the church board).

We took the local rapid transit train toward home, when suddenly, a nasty fight broke out in one of the cars between two men … one a fan of the local team, the other a Yankee fan.

These guys were determined to hurt each other.  They were hitting each other … hard.  Knives and guns could have emerged next.

Know what happened?

Everybody ran into adjoining cars … as far away as they could … so they wouldn’t be injured.

When pastors and church boards fight … when staff members are disloyal to their pastor … when a faction rises up to remove the pastor … most people run.

They don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.

And they don’t want to watch people they love hurt one another.

Let’s create ways to prevent conflicts in churches so that God always wins and Satan always loses.

How can we do this better?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

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