Statues being torn down, riots on college campuses, safe spaces; all over being offended—or in the case of safe spaces, the fear of being offended. The culture in most of the United States has become one where we are easily offended, that same culture of “being easily offended” has made its home in the Church as well.
Statistics tell us the numbers; that over 4000 congregations close their doors every year, that’s about 77 a week, (See links at the end of article) but numbers don’t tell us why. Many have offered explanations as to why this is happening: lack of commitment, mistakes in and made by leadership, worldly distractions, leadership or preaching style, music, and lack of authenticity are mentioned, along with moving due to employment or family illness. But offence/hurt is mentioned, in one way or another, in just about every list of reasons people leave the church. But these are the symptoms of an underlying disease, and too often, we only treat the symptoms and not the underlying cause. If we do anything at all.
The symptom that seems most prominent to the pastors I have talked with (local and outside our area) is the one of offense. There are two types: real and subjective, Bill Smalt in his article “Why people leave the Church” (Link below) does a really good job of explaining the difference between real and subjective so I will let you investigate that yourselves. The reason I leave that to you, is that no matter which type of offense, handling either type biblically is the same. In Matthew 18 we are to go to the other person that has offended us and Philippians 2:1-5 gives us the attitude in which we are to go, thinking of them first and with the idea of bringing healing and restoration to the relationship.
To be blunt we are each faced with a decision, either we go along with the world or we take a stand and say “Not in my family”, “Not in my church!” If the Church does not awaken to the fact that we are called to be a family and we continue to act like the world, doing what the world does in relationships, disobedient to what the Word of God tells us on the subject of relationships, and living for ourselves, then we too could be among the 4000+ congregations that close the doors to their buildings. The fact that we are called to be The Family of God, that we belong to the Kingdom, demands that we behave differently than the world.
Is there a difference in the way we (the church) handle offense and the way the world does? Do we run to our safe space, get angry and defiant, protesting the wrong done to us, real or subjective, or do we handle it in the biblically prescribed manner?
This brings to mind an abductive reasoning test that goes like this: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
Try this: If I look like the World, walk like the world, and sound like the world, then what does that make me?
If we are no different from the world then we have forgotten our purpose. Which begs the question: Do we even know our purpose for being here (See Great commandment and Great Commission Luke 10:27 and Matthew 28:19-20)? Our Vision Statement says “Turning communities upside down through the Next Step of obedience” (Lack of obedience is also a symptom of the underlying cause. See Acts 17:6 and John 14:15).
We must deal with the symptoms of any given disease/problem while also dealing with the underlying cause. If we only address the symptoms, the root of the problem will never go away.
The Church/Believers are commanded to go to the person who has sinned against you, who has offended you. But IF you decide to not go to the other person then you must let it go, forgiving as Christ did on the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”—no stewing or venting or holding a grudge. We are, in our relationships, to have the attitude of Jesus. In other words we are to be Christ-like.
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 2:5 NASB
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 2:5 ESV
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” – Philippians 2:5 NIV (Newest version)
The mindset of Christ, His attitude, was one of Love. There are many reasons given for people leaving a congregation of God’s church and though many try to treat the symptoms I believe they miss the actual disease, the root of the problem. I believe that to be a lack of love.
In context Philippians 2 from the NIV reads : Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! It was not the nails that kept Him on the Cross, it was Love and it was out of love that the Father gave His Son up for our sin (See John 3:16-18). We are called to love one another as Jesus loved/loves us (see John 13:34-35). The bible tells us that our sin is cast as far as the east is from the west to be remembered no more (Psalm 103:12).
“Love keeps no record of wrongs” – 1 Corinthians 13:5
We must put to death our ego, the “I” in our conversations with one another should be a “we”, the Kingdom is more important than me and it is more important than you. We are called to be the Church! And that can only take place as we love one another as Jesus loved/loves us. He accepted us right where we were enabling us through and by the Spirit to be what He is calling us to be. Galatians 2:20 tells us that I, Ego, has been crucified with Christ… that He loves me and gave Himself up for me. We also, as Christians, are to give ourselves up for our neighbors, those around us in the NOW of the moment, and go to the other person.
And we must also be willing to “hear” when we are on the other side of the offense. We cannot get defensive or jump to conclusions as to the other person’s motive in coming to us. This may be a misunderstanding or someone trying to help you. “Constructive Criticism” is hard to handle, but is always for our good, no matter the source. Remember you are to go in grace and love and receive with grace and love.
“The way in which we hear people respond to us tells a great deal about our spiritual maturity. More than that, the way in which we receive constructive criticism is a measure of how Christ is being formed in us” Joseph Smith (see below on Constructive Criticism). Proverbs 27:6a says “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” When they are coming to you in love, as a brother or sister in Christ, receive what they are saying in that same love.
God’s Word in Romans 5:5 tells us “God’s Love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” that makes us as believers/Christians without excuse when it comes to showing love for one another. We are empowered to love by the Spirit we received as believers; as Christians!
Jesus said this: “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (emphasis mine). The lack of love in the buildings of God’s Church is the underlying cause of the death of many congregations and I am asking you to join with me in loving as Christ loved. This will not be easy, comfortable, convenient or without sacrifice. But it will turn our communities in which we live work and play upside down! Join me in taking the Next Step!
“4000 or more churches close their doors”: If you decide to read the comments below the articles these two links be forewarned there is very worldly language, but it also gives you an idea of what the world thinks of the Church:
Two articles on reasons people leave: https://ministrytodaymag.com/leadership/ethics/1068-why-people-leave-the-church and http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/10-reasons-why-people-leave-church/
https://www.themuse.com/advice/taking-constructive-criticism-like-a-champ and https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/receiving-constructive-criticism-joseph-smith-sermon-on-christian-disciplines-59393?page=5