Thursday, January 15, 2009

Turning tables (or pulpits)

I hit pretty hard on the Biblical teaching concerning local-church involvement here, here, and here, recently. One of the excuses/sad stories you hear is about bad pastors, of which (lamentably) there is no lack. But — as I keep asking — what does that have to do with my responsibility to obey out of faith?

Have you ever thought of this, though? Pastors have all had bad experiences with sheep! Every one of them. Probably, the better pastors have had the worst experiences.

So what if you came to a church because you'd heard there was terrific Biblical preaching and living, real fellowship, and the pastor saw you come in, and he got up, came back, and asked you to leave?

Or what if you came for counsel or direction or instruction or encouragement, and he said he just really didn't feel moved to do that anymore?

What if he said, "You know, I've had really bad experiences with people who come to church"?

What if he said, "I had this one couple who were part of the pulpit committee who persuaded me to move from the east coast to the west coast, and promised they'd never leave. Five weeks later, they didn't like something. They left. That really soured me on people."

What if he said, "I led this guy to Christ once, discipled him, baptized him, led him to Christ, introduced him to his wife, performed the wedding — and one year later, I find he led a whisper-campaign to run me out of town on a wave of lies. So I just really don't get involved in people's lives anymore."

I could go on and on. Of course, any Christian who got a truckload like that would retort, "Dude, it's your job. God says it's your job. You need to deal with your issues, and do your job."

Right!

...and obeying God isn't your job, too?

Next time, O man/woman, you trot out your Note From Mommy On Why You Are The Exception, imagine the tables turned.

It all boils down to the penultimate question: is someone else's sin ever an excuse for my sin?

Underneath which lies the ultimate question: is God worthy of believing obedience?

20 comments:

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

There are false shepherds and there are bad shepherds.

There are bad, unruly, and seemingly incorrigible flocks of sheep.

Some pastors are harmful to the people and congregations that they are to pastorally shepherd. Some people and some congregations are harmful to the pastors and the pastor's families that they are supposed to let lead them.

Sigh.

We're all sinners in desperate need of His grace.

Doug Hibbard said...

So much for my pity party today because the church didn't vote like I wanted in business meeting.

I think sometimes as a pastor I teeter on the brink of 'well, the congregation isn't doing ____, so I won't do _______.' Usually it's an excuse to be lazy.

Or, perhaps, curdedin, which is my verification word, and gives thought of being surrounded by the chunks in cottage cheese. Which is an incredibly icky mental picture on this...just because you're surrounded by soured milk, don't get curded-in!

RT said...

Your "what if" pastor bears an uncanny resemblance to my last priest - except for the part about leading someone to Christ. Hard to lead anyone anywhere while wallowing in Spongian stupidity, but anyway I digress - I think there can come a time when a layman, having done everything possible to work within the local church, simply has to leave. I certainly came to that point, although it is also true (as in the case of your "what if" pastor) that I was asked to leave. This, of course, I wear as a badge of honor under the circumstances, but the fact remains that there are cases where a parting of the ways is necessary for the maintenance of spiritual sanity. This does not give one an excuse to merely stay at home, although I certainly did for a while. In a non-denominational context it is easy I suppose to simply go to the church on the other corner, or down the block, but when you belong to a denomination it is more problematic.

Rabbit said...

"Next time, O man/woman, you trot out your Note From Mommy On Why You Are The Exception..."

What a classic Dan-ism, with o so many applications!

beachbirdie said...

I stayed in my church for 13 years, though there were many decisions and actions I had strong objection to. I kept my mouth shut because there was nothing un-Biblical in what they were doing.

When they started re-making the church to look like the world so the world would be comfortable there, I had no choice but to go. They were doing some "sneaky" things, and things done in the dark cannot be good.

Haven't found another "family" yet, but we do regularly attend a good, Biblical church. I agree with the importance of regularly being somewhere.

JackW said...

Yeah but, at least with a plurality of Elders you have an accountability chain to handle the bad Elder. Right?

~Mark said...

Beachbirdie,

I'm starting to experience what you did, but we've not exhausted the confrontation process yet.

DJP said...

My emphasis here isn't on never leaving a church. It's on that startling amount of professed Christians who imagine they have an excuse for not being involved in a single, specific local assembly at all.

Though I do see how the tenor of my argument can apply more broadly.

Rachael Starke said...

Re: "involvement", my dear new believer friend is battling with the opposite of this scenario - good pastor who preaches faithfully, but congregation is unloving and unwelcoming on a multitude of levels. She goes and listens and learns, but is more than reluctant to get to know anyone or begin living out the one anothers with them.

But it's interesting that since her conversion she realizes that the answer may still be to stick it out and help the pastor, rather than just leave because the people aren't nice.

RT said...

Honestly it never occurred to me that a Christian could exist apart from the Church - I mean consistently, deliberately and purposefully outside an association of believers - so I assumed that you were referring to Christians leaving the church of their initial or current affiliation. Language can be so treacherous. I had a friend tell me the other day that he had "lost his faith." Without thinking I responded, "What? You staked it in a game of cards and lost it? Or perhaps you mislaid it and hope to find it again sometime. Maybe God knows where it is, why don't you ask him?"

I have a similar visceral response to people who have "left the Church." First I assume that they were never Christians in the first place, and then I am motivated to ask just what part of the body of Christ they conceive themselves to be. The last time I saw dismembered body parts lying around they were all dead, so I am unclear how individual Christians can be dismembered from the Body and yet claim to be alive.

Carol Jean said...

I suppose if anyone had a "note from Mommy" if might be our family. My husband and I were unceremoniously removed from youth ministry (15-year veterans) after objecting to the emergent junk moving in. We stuck it out at the church for another year and a half, enduring a great deal of awkwardness, stares, whispers, accusations, and most of all, heartbreak at what was happening to our church and what nonsense the kids in the youth group were being taught. It was REALLY hard for our kids, who were 15 and 13 at the time.

While we pulled our kids out of the youth group, it never occurred to us to pull out of church, or even skip a Sunday. We knew that walking away from church would not only be disobedient to God, but it would would put our family at spiritual risk at a time that we were very vulnerable. Satan would like nothing better than to have out of fellowship with the body.

Eventually, we realized we couldn't, in good conscience, be under the authority of this church anymore and immediately set about finding another church. We found one with solid, expository preaching and a good youth group. We're now nearing the end of our 6-month evaluation period and it looks like we might stay, praise God! Not sure about the biblical-ness of THAT, but it was a concession to the kids who hated it the first couple months (hymns and special music from the 70's) - sometimes you wing it with teenagers!

CR said...
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CR said...

Most of what I've seen in my church experience with church leaders before coming to my current church has been atrocious.

But I'm not kept by my church experience or church leaders, I'm kept by the power of God, period. Jesus died for her church and there is nothing that anyone can or will do that would make me abandon Christ's bride. Not because there is anything special in me.

There is an alien righteousness imputed to me by Christ. But it is nothing intrinsic in me.

If I were to comtemplate leaving the church (ergo leave Christ, no matter how much one is deceived, you can't say you love Christ and not love His bride), my question then would be like Peter's question: "where would I go?" To where would I go? Hell? I mean, there is nowhere to go, even if I was naive enough to give it up.

VcdeChagn said...

I'm just "chilings" (my goal is to use the "captcha" word in every comment from now on...thanks Doug) here and wanted to comment

Eventually, we realized we couldn't, in good conscience, be under the authority of this church anymore and immediately set about finding another church.

To continue the body analogy. Not only don't we have severed body parts lying around, we don't dip them into vats of acid either..and if we find them there, we usually pull them out with alacrity :)

I love my pastor dearly. But we're a small church with no paid staff (other than the pastor) and he doesn't have time to check into everything. One of the flock recommended Beth Moore and he was going to do it. But a few links later and he changed his mind. A good pastor almost always listens well!

Gilbert said...

CR,

I was blessed by your insight with your response.

I'd like to comment to the point of Dan's post and his exposition thereof:

"But — as I keep asking — what does that have to do with my responsibility to obey out of faith?"

I'm sorry to say I've sinned in this area. Even though the Bible tells you not to make your brother stumble, your brother likely will, at some point, and probably multiple or even many points. And this is where your maturity in faith is shown...or not.

So let me ask this question. Do most significant conflicts in churches occur because of:

1. Sin due to unbelief, and/or thinking you are saved, when you are not
2. Sin due to lack of studying the word
3. Immature believers
4. "Bad" pastors?
5. Something else?

CR said...
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CR said...

Gilbert,

I'd like to take a stab at your question. You're question is pretty general because a whole lot of different conflicts can occur in churches.

(1)Conflicts occur because the flock don't pray for their shepherds. 1 Pet 5 talks about Satan being like a lion roaming and waiting to devour. Satan wants the devour shepherds because he knows that is pretty effective.

(2)Conflicts like this occur because the Lord wants to purify his church. So, if you have a good shepherd leading a church but there are really bad elders there or if you have a congregation with some good folks but some really bad apples He will allow, e.g., a church split to occur to scatter his sheep so that his church can be purified.

(3)The Lord tests believers (shepherds and flocks alike) by allowing them to meet either with false teachers, false teaching, bad experiences, worse experiences, bad flock, a pastor who asked you leave, etc. etc. etc. etc. - He tests the believer's loyalty and love for Him in this way.

Of course, He does this, really for ourselves (since He knows our hearts already). He tests us and allows the trials to come because trials and suffering produce endurance. Trials help believer know more about God and about his own spiritual health.

(4)He allows these things to happen to show that some people who ostensibly started in the faith, were in fact, not in the faith at all. People that leave the church and continue in that practical apostasy (no matter how much they say they love Jesus) really demonstrate a lot. The epistles of John speak volumes to that.

(5)Conflicts like these occur because people in their local churches are not about the Father's business, evangelizing, discipling or serving their local church so they spend time being petty over (what the Kings James translates) doubtful disputations. So, if you're praying, fellowshipping, serving, you just don't got too much time to waste on the petty and pedantic stuff. Those that do waste their time, kindle the fire and turn the pedantic to a forest fire.

So, yeah, I think the 5 things you listed are causes (secondary) through which all these bad things can occur. All of it happens under the providence of God. No matter what happens, those of us that are kept by God, will respond in faith and move on and not give up on the church because Christ didn't give up on her, He died for her.

Well, that's my brief stab at it.

mikepettengill said...
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Kristine said...

"is someone else's sin ever an excuse for my sin?"

But HE started it!!

Sorry...just kidding. It's just that that particular line is such a great question to challenge ourselves with, when we feel we've been wronged...in those situations even beyond church membership/involvment.

Great post. :)

jk said...

Great thoughts Dan...we are in the last days. In my opinion, being an undershepherd for 4 years now (an asst. before that in 2 churches) all of this is only going to get worse.