Updated: Jan 1, 2021
The Principles of Growth
If you have come to a church that has a lot of infighting, here is some help. If your church has entered the "holy wars," you can be sure an essential ingredient is missing. First, "holy wars" is what I have termed the environment of a church where the members are attempting to impress each other with their level of spirituality. One says, "I overcame the temptation to eat at night...." Another will say, "amen" just prior to sharing their own greater victory. In a business environment this would equate to someone bragging about how much time they had been spending with the CEO. Or they might simply let others hear them calling an executive by their first name as though they are one of the insiders. The result of infighting often leads to an atmosphere of pretense and fear of discovery.
Now, there is nothing wrong with gaining victories as a believer nor with being in the good graces of leadership. It is when these attitudes are used only to gain the respect or envy of other church members or workers. In a church this presents a perverted view of Christianity. In a business it causes an undertone of suspicion and jealousy that is detrimental.
Infighting conditions often exist where there is no outreach or outside perspective about the mission of the organization. Negative Solutions: When leaders do not know how to overcome opposition, sometimes they purposefully create a problem they can use to their advantage. In extreme circumstances a politician who has risen to power in a country may engage in war to consolidate their jeopardized authority. Or they may want to find an excuse for removing a political nemesis. It is difficult to accept that someone who fears losing power will revert to orchestrating a war. There is little thought given to the abject misery and grief that come upon hundreds of their own citizens. This, however, is the reality of life.
Why would a human being choose this strategy? Because it often works! With no active conscience as to the right or wrong of the act, they engage in war simply because it works toward their personal goals. People in your church may not have that kind of authority, but make no mistake, they will be willing to "go to war" with you to preserve the influence they have worked so hard to achieve. The church or company is not top priority with these people. Their own interests and needs come first.
What to Do?
Knowing that the "go to war" strategy is effective, what can we do when we see it occurring? I suggest that this strategy used so often for evil and selfish purposes is nothing more than a perversion of righteous principle. It is a perversion of something with much higher value. Sinful people sometimes discover principles and use them to evil ends. It is up to us to see those effective principles and to rightly incorporate them into our work. When members of the congregation do what they do for selfish reasons, though they themselves may not recognize their own motives, you may want to do a righteous variant of the go-to-war strategy. If your church is not engaged in reaching out, it will possibly fall prey to one of those conditions mentioned in this reading.
You need to know about another side-effect of the "belly button gazing" church, or inward focused congregation. They will eventually turn on the leader. As the pastor or CEO of these misguided folks, they will expect you to be "holier" than they themselves. The pernicious nature of this thinking becomes transparent when you realize it is really an exercise in fault-finding. Your members would not see their examination of you in that light. They would say that to qualify as their leader, you must have a walk they can emulate. This requires that they closely observe you. If they are unsuccessful in their search of finding fault in you, the next step will be to take one of your strengths and conclude that it is really a negative. For example, if you are strong on visiting, some will complain that you are never available to them for an office meeting. If you set regular office hours, the complaint will be that you are always in the office instead of visiting the hospital, nursing home, etc. It does not seem to matter that no one is actually in the hospital. You should be there, anyway. These are some of the symptoms of an infighting congregation.
The examples I have shared with you are from my personal history. I have the scars that give validity to these stories. Although this condition can exist in any church, it seems to lend itself to larger, institutional settings. What this mentality really says about members is that they need to be provided a different, healthier, and loftier objective to consider.
When you are able to move the focus of the people to a place outside themselves and outside the church, it is good for you, the church, and the community. Remember, it is only sinful human nature that chooses self over helping others. Identifying our own needs is so much easier than searching for a way to fulfill others' needs. It is also human nature to excuse inactivity by criticizing the leadership for their ridiculous attempts to disrupt our lives. "Yes, yes, we've tried all that before and it doesn't work here."
A word of caution to you leaders. If you open a discussion about outreach with the church in a general way, with no prior thought or research, you will be off into the world of "Why don't we do this; or this; or this?" Each member will have some pet project in which they would like to involve the church. Their creativity has been so suppressed that they will only be able to recall the old familiar ways in which they have always reached out. Merely recalling the past must be supplanted with genuine creative thinking. It is your privilege to lead them on a journey of rediscovering that God-given creativity. In other words, part of their inaction and lack of zest may not be entirely their fault.
Think of middle-schoolers who stop drawing as they go off to high school. Somehow, they have become converted to the thought that drawing is for children and now, they are young adults. In a math class, students are taught how to solve a problem. If they discover another way, they are often told to do it the proper way. The shame is that there may be ten ways to accurately solve the problem, but they are forced into following the rules of the class. The results of these examples are seen in the lack of creativity and the inexorable power of conformity.
A medium-sized church in an affluent section of a large, Southern city chose to feed the hungry as their outreach. There is nothing wrong with feeding hungry people. In fact, it's downright Christian. However, for a church made up of wealthy members surrounded by million-dollar homes, it does not make sense. Some people are going to disagree, at first, and they will present seemingly valid arguments, such as, "Rich people should help the less fortunate."
Let's think about that for a moment. If a church of wealthy members has as their main outreach the poor people on the other side of town, I say that is a church that does not understand the Gospel. Consider this. Do we really want to buy into the spurious doctrine that wealthy people do not have needs that Christianity can fulfill? Are we going accept the thought that wealthy people have all they need? If that were true, neither Abraham, Job, nor Nicodemus would have been drawn to Jesus. Some Christians need to be reminded that poverty does not necessarily give rise to holiness. Christ did not come only to save those with small bank accounts.
The point here is that your "Primary Ministry" reach-out activity should be centered in your community and upon the needs of the people in your own area. If you can help beyond that by supporting your organizational world outreach that's wonderful. But first we look toward home. What do your neighbors genuinely need? More crucially, what do they THINK they need? It is obvious that they need Christ as their Savior, but what do they need in a practical way? What are they worried about? What could improve the quality of their lives? How can you help them? Some may say, "Our neighborhood is a wealthy one. What can we do? How do you break through to people who think all they need is to have an inflated portfolio?
We must challenge folks. If money solved all a person's problems, we would be able to make some extraordinary predictions. For example, when you reach the $100,000 mark, your marriage is safe. At the milestone of $150,000, you no longer need be concerned about your children being in an accident or getting ill. Such thinking is preposterous, is it not? The lesson is that Rich people have legitimate needs that can be addressed by the benefits of believing in Christ.
After you have established your community's needs, examine the church's resources. How can your neighbors be drawn to events of interest? If you have the right personnel and adequate financing; great. If you are lacking, dig deeper. Perhaps the members have contacts that could fill the void. If, for example, you learn from various sources that your community is experiencing widespread depression. The congregation decides they want to reach out to help the situation. What are some ways to lift people's spirits? Everyone of your members can participate is such an outreach. Older and younger members can be provided newspapers that list obituaries, births, and weddings. Why not send handwritten, encouraging cards to the bereaving family members, the new parents, or the recently married? This ministry can be fun for members who have never really been active in outreach before. But, as church leader, it is your responsibility to help guide your church toward the one main outreach, "the prime ministry," that can bring about the most successful outcome. If you find people are tired of being inundated with bad news, start a Good News Paper. There are a multitude of ways to minister to your community.
A word of caution: Do all this research yourself before involving members. Go to the chamber of commerce or the library or online to find the information. You will lead them through these steps later when they will be given opportunity for input. In the beginning, however, you will keep it to yourself. This is your preparatory time. When you do have that important meeting with the membership, you will need to have your ducks lined up. Perhaps, a packet of material will be made available to each person on the leadership staff. You can lead them through the demographics of the community, a general psychological assessment of people in that income bracket. Have information about how many children and what age they are in the average family in your community. What do parents with children that age really need and how can the church help? Remember, all these suggestions for creative ministry are focused on getting your members excited about what could be accomplished and how they can contribute. You must decide, based upon your skills and the talents of your members, the prime ministry that the church must buy into by vote. Then these other reach outs are ancillaries to accomplish the churches decided goals. Nothing is independently done. All ministries must give account of how they plan to integrate with and augment the prime ministry and their fellow participants' ministries.
Now that you have the information ready for the meeting, talk with one or two trusted leaders of the church or senior staff. Share what you plan to do. Ask them what they think. Do they have any suggestions about the presentation? How do they feel the other leaders will react to the plan? In this way you'll have a couple of supporters present who may stave off overly critical comments.
You will almost certainly be confronted with several obstacles at that first meeting. When the basic concept is accepted, there will be an eruption of volcanic proportions. Suggestions about what outreach to adopt will seem like a pyroclastic flow racing from a backed-up creativity. One major pitfall to avoid is the "shotgun effect." You may have members who think a "How to stop smoking seminar" is the answer. Another will say they feel a prison outreach is the ticket. Another will suggest you go into town and do street preaching. Various members will have strong opinions on which way the church should go. These opinions, sometimes, will be presented with the insistence of a would-be-dictator. The obvious result can be that you will all be dragged along by the most dominant personalities in the congregation. You can see the danger. If those few members prevail, the church may experience more failure and more demoralization. Most churches do not have unlimited personnel and financing. Your outreach will be so splintered that you will be completely ineffective. It is your responsibility to guild your members away from that experience.
One suggestion is to allow them to brainstorm about possible community ministries. As you list their ideas, insert your own. They will probably think of a few on your personal list. Now have a vote on which item on the list is going to be the "primary ministry" of the church. Make this vote a written one on slips of paper. This allows the members to vote unmolested by the bullies.
At a much-published business meeting of the entire membership, you and one articulate, loyal member will present the "prime ministry." You will explain and distribute a handout that lists various ministries members may want to commit themselves to doing. A good political move may be to defer some questions to your subordinate leaders. This will let the membership become aware that these ideas are not exclusively yours.
Because so many people do not know themselves well, you may want to introduce materials that will allow members to discover what ministerial gifts have been given to them. When they are armed with this information, it will help them in deciding which ministry will be most appropriate for them. Remember, when we are involved in doing something that is our passion, work becomes almost non-existent. We are doing what gives us pleasure, what vitalizes us. We need training and some encouragement, but the drive comes from within.