So, I'm following up on an earlier post with a question about the Church. I refuse to make light of the subject because it is one that impacts friends, family, and foes alike.
How does a Christian respond to someone who claims to have been wronged by the Church, or for whom the Church has failed them?
Regardless of whom you are or what level of spiritual training you may have, this question is a difficult one to answer. Admittedly I do not have the benefit of seminary training or having been mentored by a senior pastor, but I do have the Bible and a life of experiences that tell me we are all equally unprepared to answer this question.
First, to ensure we are on the same page, we must define the "Church."
"And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." (Col 1:18, NIV)
"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Eph 1:22-23, NIV)
Christians, we are the Church. Christ is the Head and we are the Body. You and me, we are the Body of whom the Bible references. The Church is not a building. It is not a denomination. It is not a manual. Those are embodiments to which we ascribe community, but they are not the Church. We are.
Jesus never called on a building to go forth and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15, Luke 14:23, Matt 28:19-20, Acts 1:7-8). Instead He has called on every one of us to be His hands and feet. It is us who holds the responsibility of loving our neighbor enough that he or she wants to get to know our savior – not the building at 104 S. 5thAve. in Paden City, WV, or even the one at 3700 Southwest Freeway, Houston, TX. No, Sir. The Church is us. The failure is ours. We own the responsibility of wronging that person.
So, how do we help them?
First, Listen: To help, we must first listen, then pray, then act with love and humility and spiritual guidance. Shaming someone into coming back to church is never the answer, neither is blaring your faith at impossible decibels, making them cringe. Instead, we really need to understand the background. Some folks left the church long ago and the people who were responsible for their leaving are gone as well. Some folks left the church not because of a real wronging by the Body, but by a perception caused by their own sin. Some folks can't even articulate why they left the church.
We must listen first, and then pray before we act. James 1:19 tells us "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (NIV). And I'm not talking about interrogation or talking during commercial breaks either. We must listen not only with our ears, but also with our hearts, our spirits, and our minds. Only through completely listening to our friends' and family's concerns will we be able to then seek God's face and good, Godly counsel to help our failed or wronged friend or loved one.
Be Open and Don't Judge: Successful listening also requires us to be open minded and responsive to the thought that our friend might be right – we might have failed him. Yes, "we" because "we" are the Body. Successfully listening to our friend also requires us to be open enough to hear what he or she is really saying. Our friend might say, "I don't like the pastor" or "that church is full of hypocrites" which could be failed-friend code for they judge me or they act "holier than thou" when their sins are the same as mine.
Christian, not every individual member of the Body gets it right. How wise is Christ to have equated the Church to a body. We have bad backs, bad bladders, and bald heads! Christ knows that the Body is imperfect, but He loves us anyway. Only by listening and refusing to judge our friend can we truly decipher which body part is causing them pain.
Pray Ceaselessly: If any single set of verses in the Bible speaks about helping our failed friend, it is 1stThessalonians 5:14-22.
"And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil." (NIV, emphasis added)
Only through effective, fervent prayer can we find God's answer to our failed-friend's pain. While we are quick to listen, we must be slow to act and only do so with God's leading. Jesus was clear, a prophet has no honor in his own town (John 4:44, Luke 4:16-30). Hastily jumping to resolve our failed-friend's woes is folly and could actually drive her farther away from God. Don't become another stumbling block. Be honest. Be humble. Be yourself, but listen for God's leading and His counsel before acting. When cornered by an angry or hurt friend for an immediate solution, don't be afraid to say, "I don't know, but I will find out." It is better to de-escalate your friend's anger than to give a solution that is not in God's specific plan for your friend. Be quick to listen, slow to act.
Act Accordingly: Finally, whether your answer comes directly from God in prayer or through good, Godly counsel, don't be afraid to act. Sure, God may require you to strain your relationship or to enter an area outside your own comfort zone, but if He truly calls you to it, He'll bring you through it. If you have listened to your friend, prayed fervently and sought Godly counsel, and tested His answer against scripture, then you are probably on the right track. After all, you are his friend/family member. If he won't hear it from you, how will a Church member fare any better?
–Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.