I have been accused at times of being very hard on pastors because I tend to hold pastors responsible for a lot of the issues the church faces–either because pastoral mistakes have caused the problems or because a lack of good pastoral work has allowed a problem to develop to crisis proportions. In fact, an artist friend once made me a door hanger that said “Do Not Disturb” on one side and “It’s the pastor’s fault” on the other side. If you read my blog yesterday, you will be aware that in truth, I do have high standards for pastors.
But that is not to say that I think lay people have no part in church issues. When a church is having problems, there is more than enough responsibility to go around. I might hold the pastor responsible for a lot of the problem but everyone involved has a part in creating, sustaining and solving the problem.
There is a saying that I hear now and then: “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem”. It is meant to motivate people to take an active part in dealing with whatever issue the person quoting the saying is supporting. There is wisdom in that saying but when it is applied to the church, it misses the point.
In the church, a better saying is something like, “While you may be part of the solution, you are also part of the problem”. Remember the sad truth about the church is that we are an imperfect gathering of imperfect people who not only multiply our strengths but also multiply our weaknesses and failures. So, while I might be inclined to place blame on the pastor, every part of the church has some responsibility for both the problem and the solution.
For pastors, congregational leaders and laity, the problem and the solution come from the same place. It is tempting to lay blame and point fingers and divide into groups. It is comforting to think that some group or some individual is responsible for all the problems a congregation faces–but the reality is that everyone is part of the problem and the solution.
Again, rather than point fingers, let’s take another look at Corinth. Among the problems in the church was a spirit of division. Various members were lining up behind former pastors, creating power blocks, presumably so that their perception of that leader’s teaching would be the standard for the church. Paul refers to this in I Corinthians 3. Since Paul is the leader chosen by one of the groups, it would seem logical that he would support this group.
But he doesn’t. He doesn’t debate the merits of the teaching of the various leaders involved. Instead, he seeks to return them to the basics of their faith. They were called by Christ and they are to be example of Christ. This doesn’t happen by accident. We must work at being followers. We need to develop our faith; we need to challenge our weakness; we need to confess our failures; we need to love one another.
This is where many churches struggle. We aren’t always encouraged to grow in faith and to develop a more Christ-like attitude, especially when it comes to fellow believers. Most church struggles come down to the fact that Christians are acting in very non-Christian ways towards other Christians. And the irony of the whole thing is that none of the issues that are the focus of the struggle have ever been commanded by Christ.
Jesus only gave two commands: that we love one another (John 13.34-35) and that we be witnesses to the world (Acts 1.8). Certainly, there were other things that he recommended and Old Testament commands that he reinforced (Matthew 22.34-40) but he only gave these two commands. Clearly, they are important–more important than any issue that threatens the church by ignoring these commands.
When we aren’t basing our church life on these two commands, we are automatically part of the problem. And since none of us is perfect, we are all going to be part of the problem at some point. In the life of the church, no issue is worth the problems caused by ignoring or breaking these commands. If church members can’t love each other as Christ loved them, they are the problem. Becoming part of the solution requires confession, repentance and a re-commitment to doing what God asks of us.
May the peace of God be with you.