That was some of the greatest advice I had ever received.
I’d like to let you in on a not-so-secret reality about the church. Churches, pastors, and church leaders make decisions that often bother, frustrate, or offend people within those churches. Some of these decisions are mistakes that offend people, others are right decisions that offend people because they have a different vision, hope, or plan for the church than those who lead it.
I have made decisions that have been wrong and made mistakes that have hurt people, offended people, and angered people. I’ve also made decisions, said things that were right and God-glorifying that have angered people, upset them.
This usually results in bitterness toward the church or leadership within people in the congregation. Often this bitterness never gets addressed, the frustrations never brought up, and eventually people leave their congregation having never explained why or even healed from their hurt, anger, or bitterness. It doesn’t have to be this way.
You see, I was one of these people who would get frustrated and at times bitter at my former church. It was the church I loved, told everyone about, but there were times when I disagreed with the decisions of the pastors and leaders. I questioned why, made assumptions (usually false) and let it grow into bitterness. There were other times I brought them up to the leadership and it did not always change the decision, but it gave me an opportunity to get over my frustration through seeking understanding.
One of those times, I sat with one of the pastors who had listened to my frustrations, explained things I was falsely assuming and was unaware of and then he said, “Logan, I’m not asking you to agree with everything our church does, to sign off on every decision, but just don’t hate my church.”
It was exactly what I needed to hear. I am, by nature, someone who sees more flaws than he sees beauty, identifying the holes and skipping over the great things. But my main error is that I am not doing this out of love, I often do this out of pride and frustration.
These words continue to challenge me today. I’m now a pastor at a church and I’m the one usually upsetting or offending someone despite my lack of intent to do so. I still see things that are not done well, but I have learned to take these to God through prayer, asking Him to give me a love for the ministry, person, or decision I think needs to be addressed. It has changed my demeanor in addressing decisions, it has lessened my frustration, it has let me avoid the darkness of bitterness and it has given me hope for a better future.
What should you do when you disagree?
Being on the pastor side of things, I would encourage people who disagree, or are offended or frustrated by their church, pastor, ministry leader to address the things, decisions, words that have brought the hurt. But I want to encourage you in the how.
First, Pray. Our emotions are often God’s way of calling us to spend time with Him. I mean look at the Psalms, the writers are an emotional wreck. This gives us the opportunity to reflect on the why of the emotion. Is there something in me that God is revealing? A false idea, a wrong belief, a personal preference that isn’t like Jesus?
Is there something in the church/leader that God is showing me to improve the church/leader’s ability to minister and love others? My encouragement would be to talk to God in prayer in readiness that it could be you that needs to change and also readiness that God could use you, in love, to change your church. I am convinced though, that God rarely uses people who do not pursue change in love.
Second, Seek Understanding. Email the pastor, ministry leader, or the person who is directly tied to the emotions you are feeling. I’ve discovered that when I share my frustrations, anger, hurt feelings with friends and not the person, I only multiplied bitterness causing more frustration and was left with the same feelings and no healing.
Only when you address your thoughts and emotions with someone who was involved in the cause can that help you understand, help you process, help you pursue healing.
In some cases, this may not be possible to meet with the person directly but there are likely people you can sit with that have greater ability to point out where you might be misunderstanding than your friends could. In these cases, I would encourage you to pursue a leader or someone who will point out your errors in thinking.
In seeking understanding, I would encourage you to come with more questions than statements. That provides an opportunity for any of your false assumptions to be destroyed and grants the leadership an opportunity to explain without feeling the need to defend.
Be gracious toward any mistakes, showing that you recognize the gospel tells us we are all falling short of perfection, except for Jesus, and all in need of the saving grace of Jesus to change us.
Third, Pray. After you have met with the church or ministry leader to seek understanding, go back to God in prayer, asking God again to grow in you love for the leadership, to grow the leadership, to guard them from error, and pray for continued understanding and healing.
I am now at a place where I have been the bitter and frustrated person and I’ve met with the person who has been hurt by my thoughts, decisions, or what I said. It’s always humbling, always a little messy, but has always been good and I am always thankful to talk through it.
Most people feel bad sharing their thoughts or even asking further questions of leadership, but I am always quick to encourage them to share. The church is intended to be a family and it can get messy, but it cannot be a loving family with any root of bitterness. I love talking through any and all messiness in hopes to pursue a healing understanding.
Just Don’t Hate My Church.
And if you’re a pastor, church leader, or ministry leader, come to these discussions ready to listen, quick to apologize, slow to defend, and ready to share the why of your thought or decision.