We wish somehow that church could be “perfect” and grant us opportunity for beautiful fellowship, community, and outreach. Unfortunately, though, churches are made of people, and people are not perfect. We make mistakes and sometimes lose track of the truly important things in God’s service. There are times in our experience as church members, and even leaders, when we may need to go against the grain of typical tradition or popular opinion.
Disagreements are bound to pop up, and it’s often up to us to decide when to let go and when to push forward. There is nothing wrong with compromise, provided we are reasonable in our motives. By the same token, there is nothing wrong with speaking up and making waves now and then, when the occasion necessitates. How do we know, though, when to speak up and when to back down? What makes a good litmus test for “deal-breaker” issues? Obviously we do need to be genuinely mindful and wise about such things…
Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. -1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
We are called to be mindful of our mission. At some point in ministry, whether in supporting roles or full-time church work, we will encounter conflict and opposition. It is important to be grounded in a foundational purpose or mission. The test that will navigate challenges must return us to a sense of that central goal. What is the church/Sunday School class/youth group/Bible study aiming to do? If there are members disagreeing over specifics or activities, are they pertinent to the main purpose, or are they frivolous issues?
For example, if argument arises over the color of chairs in the gathering room or the type of curriculum used in Sunday School classes, accessory issues can become over-emphasized. Tempers can flare and get out of control. If we find ourselves in such situations, it’s critical to come back to a sense of humility, examine mission, and most importantly, pray.
We do want to make every effort to get along with our neighbors and fellow congregants. But sometimes we need to stand up and make a statement. Sometimes we have to go against the grain, or shake things up…there are times when this is necessary to point out a need for change or offer fresh perspective. With love, prayer, and authenticity, we should be willing to step out in boldness, and maybe even rock the traditional boat. We cannot merely go along with the way things are “always done.”
We cannot drift drone-like through church. We should think critically and examine every action. And ultimately, our model is Jesus Himself. He often found Himself at odds with tradition, and was not a bit fearful of stating His purpose and standing up to dissent. He asked the same attitude of His disciples when sending them out:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” -Matthew 10:16
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. -Matthew 10:34
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” -Luke 6:9
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. -Matthew 23:27
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -Mark 2:17
The Messiah did not mince His words or hide from His mission. He knew the will of His father and sought to fulfill it. He was not afraid to stand up to (and even decry) church leaders when they were in the wrong. Jesus healed, and sought the lost. Obviously, we are not perfect as Christ was, and we cannot excuse negative actions with His “example” as a rebel. But when the occasion calls for it, we can be encouraged to recall that Jesus did not always seek to go along with the crowd first and foremost. He was willing to stir dissension and spur frustration, and He spoke the brutal truth. Jesus was mission-focused, and promises to honor those who honor Him. By keeping Christ in the center of our ministry, work, church, and lives, we can be willing to do what may not be popular or easy, but what is effective.