Overseeing the Moderate Church: Part 2

Divided churchIn Part 1, we considered the difficulties of managing a moderate church, that is, a church that is divided between progressives and conservatives. While it’s not inevitable that such churches divide, they often do. The reason is almost always a failure of the leadership to confront the problem. Rather, most churches decide to delay the day of reckoning, piling political compromise on top of political compromise, until one day the church collapses.

The solution is for the leadership to lead. In this case, leading means teaching a version of the gospel that encourages people to accept one another despite their differences. This means the centerpiece of the church’s teaching has to be love and unity and grace. Now, this shouldn’t be a problem, as this happens to be the centerpiece of the New Testament’s ethical instructions for Christians (read, for example, Romans 12-15).

For example, when our church had a controversy over musical styles, our then-preacher did an excellent job of presenting the truth of the matter. He told the members who liked the older music that were called to love the younger members. Therefore, they should enjoy it when the newer music is sung because it gives pleasure to people they love. He then told the younger members to enjoy the older music because it gives pleasure to people they love.

(Phil. 2:3-4) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

You cannot be Christlike and care more about your preferences than those of your brothers and sisters. There is no other gospel.

(Phil. 2:5-7) Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Manifestly, this sometimes results in compromise. In fact, my church has a blended worship service–we sing both styles. But this is a compromise of the willing, with each side taking joy in pleasing the other. A political compromise is the result of both sides trying to get all they can from the other and failing to get everything. Godly compromise is the result of both sides trying to give the other side all they want, and neither side being able to give up everything.

Now, don’t for a minute think that a compromise of the willing is a 50/50 compromise. It might be, but it often isn’t. You see, grace and unity and love must all be wrapped up in mission. Why did Jesus save us? So we could sing our favorite hymns? Or so we would seek and save the lost? And if a church is in a community where a particular musical style interferes with its mission to the lost, then one or both sides may have to yield to the needs of the new members and seekers. And if a church isn’t more concerned with the needs of the seekers and new converts than suiting its own taste, it’s just not much of a church.

When grandparents have their tiny grandchildren over to visit, what books get read and what music gets played? As a rule, the books and music that the children prefer — because the grandparents love their grandchildren so much they take more delight in the smiles of their grandchildren than in having their own way. Maybe the grandparents try to introduce the kids to older music, but it’s done with gentleness and love — not forced down their throats. And wise grandparents know that most children aren’t going to have the same taste that they do.

You see, one of the great mistakes of church leadership over the years has been to inculcate this anti-Christian notion that we go to church to get what we want. We go to church to give what others need — and for truly committed Christians, that’s also what we want. We’d rather delight in the joy of the younger generation — sharing in their pleasure — instead of getting our own way all alone.

Political compromise splits churches. Godly compromise unites churches. The political church and Godly church may sometimes even have the same song service, but the political church enjoys only half while the Godly church enjoys it all.

The key is for the eldership and staff to insist on this attitude. This means that those who refuse to comply have to leave. Selfishness is simply intolerable in church. Jesus died to cure it, and if we insist in wallowing in our self-love, we’ll damn ourselves.

(Titus 3:10-11) Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Being divisive is not necessarily a doctrinal thing. It’s entirely possible to be divisive over the color of the foyer or the taste of the communion bread. It’s an attitude of selfishness. It’s making our preferences paramount over the body. It’s really just a failure to love.

Therefore, when these sorts of issues arise, the elders should resist the temptation to head straight to the commentaries to prove themselves right. Normally, even though we couch our complaints in doctrinal language, the real complaint is selfishness and the real solution is love.

Sometimes it’s about wanting power to control the direction of the church. Sometimes it’s a sincerely held doctrinal belief. Either way, no real solution will be found until the complainer is required to reconsider his position after first committing to consider others better than himself.

Now, if the complainer is required to approach his complaint from the standpoint of self-sacrificial love, everything changes. He may still hold to his doctrinal belief, but now it really is about doctrine and not a desire for control or position. And someone who genuinely loves can be taught. And teaching leads to doctrinal unity.

But if the issue isn’t doctrinal but just a matter of taste or a desire for power, repentance has to be the next step.

More in part 3.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Overseeing the Moderate Church: Part 2

  1. Jerry Starling says:

    This "update" is well worth rereading!

    I've seen too many churches sweep too many things under the rug. After a while, the rug gets lumpy and people start to trip over what's under there!

  2. This "update" is well worth rereading!

    I've seen too many churches sweep too many things under the rug. After a while, the rug gets lumpy and people start to trip over what's under there!
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can't wait to read your next one!

  3. I like the example of the grandparents and grandchildren. A caution in that those in the church acting as the grandparents can easily have a feeling of superiority over those whom they are granting the musical or other choices. And then one day comes, "I've been allowing you to have your way a long time. Now it is my turn."

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