I wobbled around the yard with the ball in my glove. My older brother was lying on the ground with a bloodied nose. We were both a little fuzzy (a complication of being knocked silly) on how we got to this point. We think the general story went like this: In an effort to work on catching pop-flies my brother and I would toss a ball as high as possible and then run underneath it to catch. On this occasion, I had tossed the ball and doggedly charged after it. My brother did the same. And seconds later, the ground shook as two skyward gazing grade-schoolers ran into each other at full speed.
Often church people do exactly the same thing. With eyes fixated on expanding the church, people smash into each other seeking resources for their specific ministry, projects, or ideas. And when they do collide over how the budget will be spent and on who gets to reserve the fellowship hall, things can get messy in a hurry. People in the church start complaining, start rooting for programs to fail, and start stressing how much more important X Ministry is than B Ministry. I.e. the same team starts competing against itself. When this happens, the ministry game comes to the stretching halt.
When I was playing high school baseball, my team was blessed with enough talent to thoroughly thrash a couple of our lower quality opponents. During one such thrashing, we geared up to start of the 4th inning. As we slide on our gloves, the other team decided that they had had enough. They had enough of the errors, the poor pitch selections, and the bad calls. Their gloves came off and a full out brawl began…in their dugout. We watched passively in amazement as a tornado of gloves, hats, and punches whipped around the visitors’ dugout. Needless to say, the team forfeited that game and the rest of their season. They were done.
And when the church turns in on itself, it is done. Once we exchange the liberating hope of the gospel for the despair of personal opinions, we become bring all real ministry to a halt. Humility evaporates. Relationships break down. And, God is forgotten. What’s left? A bunch of squabbling teammates that can’t even live up to the world’s standards of friendship.
What the solution?
1. Be Thankful
We begin with thankfulness. Instead of being angry, instead of clinging to our own ideas as if they descended from heaven, we stop and thank God for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Notice what Paul say in Philippians 1:3-4,
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.
Paul is thankful because they are all on the same team. They are all servants of Christ united together through the gospel. The next time we are tempted to get upset, to lash out at a fellow believer over some program, we need to stop and pray for that person. We need to be thankful that the same God working in us in working in them. We need to praise God that he saved both of us. We need to teach our hearts to love others. We may have different ideas. But we have the same God and savior. Instead of attacking our fellow teammates, let’s be thankful for them and for their ministries.
1. Be Thankful Again
Ok, now some of you may be thinking that I can be thankful for most people. But then there is that special class of people who always get on our nerves, who do things out of spite, or who do things to advance themselves. Surely we can fight against those people. And if these people are getting the gospel wrong, then yes would should address them in love. We should speak truth. But if they are preaching truth from wrong motives, Paul says rejoice. “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” I.E. if the ministry you deem to be most important is being trampled by another ministry that’s growing (even with bad leadership) we should rejoice. Why? Why is Paul rejoicing? We can rejoice with Paul because ministry is not about making much of us and our ideas. It’s about making much of Jesus and his church. Let’s rejoice and praise everything that moves the gospel forward!
2. Check Your Heart
In addition to being thankful, we also need to be honest with ourselves. Ultimately, the reason we turn on other church members is that we have messed up hearts. We are worshiping our ideas and programs. When we don’t get them, we sin. Notice in Philippians 2:3-4 Paul says,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
The reason we get mad, the reason we attack ministries, and the reason we complain about our fellow church members is that we are motivated by ambition and conceit. If our main complaints about programs and the church are focused around the pronouns “I” and “me,” we have a problem. We are not looking to the interest of others. We are being selfish. We need to stop and start putting others first. Why? Because this is what Jesus does. He humbled himself to save us. If we are going to be like Christ, we must humble ourselves so that Christ and his church can flourish. Friends, we need to be honest with ourselves. If we are fighting with people in our church, if we are always critical, if we have competing ministries, we have hearts out of line. Before we fix or change any program of ministry focus, we need to repent.
It’s natural for there to be competition, complaints, and attacks in the church. After all it is a hospital for the spiritual sick. But instead of blooding each other, let’s humbly put others first. Let’s keep our gaze on Christ. Let’s be thankful for our fellow Christians, and let’s be honest with each other. Together, we can keep the church moving forward!