Wearing masks, following government restrictions, getting vaccines, and churches closing their doors and meeting online, these are all things we can agree on right?
No, we cannot and have not agreed, and it has not been nice which is the problem. Church people, brothers and sisters in Christ who used to sit next to each other on a Sunday morning and say they love their neighbour, have been ugly to each other. Things have been said and posted. People have been insulted and called names. People have felt unwelcome in their own church families. It has not been nice at all.
Maybe some of us thought that when this is all over we can all get back together and carry on as normal. It will all be the same and onward we go, but I am not sure that will be possible without a little work. There are scars and hurts and to pretend they haven’t happened would be perilous. We might get along until the next big decision, but then look out because I remember the last time when that person wanted us to…you get the idea. It doesn’t take long for old hurts to bubble up and things to turn ugly again.
Pastors, you will need to pay attention to the unity level in your church and work on strengthening it. Leaders, you will need to help in the work of mending fences and fostering good relationships again. Church (you and me), we will need to be committed to the idea of being united under Christ and to loving as Christ loved – yes, even towards that person who did or said that thing. This will matter to some degree in every church and it will be crucial to survival for a few.
So what do we do? What do we look for? Glad you asked. Borrowing from the healthy church work of Stephen Macchia, let me present some gauges to look at and work on. He suggests the base to build in a healthy church that helps with unity and loving like Jesus and all that is a commitment to loving and caring relationships. It is one of the marks of a healthy church, and it is a commitment, not a good idea. Which means you have to be intentional and work on it. Macchia writes, “The healthy church is intentional in its efforts to build loving, caring relationships within families, between members, and within the community they serve.”
His suggestions on how to build that kind of loving, caring community:
- Express unconditional love and acceptance (even with those whose opinion differs from ours)
- Encourage authenticity, transparency, honesty and integrity (truth in love type stuff)
- Exhibit grace, mercy and forgiveness (things we will need to put into practice sooner than later)
- Communicate and resolve conflicts (listen to each other and resolve things)
- Establish means for bearing each other’s burdens (put love into action)
- Welcome diversity into your fellowship (make those who don’t hold your opinion feel welcome)
These are some gauges, and this will matter. Getting back together will be good. Getting programs up and running again will be fine. Making sure our online presence is robust and responsive will be fine, but without unity, without a commitment to loving relationships, it might all just be a banging gong.
Director of Leadership Development and Church Health
Free Methodist Church in Canada