I’ve been thinking about my part in helping my church continue to move towards robust health. Not me as National Leadership Team member or director of whatever, but me as a member of my local church. The same role that most of you find yourselves in. We all have a part to play in church health, but what does this look like?
As I work with different churches, one of the things I bump into a lot is “the problem person.” Let’s call him Hezekiah or Hez for short. My apologies to those named Hezekiah. I don’t actually mean you, but there are less Hezs than Bobs.
Hez is that person that is always causing trouble. That person who is always critical of everything that is happening. That person who is constantly attacking the pastor or other church members. Hez is not a person who seeks to be helpful and is offering constructive criticism. Hez is that person who is always looking for an argument and who tends to be disagreeable. You know the person. You hope Hez doesn’t corner you in the church. And you certainly hope that if a new person shows up that Hez stays away from them.
I have pastored at churches with Hezs. I have visited churches with Hezs. I get calls from pastors and board chairs about the Hez in their church. Hez can be male or female, young or old. Long-time member or recent new attender. Hezs are everywhere. So what can we do with the Hezs in our churches? Often we are at a loss. We think something should be done, but we don’t know what. So we hope the board or the pastor or somebody is doing something about that.
Boards and pastors are often unsure or unwilling to act as well and I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s that we have somehow gotten the idea that as Christ followers we are called to be nice, so we don’t say anything. I believe we are called to tell the truth in love which may not be “nice” all the time. Maybe it’s that we are scared Hez and his family will leave and we don’t want people to leave the church. I understand these ways of thinking, I may have even been guilty of them in the past, but they are not good reasons for failing to do something about Hez.
The thing I hear the most around Hezs goes something like this – “Well that’s just Hez. That’s just how he is. We all know it and we put up with it. We try and work around it when we can. But that’s just Hez.” Here is the problem with that way of thinking. Hez being Hez is often not being very Christ-like in how he or she treats people, and our job as the church and as Hez’s spiritual family is to help Hez become as much like Jesus as possible. Making the “that’s just Hez” excuse is a failure to do as Jesus said, “Make disciples of all people, even Hez.” Instead we end up facilitating Hez becoming less and less like Jesus and perhaps even hurting people and the work of the Kingdom in the process.
The unhealthy church answer is to shrug our shoulders and say nothing to Hez. The healthy church answer is to tell Hez the truth in love. If Hez is not displaying Jesus in what he says or does, we need to point that out to Hez and walk beside him into full restoration with Jesus and His people. We owe it to Hez to love him enough to invest in this work. Whether Hez responds or not is not up to us. But we need to do all we can to help put Hez on that path. We have a role to play in our churches becoming the healthy communities of love, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation God intends them to be.
Now, I am well aware of passages in Scripture that talk about specs and planks in eyes and all of that. I am certainly not advocating that we all walk around as know it all experts who shake our fingers at people telling them to get it together like we have it together. In fact, I need to be willing to have people approach me with this truth in love attitude, as do you.
Also, I am not advocating that we launch a “holy crusade” where we run around and fix people the way we think they should be fixed. Again, this isn’t permission to do a drive by on people, telling them everything that’s wrong with them and then walking away feeling like we have done our job.
The healthy church key to all of this is that we have to love Hez. We have to have the type of relationship with Hez where we are able to be heard as we tell the truth in love. So my role and your role is to be part of building those types of relationships in our churches. Real, close, authentic relationships where we are known and loved and where we can tell and hear the truth in love so that we can help each other be as much like Jesus as possible. Again, this may not always work, but I believe it to be the best first step towards helping people be more like Jesus and helping our church be what God intends it to be.
So I have some work to do. I hope you will join me in this work at your church.
Director of Leadership Development and Church Health
Free Methodist Church in Canada