About a year ago I was attending a local Christian Business Association meeting. It was customary after their guest speaker finished for the members and attendees to have their “15 seconds of fame” where they could introduce themselves and give a “shameless” plug for the company they represented. During this time of quick promotion, a man introduced himself as part of a new church that was starting in town. He wasn’t the Pastor but he was one of those helping the church to get started. Personally, I am always excited to hear when a new church launches as we have over 100,000 people in our county who are not faithfully connected to a church anywhere. I wasn’t quite excited though to hear this man say, “So if you’re not happy with the church you are going to, then come try us out.” It sounded like an ad for a deodorant or a new brand of peanut butter and not the living, breathing Body of Christ upon the earth today.
The dictionary defines “displeasure” as “a feeling of annoyance or disappointment.” Every relationship known to mankind is ultimately challenged by this emotion that unless dealt with in a healthy manner will cause division, hurt feelings, confusion and discouragement to many around us. When we become driven by displeasure we will either respond with a healthy Biblical attitude or a toxic attitude. We make that choice. This is written with the hope that we might make an informed and spiritually healthy choice.
Displeasure is found in marriage relationships along the way. It ultimately becomes a challenge between parents and children, friends, co-workers, people in authority over us—even the cashier as we try to checkout when we are in a hurry. Therefore, it should be no surprise that it ends up somewhere between the pew and the pulpit. A decision is made by leadership and you disagree. The music is too loud. The music is too soft. It should be more traditional. It should be more contemporary. The sanctuary is too cold. The sanctuary is too hot. The preacher is long-winded. The preacher doesn’t dress the way I think he should. The paint color in the sanctuary is all wrong. The church has too many activities. The church doesn’t have enough activities. The preacher is paid too much. We give too much to missions. We don’t give enough to missions. I could keep this list going on and on, and you may think I am exaggerating, but having pastored in the same church for almost 25 years, I have heard all of the above and much more on more than one occasion. Sadly the above has little or nothing to do with the mission of our church, which is stated as “Making Disciples Who Make Disciples.” Yet all of the above put together can cause church leadership to become discouraged and disillusioned.
I truly believe that there are times when a holy displeasure may be placed on our heart. It is meant to grow us, move us forward and perhaps reveal where we may have strayed from the path. This can be an opportunity for us to meet on common ground for the purpose of digging into God’s Word together and growing through the Spirit. I emphatically want to encourage those times, but would suggest that they are meant to unite and not to divide us away from the fellowship of the saints in our church.
As a church, we have seen these times enough to know what it looks like when people come around a table to talk about something that is not pleasing them, with a commitment to let the Word of God and the Holy Spirit guide them. We have seen God send people into new areas of mission with vision and provision. Sometimes we have seen God call people into other faith communities to serve. When the church hears the testimony of what God has done during these times, there is a rejoicing that manifests a blessing upon the church that is sending and the church that is receiving. At the moment, these “sending out” times have been rare, but they also set a pattern worth following by God’s people and by the leadership in the local church fellowships.
Here are three things that I hope will benefit the Body of Christ to consider when (not if) that time comes that you find displeasure in your church.
- The church does not exist to please you. The church exists to please God.
This is probably the hardest thing to get into our thinking, especially here in America where consumerism abounds. Advertisers and marketers have cleverly trained us to become displeased on many levels so we will “try their product, shop their store and tell others how wonderful they are.” Politicians and political parties have turned this into an art form.
I see this continually in the life of the church today. We get offended. We don’t like something at our church so we go shopping for another. We change from Wal-Mart to Target. We treat the Body of Christ as if it exists to meet our needs. Consequently, if we think someone is doing that better, then we simply switch brands. No matter how much we may falsely spiritualize it by saying, “Oh we have been praying for a long time about this decision,” the vast majority of these decisions are made often after we have already unplugged from truly serving the body with a servant’s heart. Moreover, it seldom happens with any counsel from those who have been given watch care over us. The number of bombs that are dropped on a Pastor like this is staggering to the imagination. It can be the leading cause as to why over 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month.
The old saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” applies here. It can appear to be true, at least for a season, but then displeasure once again rears its head as the enemy will always seek to kill, steal and destroy. Jesus died, was buried and rose again, and then through the Spirit of God established the church, not for our happiness but for our holiness.
- Stop viewing the church as an organization of programs and events and strive to see it as the organism of God’s people with Jesus as the Chief cornerstone.
One of the ways churches have grown through the years is by seeking to build a better mousetrap. Bigger, better programs, sharper marketing, dynamic and influential communicators, modern, mind-blowing facilities are being used to attract more people to churches. And while this has helped many churches grow to dynamic size, it mostly has been at the cost of other churches who could not, or would not compete. This “growth principle” nicely fits our consumeristic mindset. The problem is that pretty much, everyone who can be attracted by this approach has already been attracted. Now they just await the next bigger and better thing to come along.
The Bible describes the church as, the Body of Christ, the Family of God, the Light of the World, the Salt of the Earth, the Bride of Christ and many other terms which raise the level of WHO the church is far above all of our earthly attempts to attract people. Yet most Christians still “shop” for a church. When we become displeased at one, we go in search of another that hopefully, won’t do the things our former church did.
My wife Laura, who works closely with me in the ministry once had someone in the church communicate with her that she was leaving our church after many years to find a church that was more traditional and smaller. This person had been someone my wife considered to not just be a fellow church member and sister in Christ, but also a friend. What this “friend” probably did not realize was that in effect she was saying to my wife, “I have decided that a style of worship is more important to me than working with you in the ministry of our church.” The hurt that resulted from that one, “I am going shopping for something else,” was felt by more than just my wife, but others in the church who were left wondering, “What was wrong with us?”
If we are going to have healthy relationships in the church we must stop seeing the church as a WHAT, and see it as a WHO. The church is the Body of Jesus on earth today and we must stop treating Jesus as something to be consumed.
- Ask God, “How may I bring pleasure to You, working alongside these people that You have brought together? Tell God, “Help me discern whether my displeasure is just about me or a holy displeasure where you may use me to help edify the church through the leadership you have placed here.”
There was never anything casual about the way Jesus saw the church. He bled and died for her. There was nothing cavalier about how the Apostles and the founders of the church in Acts treated her. They likewise gave their lives for her. We are admonished to have that same attitude.
God is molding and shaping us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. I believe He can use even our displeasure or disagreements in a process that truly brings Him glory and brings Him pleasure. However, we must first realize that it’s not about us. This is about His glory upon the earth today.
There is obviously a reason that God chose to actually have the gospel writer, John to write Jesus’ longest recorded prayer. We find the heart of this prayer in the following two verses.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21 (NIV)
There is no doubt that God uses even our displeasure in His conforming and transforming work. My prayer is that we, His children, would be considerate enough of all of His children to always act in a way that seeks to honor Christ. Slipping out a back door, dragging others into our displeasure and going as far as to invite people in other churches to come with you, is contrary to the Kingdom work He has established on the earth.
Every letter in the New Testament to a church was written primarily to bring correct doctrine to the problems that existed in those churches. Paul’s letters were written because he got word there were problems and with loving correction he would seek to lead God’s people to know that God’s ways are always better.
To the church at Philippi he wrote these words of wisdom:
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. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
In closing let me make the following recommendations on how to handle your “displeasures” with the church when they arise (not if they arise, but when):
- Pray. Seek God. Ask for His guidance. Allow the Spirit of God to guide you.
- Dig into His Word. Seek to understand if this is a Biblical issue or just a preferential issue. We want to discern between essential and non-essential issues
- Do not express your displeasure to others. Doing so is a form of gossip. The adage, “Misery loves company,” holds true and there is no need to spread misery. Express your displeasure first and foremost to God alone. He is enough.
- Should after prayer and study the issue not be resolved in your mind, bring the matter to one of the Pastors or Elders as a committee of one. Ask them to help you walk through this time and consider their counsel. The only exception is when this is a matter that has to do with a person in the fellowship, and you must bring that matter directly to them first and personally. Follow the instruction of Matthew 18:15-17.
- Allow the church leadership ample time to work through this matter with you under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
If this is a matter where you sense that God may be leading you to another fellowship, after prayer and time in the Word come share this with the Pastors and Elders and seek to spend time with them over this matter. Their desire should always be to join with God in what God is doing, but also to help guard the sheep from false doctrine and fleshly decisions.