Leaders, don't let the crazies take over the congregation

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I’m making an assumption: if you are reading this you are a church leader.  You may not be the pastor.  You may not be chair of the administrative council.  But only leaders would take their time to read the CT-Blog.  Leaders set the tone, the pace in a church.  Leaders are the ones asking the right questions and keeping the right conversations going.  Leaders are the ones who call people to remember who Jesus calls us to be and do – and then rally the troops: “Let’s be who Jesus wants us to be.  Let’s do what Jesus wants us to do.”  In other words, leaders set the bar, hold up the standard in a congregation: “This is who we are.”
So I want to talk to you as leaders.  And what I want to say is this: Leaders, don’t let the meanies take over the church.
Or as Paul might have put it:  Leaders, call people to put off the old life and put on Christ.  Listen to what this church leader says to the congregation at Ephesus.  Notice how he doesn’t shy away from the issues facing the congregation.  He confronts them with loving honesty and compassionate firmness.  
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. . . . You, however, . . . were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. . . .  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 
                         (Taken from Ephesians 4:17-5:2)
Leaders, don’t let the crazies or the meanies take over the congregation. 
I’ve seen it too often: the fruitcakes and bullies rule the roost while good church people stand by and watch horrified, yet committed to being nice.  Congregations have been destroyed because their spiritual leaders suffered from terminal niceness.  Niceness is way overrated.  As one person put it, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good Christians to say and do nothing.”
Leaders have to set the limits.  Leaders have to say, “This is who we are and this is how we are going to behave around here.”  I remember my Dad calling me down one day when I had said something mean to my brother.  He said, “Jeff, Stiggins’ don’t act like that.  That’s not the sort of family we are going to be.” 
This is especially important in times when anxiety runs high, when the world is changing, when our congregations are stressed out, when so many people are out of work and struggling with finances.  When people get anxious, they begin to act out; they forget who we are in Christ.  They do things that destroy relationships and that don’t build up the body of Christ.  Here are seven common examples:  

  1.  Complaining: remember the Hebrew children grumbling in the wilderness?
  2.  Gossiping: otherwise known as confessing your neighbor’s sins
  3.  Doomsdaying: Chicken Little hysterically announcing, “The sky is falling.” 
  4.  Withdrawing: taking your ball & going home, either by your presence or giving.
  5.  Threatening: ushering ultimatums, “If you don’t do what I want, then I’ll . . .”
  6.  Sabotaging: like a poisonous snake in the grass that bites unseen and unexpectedly
  7.  Bullying: forcing your agenda on others

Seen any of that going on in your congregation?  What does everyone do?  Do they empower the crazies and meanies by giving into their unhealthy behaviors?  Do they smile nicely and turn the other cheek?  Or do leaders stand up and with respectful & compassionate firmness say, “We want to hear your concerns and the concerns of everyone, but we don’t act like this in our congregation.  That’s not the way Jesus calls us to treat one another in his body.”  
If leaders don’t draw the line, if they don’t insist that we put off our old ways of treating one another and put on Christ, if they don’t call people to treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, then the very fabric of the congregation can be destroyed: relationships ripped apart, our mission abandoned, our witness compromised, our saltiness lost. 
We as leaders need humbly, but courageously, to make sure that the fruitcakes and bullies don’t take over and control Jesus’ congregation. 
One final thought:  Laity, there are times when your pastor can’t be the one to step up and set the behavioral boundaries.  When people are serving up fried pastor in the parking lot after church, laity have to be the ones that say, “This is not how we treat one another.”   Without Spirit-led laity doing their part as leaders, congregations will never be healthy or vital in ministry. 
In Matthew 18, Jesus talks about how to treat a brother or sister who is sinning: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along . . . If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
That’s spiritual leadership.  Leaders, don’t let the crazies take over the congregation. 
Oh, and how did Jesus treat tax collectors?  He befriended them.  He ate with them in their homes.  He invited them to learn to live life God’s way.  But he didn’t indulge their sinfulness nicely and he didn’t give them positions of power among the people of God. 
Leaders, don’t let the meanies take over the church. 

This post was a devotional I did at the annual Small Congregation Retreat last weekend and was inspired by a blog I read sometime back by A Renewal Enterprise, Inc. (http://www.arenewalenterprise.com/).
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence

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