Because we are broken individuals, the church today is broken as well. That’s why I call my blog the Broken Church. It’s not a put down; it’s a signpost of hope. The more we realize our brokeness and our sin, the more God’s grace can be at work in our midst. God likes to take that which is broken and fix it.
I love the church. It has been used in extremely powerful ways in my life over the years. At the same time, I have seen very sad things in the church. Scripture makes clear it is God’s main way to carry out his purposes on earth. Are we as the church up to the task? How can we be more effective? I write to remind and to challenge us to be all we can be.
Years ago, I came across a very helpful idea regarding marriage, but I think it is equally applicable to church conflicts between different people. Here it is adapted to a conflict in the church:
When two people in a church are upset with each other, usually there is plenty to point to on both sides. But pointing at another hardly solves any problems. To solve problems the two should begin by pointing at themselves. Scripture says the one must take the log out of his own eye before he is able to see clearly enough to remove the splinter from another (Matthew 7:3-5). That is exactly where so many go wrong, like in this husband and wife picture:There’s no communication when two people are squared off against one another. How do they get communication started? Two people communicate when they walk and work unitedly in the same direction, but how do they get moving in the same direction. They start by turning the attack from persons to a problem. When they focus on something outside of themselves, they take away the blame, and thus diffuse the animosity.But how can quarreling individuals begin to expend their energy on solving problems God’s way instead of continuing along the destructive course of tearing each other and their Church apart? That is the question! It’s very hard to agree to looking at the problem when there is so little agreement to begin with. It seems like evading to one or the other.
The answer is: through the right kind of communication. That is the only answer. They must begin by focusing in the same direction even if it’s not on the problem yet. Either one may do this by focusing on himself first.The other’s already focusing on you, so all you have to do is get lined up alongside the person as they focus on you. Then look at your own log first. Then for the first time in a long while the two will be focusing in the same direction. It is truly amazing how much instant agreement you can get from a person who previously may have disagreed with you concerning nearly everything under the sun, when you begin to say, “I have wronged you”. Then specifically and sincerely ask forgiveness. Or if you don’t know what you have done, humbly and without defensiveness say, “How have I wronged you?” And ask open questions to try and understand. That is where reconciliation often must begin. You never ought to begin by taking the lid off the other fellow’s trash can until you have cleaned out the garbage in your own can first. That is where communication begins. *
I have used this in a number of different church conflicts I have been in. Often when I confess to them and sincerely ask for forgiveness, they do the same. And the reconciliation happens. Or after I ask, “Help me to see where I have wronged you?” and I come to understand it from their perspective, they often will ask me the same thing. Then we are not only reconciled, but we are solving the real underlying problems.
* Adapted from Christian Living in the Home by Jay Adams, Presbyterian and Reformed, Nutley, NJ, copyright 1972, p. 33-35
When I was in seminary, I heard a funny story about one of my theology professors. One day he was lecturing on a very intellectual subject. He wasn’t the most exciting of lecturers, but this one day, he was especially boring! It didn’t help that he had a European accent that was hard to understand. By the end almost every head was down on their desk. Finally the bell rang ending the class. Suddenly before anyone could exit, he perked up and said “You will have to excuse me for my lecture this morning, as I was taking a little snooze.” He was lecturing in his sleep!
I don’t think that has happened to me while I was preaching, but I have certainly had my share of other heads nodding in sleep. Its hard not to. It’s been a busy week and we are tired and when all we are doing is sitting there, the eyelids get heavy and soon our head goes down. I have done the same thing many, many times in the pews.
But it doesn’t have to be so. If we understand what preaching is, it may change how we listen.
Most times we think of a sermon as a place where the preacher pours information into our brains and we are to simply take it in. We think of it as one way like a television show, we sit and watch, then walk away done. But a sermon is far more than that – its communication, two-way communication!
In Acts 17:11, we see the Bereans had that very different view of preaching, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” You see they were interacting with it, checking the scriptures and even more receiving it eagerly. They were, once they were convinced it was true, applying it to their lives and being changed by it. They were actively engaging it.
Now granted back in the Apostle Paul’s day, the style of preaching was more interactive, people asking questions and shouting out what they thought. Our western cultural style is more reserved. Usually it is just the preacher talking, but there are many other ways of interacting and communicating back to the speaker. Certainly body language says a lot, leaning forward shows interest and a desire to follow along. A puzzled look on the face or a nod of agreement lets the preacher know how he’s coming across. Having a Bible out, thumbing through the pages or taking notes in the bulletin can really communicate a Berean attitude.
Usually it’s considered impolite to interrupt the message with feedback, but the communication doesn’t have to stop with the concluding prayer. There’s always the word at the door as you are heading out or stopping some other time to express what you thought. A thank-you is nice, but I especially am encouraged when people say how the message affected them, even if they disagree. Though we shouldn’t go overboard with a sermon critique, I find the feedback helpful and I can certainly learn some things, too.
Of course the biggest way is to let the message impact your life. A demonstration like that speaks volumes. So consciously applying it in a planned way is a key step. Even if you have been a believer for years, and maybe you’ve heard most every sermon out there, isn’t there still some growth needed in your sanctification? Make the change and tell people, especially the preacher. That helps for full communication.
And that’s one of the goals on a Sunday morning, full, two-way communication of God’s truth.