As a boy that grew up attending church services regularly the area that hurt me the most was hearing harsh comments directed at our pastor in business meetings. It didn’t happen every time, but it did occur too often.
I still remember how I felt when someone would stand and publicly bring a complaint, sometimes with great fervency, against my pastor. One night he was attacked so severely by an individual that he resigned on the spot. (The next week he rescinded it and the congregation accepted it).
Those negative comments and strong words about someone whom I looked up to affected me profoundly. But the collateral damage wasn’t limited to me. It impacted my friends and other young people in the church. Many of them don’t attend church to this day. I believe one of the primary reasons was the public complaining and verbal carping at our pastor over petty issues.
God requires church members to follow their spiritual leaders as long as they are walking with God. The Bibles states that one of the reasons for loyalty is that “it is unprofitable” for those that resist and gripe about their pastor.
Hear God’s Word to the members of a local church – “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you”. (Hebrews 13:17)
The word “unprofitable” means “to cause great harm or destruction”. Again, the innocent victims of our negativity and griping toward spiritual leaders are our children; young ears that cannot understand the issue at hand, but can only discern the harsh spirit in which the words are delivered.
A little comment thoughtlessly given has far-reaching consequences. Sometimes to future generations. God warns us about the incredible damage small things (like a few words or a few sentences) can do.
“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:5-10)
If we realized the ripple effect of our griping and criticisms we would guard our words carefully. God has instructed us to serve Him without complaining. In a context of obeying and serving He tells us to “do all things without murmurings and disputings”. (Philippians 2:14)
The word “murmurings” carries the idea of doing something with reluctance or resentment and complaining about it. The word “disputings” means “to debate” and has the idea of a discussion characterized by arguing or a heated disagreement.
I think God connected the two words (murmuring and disputing) because they are related. It is easy for a complaint to degenerate into an argument. A church dominated by complaining and dissension will implode from within.
Certainly there are times to stand for the truth, particularly the foundational and essential doctrines of the faith (Jude 3). However, the sad truth is that the vast majority of church splits and contentious business meetings are not over any doctrinal issues, but personal preferences (color of carpet, policies, programs, insignificant matters).
The late D. James Kennedy wrote, “Most people think of the church as a drama with the minister as the chief actor, God as the prompter, and the congregation as the critic. What is actually the case is that the congregation is the chief actor, the minister is the prompter, and God is the critic”.
There is much wisdom in his statement. What is sad to me is the line, “…people think of the…congregation as the critic…”.
Earlier I mentioned we attended church faithfully, and we did. Dad and Mom didn’t ask us to go, they required it and took us. There were only a handful of people that seemed to thrive on controversy and challenged our pastor, publicly and privately.
This marked me in a painful way emotionally. However, something greater than the complaining and negativity of a few was able to salvage the damage to my young soul. It was my parents.
When we came home from church riding in the car together, sitting around our table for lunch, and during the week, Mom or Dad never said a negative word about the leadership at the church. I mean never.
I’m sure there were times when they didn’t agree with every decision; that is simply human nature. Disagreement is not wrong as long as it is expressed respectfully. I love my wife very much and she loves me and we don’t agree on every subject. So, I’m not advocating a “Pollyanna” attitude, being blindly optimistic, or even stupidly following a leader.
The primary issue I’m attempting to highlight is that Melanie, Hoss and myself never heard criticisms about our spiritual authorities from our parents. Today, my sister is a pastor’s wife, my brother is a missionary that travels all over the world sharing the gospel, and I am a pastor.
I’m not elevating roles of occupational Christian ministry as being more significant than others. My father labored with his hands and he was just as called to serve Christ and important as anyone in occupational ministry. Mom worked in the office in a high school for over thirty years. They loved Christ as much as any pastor.
It was their willingness to guard their words that enabled their children to oversee some ugly things (there weren’t many, gratefully) in our church to go on become leaders in local church ministry. I don’t believe that would have happened if they had complained about the church, it’s programs and the leaders.
Honestly, I hesitated to publish this post, not because it is unimportant or that I don’t believe it. It’s because I’m a pastor and it sounds so self-serving. I offer it because it is one of the simplest, but most important ways parents (and fellow church members) can help their children (and other children) to go on and serve the Lord, just by guarding our words.
I don’t want others to have to experience the confusion and pain I did when I saw people war against someone whom I respected and loved – and needed in my life – my pastor. This matter is crucial not only to the present health of a local church, but also to it’s future. Children and teenagers that hear people fight, even occasionally, in church (usually during business meetings) are affected far more than we realize, and for far longer.
Many years ago I was praying with several men for God to do a work in the church where I now pastor. A couple of years before I came to this church it went through some very tumultuous times. This dear man had experienced them and so had his family.
When it came time for him to pray he could barely speak. With a broken heart, tears on his cheeks, and in a halting voice he talked to God. “Heavenly Father, please help my children. I don’t know what they are going to do because of the negative things they have seen in our church. Have mercy on us”.
I can’t think of anything more sad than that – to take your children to church and have them negatively impacted when your heart was to see them influenced for good.
No church is perfect and won’t be until Christ comes to make her blameless. In the meanwhile let’s “do all things without murmurings and disputings”. (Philippians 2:13) It can make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of our young people.
If we fail to do so, those older and more seasoned, will usually see through negative words and survive. Our children do not have the maturity to have that perspective. The stakes are higher than we realize.