This post is going to be more personal than others. That means it will be more difficult to write. I guess you could say I was inspired to write it when I saw a Facebook meme that said: “if you fuel your journey on the opinions of others, you are going to run out of gas”. It resonated well with me as I seem to have been dealing with a few negative, unhappy people over the past few months. That’s personal and work as well.
I have come to the conclusion that hurting people end up hurting other people. They look at where they are in life and can’t accept that where they are is the result of their own choices. They feel powerless to change, they see themselves as innocent victims in a big bad world and they tell themselves that they deserve more. In attempting to assert themselves they push away those who care. They become more insular and in focussing on false gods like self-love they forget how to love.
So, I said it would be personal. What has this to do with churches?
I see many of these behaviours in churches too. It’s not surprising since the church is the people, so the sum of their emotional intelligence becomes the prevailing culture of the congregation. They are afraid to be anything other than they are, even though they say they want to change. The “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” are legion. Somehow to do things differently would imply that those who have gone before were wrong.
They look at change all around them and they feel powerless. They see themselves as victims. Bring back Christendom. We looked like our community, we just got on with serving and we didn’t make a fuss. And faith – that was something private. Something impolite to discuss. So they look to false gods of continuity, stability and comfort.
“What about looking outward?” I suggest. “What needs are there in your community?” They are not indifferent, but they don’t know who their neighbours are. Aren’t we called to love the stranger? Have we forgotten the Good News?
They repel newcomers with their cloistered hospitality and fellowship. They tell me “I don’t know why visitors don’t stay, we’re all so friendly”. I add “to each other”. But that’s not really a such bad thing. Except when they wound each other as well.
I don’t know why hurting people and hurting congregations hurt other people.
I could give you a list of why churches find it so hard to change, or what the indicators are of a healthy church, but I wonder whether we talk enough about faith, hope and love?
St Ambrose of Milan said “No one heals himself by wounding another”. There are lots of people who need healing and there are lots of congregations that need healing. Jesus did a fair bit of healing and reconciliation and I’m pretty sure he encouraged his disciples (us) to do it too!
Am I saying all congregations are like this? No, certainly not! There are many joyful, faith-filled congregations who know that their best days in mission are ahead of them. Let’s start there. Can we stop hurting each other? Can we help each other?