How does the church respond to the disruptive?
1) Love and patience
A basic principle for how we as Christians treat everyone is stated by Jesus in John 13:34, "As I have loved you so you must love one another." No matter how frustrating and even unnerving the complainer, critic and conniver may become, our posture toward them is still one of love. Love can take a couple of courses which I will discuss in a moment. First, we must recognize several responses that are not loving:
a) To engage in equally inappropriate behavior as the complainer, critic and conniver. We simply cannot enter into the discussion at this level.
b) To withdraw from the church. Unfortunately, whenever these kind of behaviors get out of hand, people often leave the church.
c) to form our own little cliques to oppose the complainers.
It is easy for us to take any of these three tacks when faced with these kinds of personalities, but we need to resist. Remember to practice love and patience, even with people who make it difficult for us to do so. In The Equipping Church Sue Mallory reminds us that even the difficult to love serve a valuable purpose for us: "They ... provide ample opportunity for the practice of unconditional love" (p.49).
Practicing unconditional love has the power to penetrate the irritation and dysfunction of another human being and find the good in them. " The deepest urge in every human heart is to be in relationship with someone who absolutely delights in us, someone with resources we lack who has no greater joy than giving to us, someone who respects us enough to require us to use everything we receive for the good of others, and because he has given it to us, knows we have something to give. The longing to connect defines our dignity as human beings and our destiny as image-bearers." (Larry Crabb, Connecting: Healing for Ourselves and Our Relationships P.45).
Every normal person wants to be loved and cherished. That is the "deepest urge in every human heart." Sometimes because of hurt, shame and fear, people hide that deepest urge under walls of complaining, criticizing and condemning. But, we can’t allow them to keep those walls up. Love and patience offer hope to bring those walls down.
2) Listen to the complainer, critic or conniver
A good friend of mine, an elder for a number of years, shared another important idea with me about how to help people who are playing disruptive roles in the church. He says to listen to them. Get to know them and simply let them tell their story.
A wonderful family began attending his congregation and was involved in helping others and conducting Bible studies. But, the man also became vocal and critical about how he thought things should be handled differently at church. The eldership met with the individual and asked to better understand his concerns. As the conversation developed, it became increasingly obvious that he was unaware of the negative impact he was casting over those with whom he came in contact. One thing that helped the elders understand the man’s style was to learn of his military background. As an officer he was often required to be a maverick, including during action in Viet Nam. He often had to use a confrontational style to motivate his troops. The former officer took that perception and leadership style to church with him.
The elder said that part of the man’s reason for complaining and criticizing was his perception of what was required to get things done. He nearly broke down when the elders shared how others were taking his actions, despite his good intentions. The elder’s posture toward him was one of love. They listened to his story and offered feedback on how he was being perceived. The brother listened and gradually started to modify his behavior.
3) Honest confrontation.
Honest confrontation involves teaching, rebuking and more teaching.
Ideally, we should be teaching positive lessons about appropriate Christian behavior all the time. This lays the basis for rebuking that may need to follow later.
Rebuking is simply confronting a person with his or her behavior. We naturally recoil from doing this. I’ve heard many people say they won’t do that because it doesn’t do any good. Too often they have seen failure come from confronting people with their behavior. I’ve seen a lot of negative results, too, but I’ve also seen some good. Maybe the reason we don’t see more good is because we don’t do enough confronting.
The best people to confront are those who don’t want to do it. Some people love to confront. I’m leery of them doing it. In a rebuke situation they may be too confrontational and harsh. You want someone who will be gentle and caring. This is not a battle to be won; it is a brother to be won. A guiding verse could be Galatians 6:1, "Brothers, is someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." One of the temptations we face in a confronting situation is making it a "us against them" situation. We are dealing with the Lord’s body. 1 Cor. 3:17 says, "If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple." We must make sure that we feed and build the temple, even under trying circumstances, and not fracture it.
Some more on the Susan story: none of the ladies stood up to Susan. Several of them responded to her complaints by complaining about her, but none of them confronted her and said, "Susan, stop it. We are sorry that our Bible class and service project arrangement does not meet your schedule, but that does not give you the right to disrupt everyone else." The male leadership of the church did not confront Susan, either. They let her complain and criticize and kill a good work.
Will Willimon listened repeatedly to a woman’s complaints about feeling down and depressed. One day he apologized to her for treating her as if she were ill. "You have a ½ million dollar home. You live in a wonderful town. Yet this doesn’t appear to be enough. Why would you want more?" Willimon said after that he had a wonderful conversation with her and expected a more abundant life for her" (Will Willimon, Pastor, pp.92-3). Effective confrontation and rebuke can and should be gentle and caring.
4) Walls of strength
Church members need to be taught to stand together and not reward disruptive behavior. Disruptive behavior, such as complaining, criticizing and complaining, are rewarded when we give it too much attention, especially when we listen to it and go along with it.
Even if members have legitimate complaints against elders, the educational program, or the order of service, there are appropriate ways of expressing their concerns. Speaking directly to the people they have ought against is the first step.
Ignoring the complainer might work for the occasional complaint. But if it is flagrant, ignoring often will not work. Trying too hard to be nice and keep the peace "gives lots of leverage, sometimes complete control, to those hard-nosed people willing to make a public scene. The group usually gives them extra space, which translates into power ..." (Well-Intentioned Dragons, P.67)
Briefly, there are two levels in which we can engage disruptive behavior. The first level is individual. The individual complainer, critic or conniver can be dealt with on an individual level. But, if left unattended, one individual’s actions can spread and become a group effort. It can become systemic. That means the spirit of rebellion has spread throughout the church body and has infected a larger number of people. According to Shawchuck & Heuser in Managing the Congregation, when that happens, the leaders must try to isolate the dissatisfied members with walls of strength. This is the second level of involvement. Those walls of strength are members who are taught and mentored by the leaders to resist being drawn into the systemic tempest.
The best way to serve the disruptive, and the entire church, is to follow the advice of Marshall Shelley in Well-Intentioned Dragons: "Concentrate on developing a healthy church" ( P.83). That is easier said than done! But below are some theological principles and organizational plans to help a church develop health, do kingdom work, and monitor dissatisfaction.
An example of how to structure for a healthy church is found in the book Managing the Congregation. The authors present a model to help transform the system. The model addresses the four necessary components of a healthy functioning church. The components are:
Answers the questions, Who are We? What is our business? How do we get it done?
2) Organization Design
Opportunity for every member to be involved
3) Spirituality / Vision
Ministering like Jesus
(From Shawchuck & Heuser, Managing the Congregation)
Of course, every aspect of ministry and work, from teaching, building, confronting and working to build a healthy system must be bathed in prayer.