This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck : Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme . 1 Tim 1:18-20
Church life can be rather perilous, apparently. If you're not careful, you can go from being a vibrant active part of a local church to being a bitter shipwreck who lives to shipwreck others. You'll be one of those "used to" Christians that we run into so often when we're door knocking. Something or somebody knocked them out of the race and for whatever reason they never recovered. Some of these people look for somebody to blame, and find an easy villain in their pastor, or their denomination, or the guy in the pew in front of them. In fact, there are actually websites dedicated to this very thing. One in particular that I look at from time to time (out of some curiosity as to which one of my friends they are slandering this week), is populated by people who left my particular flavor of Christianity, and though they claim to be happier now than they were before, their days are now filled with scouring the internet for former friends of theirs and ministries to criticize. They take everybody who is still trying to do right, and pick them to pieces while feeding off each others critical spirit. No flaw or shortcoming is below their notice.This is not the pastime of a happy person; this is the pastime of a biter shipwreck.
I have been at our current church for almost 12 years. I have seen backbiting and infighting. I have seen critical spirits, and I have seen hypocrisy. But yet her ewe are, still doing our best to keep our hearts close to God and serve in the local assembly. Recently, someone who was struggling with their own bitterness over some legitimate issues asked me how I had done it without becoming a shipwreck. I basically boiled it down to three things, none of which are particularly profound.
The Bible says in Galatians 5:3 "For, brethren, ye have been called unto
liberty; only use not liberty for
an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." I read somewhere a great analogy that most people treat church as a restaurant. When you go to a restaurant, you come there hungry, expecting to be fed. Furthermore, you expect to be catered to. You expect that a variety of choices will be presented to you. from that a variety of choices you will pick what you want, and then when it is brought to you, you are then free to pass judgment on what was presented to you. If you are unhappy with any facet of that, you can justify taking your business elsewhere. The author of this superb analogy went on to say that church isn't a restaurant; it's a cooking school. The local assembly is a place where you learn to minister to others. The only way you can effectively do this is if you feed yourself before you get there. If you are relying on your pastor to do all your Bible reading, or all your praying, or all your witnessing, you are a starving Christian, and starving people are cranky. Starving people don't survive long unless they address that condition. I am at my church to serve, not to be served.
If I may delve into the personal for just a moment, here, all 4 of my children were born at my current church. My wife received no baby showers from the ladies at the church. I think my wife may be alone in that statistic. Nobody even offered, even as a huge fuss was made over some of the other ladies. some of whom received multiple showers. Now my youngest is 5, so we are a few more miles down the road, but that was a source of pain for my wife for a very long time. Years actually. It was hard to convince herself that people cared when that slight was going on , not just one time, but every time. My tasking at the time was to try to guard my wife's heart and not let it grow bitter. I tried to remind her that we are there to serve, not to be served. Ultimately, it was my wife's own spiritual maturity that saw her through that.
In Colossians 3:12-24, the Bible says "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved ,
bowels of mercies, kindness,
humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one
another, and forgiving one another, if
any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do
ye." I'm not sure if you realize this, but you go to church with some horribly flawed people. I mean, the guy in front of you doesn't treat his wife the way he should, and that young couple in the back has yet to figure out how to properly discipline their child. That guy a few rows over has some just plain weird ideas about the Bible. There are drama queens and hypocrites, loudmouths and sociopaths. You couldn't find a more messed up bunch of rejects and nutcases if you tried. God, in his wisdom, binds us all together by the common cause of Christ and then uses these horrible flawed people to teach us to live with one another. The secret to surviving the local church is this; forgiveness.
As an aside, this includes your pastor, who may be the most issue-ridden one of the bunch. Over the years at my current church, my pastor has crossed the line with me and my family more than once. He has said things from the pulpit that are goofy, doctrinally suspect, or just plain wrong. He has taken liberties I did not give him. Time would fail me to tell you of the times I have sat there and went 'Did he just say what I think he said?'. When it was all over, I took what he said, filtered it through what I know to be true about him, and forgave him for being as messed up as me. I am not obligated to follow a man into heresy, and I am not obligated to follow a man into foolishness, but I am obligated to forgive him his humanity, and his imperfect attempts to serve God and lead a group of people that frankly, nobody else wants.
In fact, according to 2 Cor 2:5-11, the unforgiveness of the brethren seems to be one of the devices of the adversary. Intersting, isn't it?
Finally, the Bible says, in 2 Thess 3:11-2 "For we hear that there are some
which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies . Now them that are such we
command and exhort by our Lord Jesus
Christ, that with quietness they work , and eat their own bread." Unfortunately, we live in the Facebook age in our churches, and everybody knows everything about everybody else. We know that so and so had a birthday party and we wonder why we weren't invited. We wonder why nobody 'likes' the posts we put up while other people seem to get flooded with attention when they announce what they had for breakfast. So here's my advice; knock it off. Get busy. There is a world dying and going to hell out there and we cannot afford to indulge in our own self-pity or own own propensity for introspection. Honestly, if you and I go to church together, I already see you 3 or 4 times a week, and that's plenty. I have a wife, 4 kids, a Sunday school class, a ministry, some chickens, a horse, and a hundred unfinished projects. I don't have time to get involved in everybody else's business, and neither do you. If you covet my prayers, please ask, but I don't think you really want or really need me to hold your hand while you contemplate your own belly button. I'm not that good a fellowship anyway, and if I got invited to everything that everybody had going on, I'd get even less done.
Oh , one more point, that I don't really have a scripture on. Outlast the mean people. Every church has them, and if you ignore them long enough, they either repent or move on. Trust me on this one. Make your forehead like flint, and serve God and one day you'll realize that the braying jackass has left the building.