I have always said that whenever you get a group of humans together, even a group of Christian humans, you are going to have some manipulation and struggles for control, as well as hurt pride and hurt feelings. From a group of kindergartners to a group of co-workers, humans tend to have power struggles between each other, even if they are so subtle they are never voiced.
But in the Christian church, it seems, power struggles get far more virulent and dangerous to the community than in any other place. When people try to control the church’s direction, worship style, outreach, activities, and even decorations, worship itself gets lost in the confusion, and it can split the church apart before any of the members are truly aware of what’s happened.
Where Good Intentions Become Manipulation/Control: A Handy Chart
I am not saying that church members should not be active in the church, doing things for the church, etc. What I am advising against here is church members saying, “Hey, you do things my way, or I’m taking my tithe elsewhere.” Many times, actions and behavior that start out well-intentioned become manipulative and controlling–here’s a few examples:
|Suggesting a new style of worship music to be integrated with the current choices||Demanding that a new style of worship music be put in place of the old|
|Offering to decorate the church display tables/altar/choir loft/etc.||Refusing to heed anyone else’s ideas about decorations because it’s “your” ministry|
|Coming to the business meetings to learn what needs to be done||Turning the business meeting into a theater for your ideas and yours alone|
|Meeting with the pastor to discuss a part of last week’s sermon you found distressing||Firing off hateful emails to the pastor about the sermon last week|
|Politely disagreeing with a music style choice||Threatening to leave the church if the offending music is not changed|
|Expressing well-reasoned doubts about a new, experimental ministry||Talking spitefully about the experimental ministry getting in the way of your work|
|Discussing funding for all church programs||Demanding that the programs you’re involved in get the most funding|
|Expressing thoughtful concern about the length of the worship service||Complaining (loudly) that the service always lets out too late for you to get to your favorite restaurant|
Those who Try to Control the Church Are Never Happy
It’s important to realize that people who try to control the church are actually missing out. They miss out on their own true worship by fretting and worrying over the church’s organization; by the same token, they make worship nearly impossible for others by being so specific in their “needs.” They are so concerned with making everything “just so” that they end up unhappy that everything can’t be “just so.”
Not only that, people who try to control the church are actually pretending their word and authority goes before God’s on earth. When you try to control everything that a church does just to suit your own needs, the church becomes significantly less about God and more about you. In fact, some churches can end up inadvertently worshipping their wealthiest/most influential members, instead of God. (I’ve seen it happen…more times than I wish.)
This kind of controlling and manipulating behavior is one reason people have begun to draw away from the church, citing that they “hate religion.” (See: the viral Youtube video on that very subject.) When we start worshipping other people’s interests, wants, and needs rather than focusing on God, the whole point of the earthly church is lost.
Compassion and Compromise: The Secret to a Great Church Family Relationship
I believe that compromise, compassion, and understanding is how churches truly function best. Though my church is certainly not free of these human problems, I have been lucky to not feel factions and church politics intruding on my worship and praise. I chose my current church specifically because I felt God moving in it, felt Him working and using the church to do what needed to be done in the wider community. Though we are now going through a little rough patch, I know that the members are still the same good folk I knew when I first joined, and I know God has this under control.
When we use calm discussion, good sense, and humility in dealing with fellow Christians, church problems just seem to dissolve away rather than sit and rankle in our hearts. Realizing that it’s not “all about us,” but rather “all about Jesus,” is a powerful reminder that what we want isn’t as important as praising God. When we put aside the desire for more power, more prestige, more accomplishment, and more pride, God can come into our lives and start doing marvelous works.
One of the leaders of the church said in a recent meeting, “Don’t join a church attempting to change it; join it because it feels like the place God wants you to be.” I think that’s the takeaway message here. Don’t change your particular church to be something that panders to you and only you, and don’t threaten others with taking “influence” and “tithes” elsewhere; instead, be as Christlike, compassionate and forgiving, as you can be. That’s what Christianity is about, isn’t it?