Thursday, May 12, 2016

When Church Strife Makes You Worry About Your Witness

Original Images from Pixabay. (There are two.)

In the last couple of months, we have had some significant conflict among our church-going friends and their families. I don't want to go into detail here, but these events have been a big deal. They have been a big deal in my life, in my husband's life, in the lives of all of our family... but we've been very careful about sharing them with friends.

Why is that?

In a word: scandal.

We do not want to create scandal for our friends who do not believe. They have enough of their own reasons for not going to church without adding the hurts we've gathered over the last few months to their lists.

We were conversing with my brother-in-law - Jamie - recently, and I mentioned this, inasmuch as we have avoided talking about "the drama" with a mutual friend who we all hang out with regularly.

"We were concerned about what kind of witness it gives to him," I said.

Jamie quite disagreed. "He needs to see that Christians don't have perfect lives and don't pretend to have them," he said. "He needs to see that we're real people with real problems, who have real sins to deal with, and that those sins have real consequences for our lives."

This got me thinking. There is a lot of merit to what Jamie said - the example of a Christian life lived well in the midst of troubles is important. It's important that people who don't believe see the presence and effects of grace in times of trouble. What makes a Christian undergo trials differently?

These things have to be seen - experienced in a way - to be really believed.

However there are times when sharing can be counterproductive. You don't want to tell a friend who is not a Christian (but who you hope will be one day) the regrettable details of how your fellow Christians failed to live their faith fully as it applied to you.

For many people, you and your account of the Church in your life will be the only Bible that they ever see. How will they come to know Christ through you? It's important to put our best foot forward toward that end, and it is important to let them see the extraordinary action of grace under fire.

It's a narrow line to walk. You want to show that the Christian life isn't always perfect but that it can be lived well under non-ideal conditions, but you don't want to do so in a way that will push further away someone who is already holding God at arm's length.

Before you start talking, consider a few important points:

Ask the all-important question: Will this knowledge bring my unbelieving friend closer to Christ?
Not every fact needs to be shared. Sometimes it just doesn't need to be shared by you. As my husband's grandmother has said, "Total honesty is a crock."

Before you pour out your heart to your friend about whatever the latest drama is at church and who's mad at who and why and what's really got you goat in the parish hall right now, ask yourself the all-important question.
If my friend knew [whatever it is I am about to say] would they be more or less likely to come to Christ?
It may be that the person you're considering sharing with has a right or a reason to know. That's fine. If that's the case...

...wait until you aren't raw.
Let them know what happened - in a way that you control. In particular so that you can control yourself.

Don't let the conversation go too long - it becomes easy to allow yourself to vent, and you don't want to process your grief over the failures of believers with nonbelievers. This puts them in a position to feel like they knew it the whole time: Nobody hates like church people.
As I said, these events are still somewhat raw in my life and the lives of my family, and so we are still being very judicious about sharing. In the last few months, we've watched a few people with authority in a church misuse that authority to great harm.

Therein is the crux of the matter. It's a few people who have hurt us, but those few do exist, and their regrettable actions will give all Christians a bad name, if we don't think first before before we share about what happened - and with whom, and how.

We want our friends who are not believers to come to faith, and when we have strife with other believers, the things we say outside the church regarding that strife matters.

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