Church Dysfunction – Whose Fault Is It?

I had lunch with a pastor-friend yesterday. Same conversation. Different pastor. I can’t begin to count how many times I have talked with pastors who are frustrated with people in their congregations. Many, I am told, are unwilling to be led, create unnecessary problems, or simply lack motivation to do anything for God. At the same time, since I don’t pastor a church, I also have ample opportunity to hear church attenders—or former church attenders—express their frustration with the way churches are led.

So who is right and who is wrong? From my perspective, both groups are right. Sadly, both groups are also wrong. And playing the “blame game” only contributes to our misery. Nothing will ever change as long as each is convinced that the other is the sole source of the problem.

Doing my best to be objective, I’d like to provide a brief critique of each group, beginning with the typical Christian. There’s much more that could be said, but it takes only 3 points to provide the essence of what I want to communicate.

  1. People are, by nature, selfish and prideful. We inherently expect everything to revolve around us and for things to be done the way that we want them to be done.
  2. The expectations we place on our leaders are often unreasonable. We’re all looking for flash and glitter. Only smooth speakers and charismatic preachers are worthy of our attention. On top of that, leaders must be perfect in their behavior, have perfect families, and meet every imaginable need in the church.
  3. We’re much quicker to complain than we are to pray. I can’t help but wonder if more sustained prayer on the part of the people would result in more power from the pulpit.
photo credit: andreaslindmark via photopin cc
photo credit: andreaslindmark via photopin cc

The other side of the coin deals with the failure of pastors and other church leaders. And to be honest, there are plenty of horror stories to go around. Just last week, I spoke with a couple who had once been shunned by a church. The pastor didn’t like an attitude that he saw in them so he told the entire congregation to avoid them. Sadly, no one ever told the couple that they were being shunned or why. Imagine their bewilderment when every person they tried to talk to at the church picnic walked away for no apparent reason. All it takes is one such twisted experience to sour a person for life toward any form of organized religion.

There’s no question—leading people can be an overwhelming experience. Still, the very nature of leadership demands that we dig deeper in our efforts to touch human lives and advance God’s kingdom. Is the average person beyond hope? Those who think so have no business serving as Christian leaders. And if people are not beyond hope? Then it falls upon leaders to seek God for the wisdom to lead their people effectively.

Every time I think about this issue, I flash back to a scene from Remember the Titans. (Click here to see the clip.) Defensive captain Gerry Bertier is arguing with another player, Julius Campbell, who isn’t living up to his potential. What is Campbell’s response? The attitude of the players is a reflection of the team leaders. The words are painful for Bertier to receive, but that poignant moment causes him to get painfully honest and to dig deeper for answers to the team’s problems.

photo credit: Spacemanbobby via photopin cc
photo credit: Spacemanbobby via photopin cc

Remember the Titans is only a movie. I understand that. But there is truth in this scene. As a Christian leader, I realize that I am not responsible for everybody’s individual actions. Nor can I expect to have a 100% success rate in my leadership efforts. At the same time, I can’t help but realize the amazing potential of Christianity—even in our day and culture. Yes, we can make a huge difference in our world for Christ but we must learn to dig deeper, looking to our heavenly Father for the wisdom to effectively do what He has called us to do.

God still has good plans for this generation. I suspect that He’s more than willing to let us in on His secrets if only we’d make more of an effort to seek Him first for in our ministry efforts.