Before addressing Christians' relations with those outside the church, we must do, what my mother called, "home training," by exploring how we interact with our church family and within ourselves.
The greatest conflicts within a church occur when change is considered. Budget cuts, new technology, downsizing, reassigned staff all have potential negative impact.
We must embrace Jesus' reminder that "a house divided among itself cannot stand," by reflecting which of the following scenarios below may occur in ministry meetings, small groups, prayer circles, sanctuary pews, in email or all of the above.
These ideas are designed for self-evaluation in thought and behavior.
1. Take Inventory: Whose Ministry Is It, Anyway?
The greatest conflicts within a church occur when change is considered. Budget cuts, new technology, downsizing, reassigned staff all have potential negative impact. Protectionism and perceptions kick in. We become protective of the place we're serving.
Take inventory: Have you ever used the phrase "my ministry?" Has "your ministry" come up in an email conversation? When a worship presenter has a style of clothing you dislike, how do you respond? What are the things in your building that get your choir robe in a bunch? Brainstorm a list and ask why this is bothersome.
How does the general public or your own congregation refer to the church where you serve? Is it God's church? Or Pastor So-and-So's church? Any of these ideas seem familiar? None? Brainstorm what gets your choir robe in a bunch. Either way, check your altar ego at the door.
2. Laugh At Yourself, Because Others Probably Already Are
Christians are often most humorless (rather find humor less) when teased by nonbelievers. "They're making fun of God," we say. However, be honest: Are they making fun of Christians, or are they making fun of the behavior of people who say they are Christians, but whose behavior is not like Christ? Consider, for example, Dana Carvey's popular "Church Lady" from Saturday Night Live. Carvey says The Church Lady was based on women he knew in the church where he was reared: Their dress, their mannerisms, even her catch phrase, "Isn't that special?" Similarly, viewing "Rev. Lovejoy" on "The Simpsons" or any number of preachers portrayed by Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Brown you'll see a semblance of accuracy in the rhythms and intonations.
What is truth? Sometimes painful.
3. Laugh At Yourself So Others Laugh With You
Author George Bernard Shaw opined, "When you find a thing funny, look for a hidden truth." "Truthiness" in humor, as talk show host Stephen Colbert says, is a reason jesters, political cartoonists, satirical writers are popular and sometimes dangerous.
The problem with other people laughing at Christians is that they beat us to it. It's safer to keep it in-house, which is why cartoons in bulletins and newsletters or bulletin typos are more acceptable, even though they may make many of the same points at The Church Lady. It's why we invite a Michael Jr. to speak, show videos by The Skit Guys, or don't get huffy when Garrison Keillor has fun with Lutheran behavior on "Prairie Home Companion." It's why one of the most widely read Christian humorists on Twitter is The Church Curmudgeon, an equal-opportunity denomination satirist.
If someone teases about Christian behavior you don't like change it. It's part of being born again. Read 2 Corinthians 5:17.
4. Remember God's Grace and Extend Some
We forget the grace of Calvary, that our salvation is the gift of God that no one shall boast. So, we often fail to extend that grace to others those who do not believe (yet) in Christ as we do, and to those who do embrace Christ, but perhaps not the same way their age, culture, or denomination may be stumbling blocks. Points of criticism. In churches, humor is more deeply confined because we forget a principal element of Christian faith: all sin and fall short of God's glory.
Our congregations are communities of people from various backgrounds, cultures, family upbringings. We are accustomed to resolving conflicts as we were taught, and often that may have been badly. We resort to human nature. Our sin nature. We bring that baggage into church ministry and must learn a new language: the language of Christ.
5. Digest Your Spiritual Fruit
Nutritionists say a high-fiber diet helps eliminate waste. Fruit is a natural source of fiber. They say that increasing your fruit intake will improve your health. Is it a leap to wonder if a high-fiber diet of the fruit of the Spirit will eliminate spiritual waste?
Commit to living by the Fruit of the Spirit.
"Joy" is listed second among the Fruits of The Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). There are more than 200 verses that speak of "joy," 57 in the Psalms which tell us repeatedly to serve, sing and worship The Lord with joy. Joy is reflected in our expressions and should be readily seen when we serve, sing and worship.
In your next corporate worship setting, take a look at congregation: Does it reflect salt and light, or Mount Rushmore? Must you exhort enthusiasm like pastor who asked his congregation: "If you're joyful in your heart, have your heart tell your face!"
Leslie Fields, asking what's happened to humor among Christians, shared her colleagues' observations that "Christian readers are grave and grim." To borrow from Jesus' brother James, "brothers and sisters, this should not be," especially if we truly believe in the power of Christ's death and resurrection and His ultimate triumph.
When You Call Him "Lord," Smile
With so many things going badly in our world, there's a lot of talk about whether or not we're in the end times. Friends ask, "Where is God?" cynically and sincerely. Where do we find comfort? My best response is always to scour the words of Christ.
Lately I've been reading the gospel according to Mark. As you know some of Mark was lost, but this fragment came to me and while I'm fact-checking on WikiGospel, I thought I'd share for your insight:
"Jesus sent the disciples to walk the roads and gave these instructions, "When you come to a village that will not accept you, knock the dust off your feet and move on." Peter being Peter had to retort and ask, Why must we knock the dust off our shoes? The road is hard." The Master replied, "These are times that try men's soles."
That groaning is prayers of the Holy Spirit. Walk in the light.