When Church is Messy

In the past four months, two men on senior staff at my church have resigned.  By all accounts, these men love the Lord, His Word, and His Church with their whole beings.  Yet, on separate occasions, each man stood before the congregation and announced his decision to step down, but neither man said why.  Both times the congregation was left to draw its own conclusions.  And people rarely conclude anything positive in these situations. In fact, most of us assume the worst and lack the discipline to not contribute to the various conspiracy theories that are circulating.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I respond to these kinds of sudden, mysterious changes in leadership at my church with anger, bitterness, and skepticism.  I don’t like tangible proof that forces me to acknowledge that the Church is messy.  My church.  Your church.  The Church universal.  I like to operate as if the Church can and should be perfect and blameless.  I hold the Church to a higher standard.  If a problem arises, mature Christians ought to solve them lovingly each and every time.  It doesn’t matter what the issue is, if the people love the Lord and are submitted to Him, my heart says there should never be division.

The problem with that perspective, though, is it fails to take into account that Christians are just as fallen as everybody else.  We are just as prone to giving in to our sinful tendencies as the rest of the world.  We don’t always see the truth; we don’t always act lovingly; we don’t always choose to obey the Lord in every situation.  We rebel.  We choose self over Christ.  We dig our heels in when we think we are right, no matter the cost.  We also often misunderstand the Scriptures and unintentionally misinterpret the Lord’s will.  Our imperfect thinking and our naturally unruly hearts result in pain and strife more often than Christians want to admit.

It is no wonder, then, that the Church is messy.  As much as I want the Church to be perfect, it never will be this side of Heaven.  So what are we to do with that?  I am thinking we have to find a way to live that shows an unbelieving world that, despite our screw ups, we still have something they desperately need.

We have to highlight the fact that when Church is messy, it’s not because the God of that Church slacked off or made a mistake or isn’t as good/powerful as the people of the Church claim.  Church is messy because it is full of broken people.  Just like the world.  The world is messy because it is full of broken people.  When churches fight, divide, collapse, or otherwise stumble, they are illustrating in bright, bold colors how desperately they need a savior!  After all, if the Church, full of God’s people, can’t get it right, for crying out loud, who can?

The answer is no one.  The Bible says, “There is no one who is righteous…All have turned away, and they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good” (Romans 3:10-12).  But, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly [read: all of us!]…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” reconciling us to Himself, saving us from the mess we insist on creating (Romans 5:6-8).

It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong in my church’s situation.  What matters is that we remember this truth: WE NEED THE LORD!  We are fully incapable of “doing church well” without Him.  He is our source of truth, peace, and power.  Without Him, all our works are rubbish (Philippians 3:8-9). If we want to overcome our sinful selves, we need, “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Philippians 3:20).

He can do more than I can imagine….  I am imagining a Church that isn’t messy.  He can do more…  He can make a Church that is clean (Revelation 21:1-4).


17 thoughts on “When Church is Messy

  1. I'm a little confused here. They resigned. They don't owe anyone a reason as to why. So how does this lead into the church being messy?

  2. I know that this is a reflection of a concern about our church specifically, but it is also a concern about the general principle of unity in churches and how we often fail to achieve it. It saddens me that this is the case and I want to see the church universal do better in this area. Thanks for the challenge.

  3. Kelly, right or wrong, the resignation of leaders without explanation breeds confusion, skepticism, distrust, sadness, and hurt, among other things. All of those combined = messy in my book.

  4. According to whom? Sounds like an opinion to me.I completely agree with your assessment of the church. However, I just think it's in bad taste to link what you're saying in a public forum to the resignation of two people. That is what leads to confusion, skepticism, distrust, and all the other things.That being said, I'm sure the church is more than willing to talk about things for those that call and ask.

  5. These things happen according to human nature. It's a general principle. There may be an optimist here or there, but, in general, this principle holds true.As far as me using poor judgment, I was careful not to take a side on the resignations of these men, both of whom I have the utmost respect for. After all, no explanation was given by them or the remaining leaders of our church, so I have no info with which to make an informed decision on who is right and who is wrong. My commentary on the situation has nothing to do with these specific men. It has to do with conflict and disunity in the church as a reflection of our need for the Lord. For what it's worth, I have tried to talk to the church about both resignations. The message I received both times was vague and indicative that the real issues are not to be revealed to the general congregation. In fairness, I would not want to be the one that had to decide how much to say, how much to hide, and how to do so without creating division. Church government is complicated, and I don't pretend to have the answers.

  6. Yes – I agree church/life is messy. I wonder though if it is our desire to "know" that causes disunity. I think I agree with Mr. McGoo – in resignation a full explanation is not required. If there were problems, that's when I think of the church like a marriage. I know this may be a stretch of sorts, but if 'in marriage' you are struggling – it is not uncommon to disclose limited information as not to defame the other person. This is an action of love and respect. I say kuddos to the church for choosing to love and respect those leaving and those staying. Ultimately, no matter how much is shared won't pacify the masses… we are a nosey bunch us humans. Myself included. :-/

  7. While both arguments here have merit, unfortunately, the recent history of our church would indicate something is wrong. It also indicates that it could affect how my church leads me spiritually. That's my uneasyness with all of this. From pastors closed door meetings, to being told our church is moving, to having a college leaving in the middle of the night, to dwindling church membership because of lack of direction of said move, to improprieties involving the senior pastor, to a worship leader leaving to follow said pastor, to uncontrolled debt, etc… This is not airing and dirty laundry. It even made its way to local papers. While Kelly's opinion may be considered just that, it's all too close of the thoughts of most of the congregation because of what we have been through as a body. When there's chatter on Sunday morning, the messy begins.When these things start messing with how my church is leading me spiritually, I have little patience and my discernment meter starts beeping that something ain't right.No I don't care the reason. I'm not accusing anyone of lying by any stretch. But I will say just don't lie to me. I can take anything but a lie. Can't help but think this is just like marriage that Amy talked about. However, in a marriage, there is a spiritual leader that leads, admits fault, and reconciles with the other. Our church does a poor job of step two. As a senior leader of our church once told me, "The days of secrecy are over." I've yet to see that.

  8. Again, I am not opposed to being concerned about it, but I don't think an explanation is needed at the pulpit. "My commentary on the situation has nothing to do with these specific men. It has to do with conflict and disunity in the church as a reflection of our need for the Lord."I think some of what I am saying is lost in translation, but with the said quote above, why not just speak in generalities? I think you did a great job of doing so with almost all of the blogpost. However, my question is, why create, in a public forum, an unnecessary amount of focus on this matter when you could have easily just used generalities and made a clear point? I hope I'm being clear, because I don't want to come across overly negative. I guess what I'm saying is that as you think it is poor form for them to resign without explanation, I think it's in poor form you chose a public forum to voice your displeasure because of the potential to create more issues than there might be. All that being said, it's your blog and you're entitled to it. We'll just agree to disagree. I'll shut up now 🙂

  9. Elian – we all have to follow God's leading. Even if it is hard. We left several years ago, and some of this was the reason – but there were other variables at play. In the end, though, whether we stayed or went was up to God and I still believe that leaving was God's will for us. It is hard in marriage and in church membership to separate emotion from God's leading, and act not based on feelings but on the discernment and wisdom that God has given you. I am sorry you guys are going through this and – unfortunately – it is EVERYWHERE! We were attending a church that changed pastors three times in one year!! Add dwindling membership, no money and not being able to pay the bills… But in the end, we left because we believe God wanted us to. I will be praying for all of you who have been affected by this. It breaks my heart.

  10. I believe the debate that has begun is more in line with should this discussion (not that of a messy, need for GRACE, run by humans church… because that is right on) be posted in a public forum for all to see that possibly leads to the promotion of skepticism about a specific church and body from those that might not have been already aware, knowledgeable, or skeptic on their own?I'm not suggesting that we choose to ignore concern or reality or some of the emotions that people might feel inside like the ones Kelly has suggested… However just like I believe as Christians we are called to argue/debate/discuss deep theology differences only with other solid believers and not in the presence of non believers or baby believers that could be hindered or sidetracked by the healthy debate, shouldnt church politics be the same type thing? Just food for thought and kind of what my heart is saying as I read all this… just made me a little uneasy for some reason.But like I said… the portion AFTER discussing and pinpointing a specific church and body is RIGHT ON, praise God for His Grace! Saved by Grace alone!

  11. I find it disheartening. All of it. Disheartened that this is asubject that needs to be discussed. Disheartened that it could be considered off limits. Disheartened that there is "politics" at church. Isn't church where we go to get away from that junk? Why do we let disunity permeate the doors of Holy Ground. Just a shame.

  12. I appreciate the comments and perspectives you've all offered. Heather's idea that church politics should only be discussed in closed settings amongst mature believers is an interesting one. I am torn, actually. While I can see that immature believers might be confused or put off by this discussion, I also feel a responsibility to talk openly, transparently, and frankly about issues that directly affect our faith. If someone less connected to our body read this post and thought, "Wow, Central Church must be having some problems!", honestly, how far off would they be? We ARE having some problems. Just like every other church in the world. And THAT is the point of this post. The Church can't be what it is supposed to be without total reliance upon the supernatural intervention of the Lord. And, as an after thought, in the future, how will those outside Central Church (and inside, for that matter) fully grasp all the Lord has done in and for us if they were never let in on the messy stuff of the past? I believe that is called a testimony. And testimonies are messy.

  13. In response to whether or not we should discuss the difficult issues of Christianity for the fear that young believers will be disheartened, made skeptical, etc. … Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?" He rebuked and challenged the church OPENLY – not behind closed doors. Heck, we have his letters now that we as young or mature believers can read. I know Kelly's heart and it wasn't one of creating discention, but, rather one of expressing her hurt and frustration with the situation – her desire for something more. And while this is a public forum, it is Kelly's forum. The great thing about the internet is that you can track who visits your site and Kelly had forknowledge as to the type of people who read her blog – namely Christians that she knows. So, she knew her audience.And – just food for thought – if members of a church can't bring into question the actions of the leaders of the church, doesn't that lead to disunity, confusion and discention? Just a thought. 🙂

  14. Well said, Slappy Dunbar! :-)I'm coming into this discussion late…maybe by the time everyone else wished it would've already stopped…but I gotta chime in a little…Kelly (the boy one) – no offense intended, but I gotta respectfully disagree. I don't think there's anything inappropriate about having this discussion in public. I love it. i think we need more of it…more reality based conversation, out in the open like this, kicking around the real world stuff we're challenged with, even if it exposes our own warts.Kelly (the girl one) – for what it's worth, I believe you shared your feelings and concern in a completely healthy manner. You were careful not to be negative or destructive…you were vulnerable, open and honest about what you're feeling and wrestling with. Clearly your goal wasn't to cause division or disunity. I for one find it incredibly refreshing.Frankly I think that's what I found personally challenging about the way it all went down from the pulpit. I agree that Sunday morning's certainly not the place to air whatever laundry there may be contributing to all this…but I'm frustrated that the other extreme (acting like nothing's wrong at all) seems to be the only other option considered…I think a third viable option — (dare I say a healthier one?) — could be a little more openness that, yes, the church leadership is wrestling with some stuff… you don't have to be specific and give details…but just exposing the concept to the light that "Yes, we got some issues we're all working prayerfully through together" …that much transparency would go a heck of a long way in my book.If we want to stick with the marriage/family comparison, I've never agreed with how some parents (mine included) always feel like they should shelter their kids from ever knowing when family struggles are afoot…be they financial, health, stress, work, or whatever. My parents always tried to keep quiet about stuff like that…they're motives were good…they wanted to shelter me from what they thought might damage my childhood calm. But what it did instead was model secrecy, a lack of authenticity and vulnerability…and teach me that it's somehow wrong to be real about life's honest struggles.My approach as a parent is to be real with my kids. No, I don't tell them about every little argument kara and i have…or about our most intimate stuff…but if we're struggling financially, i want them to know about it, and have the chance to see how we work through it together. when we (kara and i) make mistakes…or forget to trust God with something…or just plain screw up…we want them to see it, and let God use that to foster vulnerability and authenticity in them.OK, I'm not going to proof read this. I gotta get back to work and it's entirely possible some of this may not come off perfectly. But I'm outta time…just felt i needed to get a little of that off my chest.

  15. I think this conversation kind of proves the title 🙂 Perhaps we are too distrusting, perhaps we put our leaders on too high a pedestal and don't show enough grace when they do surprising things. But I have to agree that when you put yourself in leadership, regardless of the organization, you make promises to the people you are leading. Of course you can step down from that leadership with absolute grace and impunity. But to do so without any kind of explanation is hurtful. It essentially says that you have no obligation to explain abrupt or surprising actions to the people you were leading.In the church this is even more extreme because you aren't just an organization, you are a family, no, you are a single body. You have to recognize how your actions effect the rest of the body. You don't answer to them, and you don't have to be subject to them, but you do have to love and treat them with grace just as they have to love you and treat you with grace.Privacy is not necessarily a bad thing, but the fact that we feel the need to preserve privacy from our church family I wonder about how loving and accepting we are being of one another. This goes for every church family including mine.Great discussion!

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