How Can I Help Fearful Members and Dismissive Members Get Along?
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Every pastor knows the old adage—you can’t please everyone. That’s certainly true when it comes to deciding when to begin meeting again for corporate worship in the midst of a global pandemic.
If you’ll permit me to generalize, I think it is likely that 80 percent of the members in your church understand that there is no clear-cut answer to this question. They know there are good arguments on both sides, and are willing to submit to whatever you and your fellow elders prayerfully decide is best for the church.
But among the rest, 10 percent don’t believe you should have stopped gathering for worship in the first place, and 10 percent can’t believe you’re even thinking about resuming corporate worship anytime soon. Here is my counsel for shepherding the vocal minority:
- Model listening first, speaking second. The Apostle James teaches us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (Jas. 1:19). Unfortunately, our sinful hearts have been provoked by modern social norms that have replaced respectful dialogue with yelling at or “owning” those who disagree with us. As pastors, we can set the tone for our members by patiently listening both to dismissive members and to fearful one, understanding that we ourselves are going to be more sympathetic to one side than the other.
- Take advantage of this opportunity to teach. Our culture increasingly sees everything in binary terms, but not every issue breaks down to right or wrong—such as when to resume corporate worship in the midst of a pandemic. We must help our members understand that there are no biblical commands dealing directly with that issue, so we must seek to apply wisdom, and we must give every believer the freedom to obey his or her conscience. Some will show up the day the doors open; others may not attend for weeks or for months for any number of reasons. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind (Rom. 14:5).
- Encourage prayerful dialogue between church members who disagree. Love for God and others is the defining mark of a Christian (John 13:35), and it is unloving to pass judgments on fellow members without talking to them. Through prayerful dialogue, a dismissive member may learn that a “fearful member” may genuinely desire to meet, but she is caring for her elderly mother and doesn’t want to put her at risk. Through prayerful dialogue, a fearful member may learn that a “dismissive member” desires to honor the biblical command not to forsake assembling together, and is volunteering his time to personally wipe down every hard surface in the church building to make it a safer experience for everyone. Satan loves division, but conversation breaks down the walls we build up in our hearts and minds toward one another.
You can’t (and you won’t) please everyone. But if you listen, teach, and encourage prayerful conversation, you may find that God uses this opportunity for division to strengthen the unity of your church.