How to Live with What You Can’t Change (Part 4 of 4)
In three recent posts I’ve argued that for the most part, if you’re not a pastor you can’t change anything fundamental about your church. And I examined exceptions to this and talked about what you can do to change your church.
In this final post I want to reflect on how to live with what you can’t change in your church.
LIVING WITH WHAT YOU CAN’T CHANGE
Obviously, you shouldn’t live with heresy or with major doctrinal error. So if your church starts to seriously head off the theological rails, work to bring it back on course. And if it leaves the track entirely, with no real chance of further reformation, you really have no choice but to leave.
But let’s say you’re in a church that is basically doctrinally sound, but which has a whole host of lesser, though still serious, problems. And it doesn’t look like those problems are going away any time soon.
Basically, you’ve got two options: leave peaceably, or stay cheerfully.
Whether or not you decide to leave will depend in part on whether there’s another, significantly healthier church nearby. That’s not the whole story, but it’s a necessary piece.
If you do decide to leave, preserve unity on your way out. Speak charitably and sparingly about your reasons for leaving. Speak as highly as you possibly can about your current church and its leaders. Work ahead of your move to minimize any relational damage or ministry strain your departure may cause. And pray for your heart, for your leaders, and for the whole church. Don’t let bitterness be your escort out the door, or the parting gift you leave behind.
But whether you leave also depends on what you decide you can and can’t live with. Think carefully about theological triage—which doctrines are more central, weighty, and practically significant than others. Think carefully about matters of preference versus biblical principle, style versus substance. Seek counsel. Prayerfully determine where your threshold is. And if the threshold is clearly crossed, leave peaceably.
…or Stay Cheerfully
But if you decide to stay, whether because you freely decide you can live with what you can’t change or simply because there’s nowhere else to go, stay cheerfully. Here are a few ways to do that:
1. Be Loyal to Your Pastor
First, be loyal to your pastor. Be a faithful, submissive, humble, and supportive church member. Banish the thought that your loyalty and submission depend on your pastor agreeing with you on every point of doctrine and practice. Don’t let your theological or practical disagreements morph into justifications for disobeying the Bible’s commands to submit to your elders and esteem them highly in the Lord (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13).
In other words, be a true friend to your pastor. Bear his burdens. Pray for him. Be for him. Silence others’ gossip and complaints about him with your own joyful appreciation of him. And let him know personally that you love him and support him.
2. Affirm the Good in the Church, Especially in the Preaching
Second, affirm everything you can about your church’s ministry, especially your pastor’s preaching. By “affirm” I mean give specific verbal encouragement, both to your pastor and to other church members.
When you’ve been particularly encouraged by your pastor’s exposition of Scripture in a sermon, tell him, and tell him why. Show him that his ministry is bearing fruit in your life. This will be good for your soul and for his.
3. Don’t Provoke Discontent among Church Members
Third, don’t provoke discontent among church members. If you’ve developed convictions that go beyond your pastor’s—for instance, about Reformed soteriology or expositional preaching—be very guarded and cautious about how you speak to fellow church members about them. The last thing you want is to sow seeds of discontent or start rallying people around your ideas over against the pastor.
4. Be Attractively Godly
Fifth, be attractively godly. Soak yourself in Scripture and prayer. Make obedience to Jesus your chief ambition. Be a fountain of biblical health and life that overflows to others.
5. Put on Love
Finally, over all this, put on love. Be patient with your fellow church members. Discipline yourself not to complain and critique. Master not just your tongue but your spirit. Take such joy in the good things God is doing in your church that it leaves little room for discontented moping.
In other words, love your church because Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Love your church not because they’re lovely, but because they’re loved (Deut. 7:7-8). And if God can love your church despite all that might be wrong with them, so can you.