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5 Ways the Church Self-Sabotages

  • Name
    Carey Nieuwhof
The church has more than its share of critics these days. Sometimes the criticism is unwarranted. People project their issues onto a congregation or onto the church, which is never healthy. And, of course, the church will inevitably run into criticism. What we’re doing is countercultural and will never be met with universal applause. The Gospel, even when powerfully shared, got John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, Jesus and the prophets killed, just to name a few. While it seems strange to say it, even love, when seen fully and magnificently, gets rejected. But other times we absolutely deserve the criticism that comes our way. Often these days, it seems, we’re not ridiculed or persecuted because we’re fighting nobly. Nope, sometimes we just shoot ourselves in the foot. Here are five things that, in my view, would help the mission of the church become more authentic and more effective if we could just stop doing them.

1. Being So Weird Online

Too many Christians come across online as either: Toxic (Hello angry ranters, trolls and haters); Cynical (Yes, we know you’re disappointed with everyone all the time and no one gets it as right as you); or Syrupy (So sweet we can’t stand the taste and are not really sure you live in the real world). Why do so many Christians think their social media feed is a place to show the world their weirdness? It gives the impression that if you’re going to follow Jesus, you also need to become socially awkward. I know people might say, “No, I’m just being authentic.” But being authentic does not mean being weird. (I shared my personal criteria for what I share online in the name of authenticity in this post). I think a general rule is if you can’t imagine saying it in real life to a person, you shouldn’t say it online. If you go to post something and you think, well, that would be braggy if I said that to someone, that’s a healthy check. It means you’d be bragging. So don’t post it. Similarly, if you think, “Well, people would just walk out of the room if I said that in real life,” then maybe don’t say it. If you’re always angry or cynical or all you do is complain online and you think, “Well, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that in real life,” then that’s a clue that maybe you shouldn’t say it, or be like that. And if you think, “Well, then I’ll have nothing to post,” then you’ve likely put your finger on a deeper issue. Christians, let’s just stop being so weird online, OK?

2. Commenting on Politics

Part of the weirdness is political. God is not a Republican or a Democrat, or in my country, a Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat. Nor is God an Independent. God is God. When your church becomes a mouthpiece for a political party, you cease to be the church. Your job is to share the Gospel, not to change the government. As I shared in more detail here, Jesus and Paul spend surprisingly little time trying to influence the government. Jesus completely rejected the idea of becoming the government when people asked him to become their political leader. I know some will say, “Well, God has opinions about things happening today.” I’m sure he does. But when authentic Christians sincerely share different views on subjects, we should be very careful about speaking for God. And, after all, when God happens to have all the same opinions you do, you’re probably not even worshipping God anymore. You might be worshipping yourself.

3. Handling Conflict So Poorly

The church should be the best in the world at handling conflict. We were taught by Jesus exactly how to do it. Yet we often side step. We gossip. We talk about other people rather than to people. We avoid conflict. Or we run into it like a bulldozer claiming we’re all about truth. If we just handled conflict humbly, gently, introspectively and bravely, we would be so much better. If you really want to see how to restore someone in love, listen to this message by Andy Stanley on judgment and helping others who are sinning. It’s brilliant. If we handled conflict more healthily, our churches would be so much healthier. And a healthy church is a church that can help other people get healthier.

4. Ranking Sin Selectively

Christians have become fairly good at focusing on the moral failings of others while ignoring their own. We pretend that the worst sin you can commit is sexual. And—don’t get me wrong—sexual sin has serious implications. But so does gossip. And divisiveness. And quarrelling—sins Christians routinely ignore. Mostly because we commit them. I would suggest that just as many congregations have been ruined by gossip, divisiveness and quarrelling as have been stained by sexual sin. But you’d never know it given the way we talk about sin. I’m all for surrendering our sexuality to Christ. But I’m also all for submitting our propensity to gossip, our divisiveness and our quarrelling to Jesus and dealing with that seriously. Imagine what the church might look like if that happened. And we haven’t even touched gossip, gluttony or envy yet, all things with which Christians routinely self-medicate their pain. Maybe if Christians humbly confessed their sins first, the world would be more likely to come to terms with their sins. So here’s an idea. Instead of pretending someone else’s sin is worse than your sin, confess your sin. You’ll be in such a better place if you do that. And so will they. You might actually be able to help them.

5. Judging Outsiders

This is a pet peeve of mine. As I outlined here, we in the modern church have largely ignored Paul’s injunction to stop judging non-Christians. Even Jesus said he didn’t come into the world to judge it, but to save it. I completely get the urge to judge our neighbours and even the world. Things bother me too. But I have to refrain. Our faith in Christ demands it. Before ministry, I was a lawyer. In first-year law, I remember having a crisis because I couldn’t imagine representing a client I believed might be guilty. I stayed after class one day to talk to my criminal law professor about it. He assured me of a few things. First, if your client tells you he’s guilty, you can’t ethically enter a non-guilty plea. That made me feel better. But then he told me that almost every client says they’re not guilty. I got nervous again. “Well what if you think he’s guilty but he says he’s not … doesn’t that put you in a horrible bind?” I’ll never forget his answer. “You’re confusing your role, Carey. You’re not the judge. You’re his lawyer. Your job is —ethically, morally and legally—to give him the best day he can possibly have in court. The judge will decide whether he’s guilty or not.” I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. So … Christians, the world has a judge. And it’s not you. He’s fairer than you. More just than you. More perfect than you. And far more accurate. In the meantime, do your best to help reconcile your brothers and sisters in the world to their heavenly father through Christ. That’s your job. Take some comfort in that. And for all these reasons and more, stop judging.

What Else?

Any other self-defeating, stupid things you wish we’d stop doing in the church? I’d love to hear from you. Scroll down and leave a comment.