Can Churches be Doctrinally Right and Loving?

“Well, of course!” is the happy answer.

But I don’t know. I know the opposite is true: a church can be doctrinally bankrupt and unloving!

The church I came to pastor over 21 years ago was neither doctrinally right nor loving. They had a weird brand of hyper-dispensationalism and over-emphasized the word “grace” to the point of lasciviousness.

The previous pastor once told the congregation he didn’t care if a non-married couple moved in with each other, “it’s all grace, it doesn’t matter.” He said this from the pulpit, not as an aside in a conversation at a restaurant.

Their notion of grace was very extreme, hardly anyone else in Christianity went as far and weird with it as they did. This led them to believe they were the sole possessors of truth. They prided themselves on their doctrinal rightness. They were the sole defenders of truth.

The church was made up of many ex-legalistic people. They happily threw off the bonds of legalism and lived it up in their notion of “grace.”

My favorite episode in learning how weird the church I came to was, was when I wore a tie to church one Sunday. The assumed “leader of the church” came up to me and said, “You shouldn’t wear a tie.” I said, “What?” not as though I didn’t hear him, but more “what in the world are you talking about?”

He replied, “We don’t wear ties; we’re not legalistic.” I was so thrown off by this I don’t think I replied at all. I probably laughed nervously. If you’re not legalistic, then how come you have a dress code about not wearing ties?! So weird.

But that’s where they went. They turned grace into lasciviousness and a reverse-legalism. You indeed sinned so people knew grace was abounding. And they were massive jerks. One outsider described the church this way, “Oh yeah, they talk a lot about grace but don’t show it to anyone.”

This was a case where a church’s bad doctrine eliminated love entirely. I felt my job was to correct the doctrine and hope that a true understanding of the Gospel would result in love.

I began correcting the doctrine. People left. Many thought I was becoming legalistic because I taught that sin actually was bad and we weren’t supposed to do it.

There was some progress. Some people got it, some already had an issue with the old pastor and his increasingly weird grace stuff. Some love showed up.

But it just never really clicked. After 21 years of banging my head on this one wall, I just got worn out. Unfortunately I was losing love going over this same stupid doctrinal error and getting hurt by so many people. As my doctrine improved, which I believe it did, my love was dying.

The wounds were deep and waiting for the next wound to show up was driving me insane. On top of all that, my grandfather was the previous pastor! As my church increasingly had a problem with me, so did my family. I got it from all sides and I honestly can say that the hurt and rejection sucked love right out of me.

Is it possible for a church to emphasize right doctrine and be loving? I imagine there are many people who think so. I hope it’s true. I’d like to be part of one.

What I know for sure is, besides glib answers of the possibility, I have no idea how it’s done. Which is where Twitter tells me, “Well, that’s because you tried to do it! You can’t do it! Only God can.”

Yup, thanks. Apparently He doesn’t know how to do it either then! I asked Him so many times with tears to do so.

When you’re part of the In-Group in your church, it’s easy to think your church is loving. When your church’s doctrine doesn’t bother you, it’s easy to think your church has right doctrine.

Maybe we’re bad judges on this. Maybe I was a bad judge of my own “ministry.” God is the judge, He will let me know the true judgment, whether I had wood, hay, and stubble, or precious stones.

I pray for pastors that you would figure out the balance between doctrine and love. Knowledge puffs up. It’s what it does. But being stupid can’t be the answer!

It’s a tough thing. I pray you and your church can figure it out.

Can Pastors Have Friends? I know they can have Enemies!

When I was a pastor there were about a dozen guys in my church over the years who treated me like a best friend, for some of them, I think I was their best friend, who later blew up at me, left, and never talked to me again.

We did stuff together. We talked. We laughed. We ate food.

There was a line as a pastor that I could never quite figure out: when was I a pastor and when was I a friend?

In some cases, being a pastor is being a professional friend. People pay you to be their friend. I know that sounds cynical and cold, but my personal experience along with my knowledge of other pastors’ experiences lets me know this is true.

What many of them viewed as friendship I viewed as my job. I wouldn’t have been hanging out with these guys under other circumstances.

Many of these guys expressed problems with me all along. They’d pick apart my sermons, they’d make judgments about my behavior, and find fault with any number of things I did and said. In only one of these cases did I ever go off on one of them as they did on me (I regret this. It wasn’t good).

I tried to exercise patience and forgiveness as that’s what I felt I was supposed to do. But no matter how much patience and forbearance I used with them, inevitably they got mad enough at me to leave the church.

The friendship was gone. The time together, the patience, all of it was thrown out because I did some obscure thing that set them off.

On one hand I get it, if I approached the friendship as my job, they probably picked up on that! I’m not an overly outgoing, social guy, I don’t make friends easily. They were only my friend because I was the pastor and they were my friends because I was their pastor.

I’ve heard it said that pastors can’t have friends. This isn’t true. I had true friends while I was a pastor and they remain friends even after I’m no longer their pastor.

Friendship with pastors breaks off because often there was no real friendship to begin with. They were using me, how spiritual it makes one feel to be friends with a pastor! If the pastor likes me, certainly God does. And I viewed many of these relationships as duty. They weren’t going to last.

On top of that, people leave churches. If you have a friendship with the pastor and you don’t want to go to church anymore, you have to find some ridiculous problem with the pastor so you can blow up at him and get gone.

It took me a while to figure this out, but often this explosion to end the friendship had very little to do with me. I wasn’t perfect, but clearly I didn’t do anything deserving this treatment.

One inside tip: Many men take out their anger at their dads on pastors. I know this sounds weird, but it’s true. The guys who’ve had the worst relationships with their dads were the most explosively rude in their expression of dislike toward me. There’s other stuff going on; it’s not all you.

Another factor is that people are fickle. When the apostle Paul did a miracle the crowd thought he was a god, then they changed their mind and wanted to stone him. Jesus was hailed as the coming king in what has been called “The Triumphal Entry,” only to be crucified by the same mob at the end of the week.

This isn’t a Church Thing. Christians have no monopoly on fickleness. Observe the Cancel Culture overspreading our society. Famous people that no one had a problem with, accidentally say something slightly off from what the crowd wants to hear and that person is cancelled. Off with their heads.

People are weird. We just are. We get tired. We want change. True friendship requires forgiveness and patience. Those things are hard. People carry religious baggage into the church, who knows how that will work itself out over time. Not well, usually.

Jesus Christ said, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.”

You can’t be everyone’s friend. You’ll destroy yourself trying.

What you can do is do your best to love people, be patient, forgiving, and forbearing. But also know that at any time for any odd reason they can turn on you. It’s terrible to go into a relationship thinking, “I wonder when this guy will turn on me.” But for the pastor, you’re going to end up thinking that anyway!

God knows our frame, He knows we are dust. We can truly wonder “what is man, that God is mindful of him?” Why does He care for us knowing full well we will be His enemy many times?

Love. God is love. This is part of the job for God.

Even after these guys got mad and disrespected me and ran off, I still love em. I can’t help it. I care about them. I’d still help them today. Well, ok, there’s a couple I’d be happy to never see again, but still, I’d do my best!

It’s part of the job of being a Christian—love your enemies. What praise is there if you love those who love you?

Loving people is part of the job and don’t be surprised if you get fired! Happens to God every day and He’s doing love perfectly.

How to Deal with Pain Caused by Christians and the Church

Hate is easy.

People are creepy sinners who do creepy sinful things to each other. Hatred over this is automatic.

Love is hard.

Jesus Christ, while you were yet a sinner, died for you. While you were an enemy of God, actively going against Him, He died for you.

God is willing to forgive; He’s slow to anger, gracious, and merciful. Why? Because God is love.

Love covers a multitude of sin.

I have many reasons to despise and hate the church and Christians. I’ve been in the church my entire life. There are creepy sinful people in churches. I’ve met most of them.

Daily I hear people online talk about the abuse and pain they’ve suffered in church, my heart breaks a little more with each story. Every public revelation of a church leader who took advantage of someone under their care hurts a little more.

The pain is real. There is no way I’m trying to minimize the pain suffered at the hands of church people.

But you can’t hate those who’ve hurt you.

I hear a lot of resentment. Again, based on some of the stuff that’s happened to some people, I understand the hatred and resentment. I get it. I feel it myself to the degree I’ve been hurt.

But you can’t hang on to it in hatred and resentment. Resentment will tear you to pieces.  It will turn you into the ugliness that hurt you.

If there is any hope for peace and resolution and love in you, it will come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God will judge each person according to their deeds, whether they were good or bad. He will set all things right. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord. That’s His job and He’ll do it. He already is.

Our job is to love our enemies.

I’m not saying it’s easy, nor am I even saying I do it right, but this is what I long for because Jesus did this for me and tells me it’s the way to my own freedom.

If you want to grow in Christ, if you want peace that passes understanding, the Bible is clear: love is the answer.

There is a tendency to morbidly celebrate our pain and all the terrible things we’ve suffered at the hands of sinful people. Be careful with it. Each retelling tends to strengthen the resentment and hatred.

You don’t just sweep it under the rug, pretend it didn’t happen. It did happen. It really hurt. But each retelling needs to be followed by a commitment to forgive. Seventy time seven. Every time you remember it; end with forgiveness.

Again, I know this sounds trite and seems to belittle the pain. That’s not the intent.

The intent is to bring the Gospel into life. If you appreciate the love, grace, and forgiveness you’ve received from Christ, then this should move you to show this to those who acted as your enemy. This is the painful flip side of grace and love.

Unfortunately the church can be a brutal place. I’ve suffered through the brutality myself and I’ve found that harboring resentment does not help. Hatred and thoughts of revenge do not bring healing. They do bring attention and more likes, however, and that’s it’s ugly pull. Everyone enjoys wallowing in mutual hate of enemies.

Gospel love is the answer. It’s not easy, it was sheer suffering for Christ to forgive us. But He says it is the answer.

Christians need to lead the way in forgiveness. No one else is going to. Forgive and be nice to each other! Build each other up in Christ and put His love on display.

The #2 Best Thing About Not Being a Pastor Anymore

My last few months of Sundays as pastor were brutal. Nothing really happened out of the ordinary, just same churchy things as always.

But my head was in a bad place. I couldn’t pull myself out. I didn’t want to be at church. I didn’t want to preach. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to do anything except get it over with and go home.

I’d had depressing times before, but this one was to the core of my being. I couldn’t shake it. Tension built in me: how can I keep doing this job feeling like this? This can’t be right, man.

My plan for a number of years was to quit after our last kid graduated high school. That happens, Lord willing, in a couple months.

Perhaps it was being so close to the end? Seniors in high school get Senioritis. They’re so close to being done with school, yet they have to go through the motions until graduation day. Maybe I caught it from my son?

There was angst all around this past year, much of which made being a pastor more difficult. Listening to church members fixate on politics and passive-aggressively attack each other on Facebook posts. People freaking about viruses and how the church was to respond, which alienated someone all the time no matter what. There was a massive family issue going on in my extended family that drew my attention elsewhere.

In other words, there was a lot of troubling things on my plate. Maybe it was just overwhelming to my system.

All I knew is that Sundays is where it all culminated and beat me into the ground. Saturday nights were just dread. Sunday mornings, I couldn’t even pray. I didn’t even want to think about church. Just let me go and get it done with. Then I’d spend all afternoon fighting anger and inevitably end up sobbing at some point.

Man, I was a mess.

Well, I gotta tell ya. Sundays are way better now!

I’ve been going to church. I don’t have to do anything at a church for the first time in 21 years. I don’t have to worry about who isn’t there, or why, or who will be mad next. I don’t have to have regrets all afternoon and evening about how I messed up my sermon.

It’s just gone. It’s all gone! And it is delightful!

Now, I will admit, it’s hard to sit and not have a say. I can’t help but let my mind wander into what I would preach about this passage, or how I’d have said that point better, or criticize the application.

But the upside far outweighs the downside. Sundays are fantastic. I get edified. I talk to people who simply are talking to me not some mental image of “pastor.” I can relax and actually think about my spiritual health and not fixate on all the screwed up people in front of me.

Ahhhhh.

It’s a beautiful thing. Not sure how long it will last. I feel the pull already to get involved, which is good, probably. But right now, I’m pretty happy with Sundays.

The #1 Best Thing About Not Being a Pastor Anymore

Pastors evoke guilt wherever they go. Simply being in front of people makes them spew forth guilt-ridden justifications, excuses, and lies to cover their inadequacies your presence pulls up in their head.

Oh, I hated this.

I resigned from pastoring a while ago now. One of the best results of this is that I have not heard one person give me a stupid excuse why they weren’t at church!

Excuses annoyed me to no end.

After church on Sundays, my family often stopped at the local Wal-Mart or grocery store to pick up a couple things while in town. Inevitably we would see someone who skipped church. Guilt exuded from their pores.

All I said was, “Hi.” Then, for five minutes I’d hear their reasons for skipping church and how they did devotions today and they’ll be sure to watch that one preacher on TV their aunt likes. Dude, I just wanted some bread. Just running in to grab it and get going.

I tried not to guilt people to attend church. I figured if they want to be there; they’d be there. If they don’t want to be there, the church is probably better off without their bad attitude.

That was my reasoning. Probably I was just chicken to confront people.

If people skipped two weeks in a row I’d check in on them. My heart always sank when people skipped a couple weeks in a row. I hated making that call. Who knows what I’d hear.

Worst case scenario is they’d left the church and were ticked off at me. Best case scenario I’d have to listen to completely lame excuses and justifications, otherwise known as “lies,” about why they weren’t there.

There were always a couple people who refreshingly said, “Yeah, I just didn’t feel like going.” I appreciated the honesty. I’d take that over made up health concerns or blaming it on the same weather everyone else had.

Speaking of weather; bad weather on a Sunday is a great way to tell who’s playing and who’s for real. There are exceptions. In Northern Wisconsin we can have pretty bad weather. But the people who consider bad weather to be moist roads or anything below 47 when it’s cloudy or 35 when it’s sunny, are fake.

I was rarely shocked at who completely tanked spiritually or who flaked out on their faith. I knew this simply by watching what level of weather kept them from church. Bad weather on Sunday is a good barometer of how well people will handle persecution!

Simply seeing their pastor makes people feel guilty and guilt makes people be weird. I don’t miss that at all. It’s a true source of joy for me!

How a Pastor’s Sunday Goes From Wonderful to Depressing

8:00am—I’m up, showered, dressed, got my last sermon prep done, praying, getting ready. Really excited to present what I’ve learned from the Bible this week. Great stuff. People will be grateful to hear this! Excited. So glad it’s Sunday! Let’s do this!

9:00am—leave for church.

9:15am—shoot the breeze with some faithful people who are there early to get things set up.

9:25am—becomes obvious not many people are showing up for Sunday School. This does not bode well. Anytime I’m excited to preach, no one shows up.

9:37am—Sunday School starts late because I’m giving a last shot for any late people to wander in. No one wanders in. Slight depression enters my heart. I press on and do my Sunday school Lesson I was excited to bring.

10:02am—someone challenges one of my points. They were kind of right. My answer was terrible. So stupid, I should have looked up those verses and read more carefully. How did I miss that? Bummer.

10:24am—Sunday School goes late because people were arguing about politics and completely missing the entire point of what I just got done teaching. I close in a brief prayer and wait for church. It’s ok, my sermon is awesome! I’ll turn this around.

10:29am—becoming painfully aware that only three more people are coming to church than were at Sunday School. It’s raining and windy. Lord knows they can’t come when it’s rainy and windy.

10:37am—waiting for any latecomers to show up, there has to be more people than this. There isn’t. My spirit lags. I try to ignore it. Crowds don’t mean everything. Just serve the ones who are here, amen.

10:51am—my sermon begins. A late comer walks in three minutes into the sermon completely throwing off my concentration causing me to lose my place and stumble around repeating myself for four minutes.

11:17am—all heads are looking at the floor. I can’t believe I’m making a great passage of Scripture boring. The pressure mounts. Must do better. If only I could remember what I’m talking about.

11:32am—I keep running around in circles trying to make sure I got all my points in and said well. Not feeling like that is happening. Keep talking. So many conclusion statements that don’t quite feel concluding enough. Oh well, whatever. End this disaster.

11:39am—two people argue minor points in my sermon. One person only mentions my funny illustration and seems unaware there was a point to it.

11:51am—I ask my wife on the way home if my sermon made sense. “Well, it wasn’t your best.” OK, I’m done. Depression fully takes over. My kids begin fighting in the backseat demonstrating once again that my sermon point was completely missed.

11:53am—I have now snapped and lost my patience with my kids.

12:07pm—there is no lunch meat. I have nothing to eat for lunch now. I go in my room, shut the door and sulk in my chair.

12:43pm—I have now remembered three points I never made in my sermon, the points I was searching for in my succession of conclusion statements. Also I finally have the perfect answer to the person who argued in Sunday School. I’m sure they will send me an email badgering me further.

2:32pm—email received. Feeling a little dizzy reading it. I write three responses, all of which are erased. I carefully craft a fourth response, which all but concedes the point and throws in the towel because at this point I don’t want to think about it anymore.

3:24pm—not only do I relive all the failed moments of this morning they remind me of all the failed times I’ve had lately. And let’s not forget all the ones I had the last 18 years.

4:05pm—my wife and kids are afraid to come near me after I snapped earlier. I’m a terrible father and husband. The stupid church makes me a terrible person.

5:27pm—supper was late and it had mixed vegetables with broccoli in it. Can this day get any worse?

6:32pm—Yes, the day can get worse. I have received four responses to my earlier capitulating email. They know I capitulated and have now lost all respect for me. So have I.

9:07pm—I had a terrible sermon and didn’t handle myself well at church. I’m an awful pastor. I suck at being a father and husband. I’m a worthless person. Complete depression sets in. I lay on the floor and dry sob into the carpet.

10:32pm—I indulge a few sins, because I’m even worse than the chief of sinners, and go to bed. Sunday’s coming.

Anti-Legalism is often just Pro-Laziness

“Trying to be a perfect Christian is legalism.”
–Guy who spends thousands of hours and dollars trying to take the slice out of his tee shot

There are a lot of Christians worried about legalism. Many have been hurt by legalistic churches and people. I get it.

But much of the reaction against legalism sounds an awful lot like rebellion against God’s Word.

There are many Christians who think that legalism is anytime anyone tells you to do anything that is right. Some have accused me of being legalistic because I actually talk about commands in the New Testament, of which there are many.

When God tells us to do stuff; that isn’t legalism.

Some of the most adamant responses to legalism come from people who are very skilled in their professions and hobbies. Many are people who diligently apply themselves at their craft. They put hours into perfecting their golf swing.

But God forbid you tell them to bring their bodies under subjection when it comes to following God’s Word.

I’m constantly amazed at the people who think spiritual things will just happen. People who think fruit will show up whether you planted or watered anything.

Continue reading “Anti-Legalism is often just Pro-Laziness”

How the Failing Pastor Deals with Accidental Run-Ins with People who Left Church

People leave churches.

For the pastor, it’s hard not to take these leavings personally; especially when a large percentage of the Leavers tell you they are leaving because of something you did or said (or didn’t do or say).

Feelings get hurt. Hurt feelings tend to linger. I know we are to forgive 70×7 and stuff, but man, it hurts. I also don’t see anywhere in Scripture where forgiving means forgetting. To me, 70×7 means every time the pain comes back up, I need to get to a place once again where I can forgive it and move on. Until it creeps up again. Then forgive and move on again.

Unfortunately, people who leave in hurtful ways usually don’t die immediately. No bears come out of the woods and eat them. The ground doesn’t open up and swallow them. Fire from heaven seldom seems to consume anyone. Nope, they keep being alive and being around.

You’ll inevitably run into these people. Here’s what I’ve learned about these encounters.

1. The Leavers will typically be happy.
People who left usually couch their leaving in spiritual terms. Therefore, they must prove to you that they are better off since they’ve left your disaster of a church that was stifling their spiritual growth. Thus they will be happy. Excessively happy. Ridiculously happy. Happiness is the American signal that all is well. Their happiness will be rubbed in your face non-stop. Get used to it. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

2. The Leavers are just as uncomfortable as you are.
I’m just running into Wal-Mart to get some bread, just minding my business, thinking about sandwiches for lunch. And boom, there they are; the jerk faced Leavers. Fear shoots through all parties. But then the smiles come out. Small talk. Pretend nothing happened, no feelings hurt. Be happy. “Whelp, gotta go” I say as I lift up my loaf of bread. “Lunch is waiting.” Wilderness experts say that if you meet a bear in the wild, don’t worry, the bear is more scared than you are. Leavers are too. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

3. If you did nothing wrong, don’t act like you did.
Pastors typically take people leaving as a personal fault. I could have done more. I shouldn’t have said what I said. You can’t help but feel like you were wrong. There are some cases where I was. But in the majority of cases I can honestly say I don’t think I was massively wrong in any way. If that’s the case, don’t act guilty. I have nothing to fear, nothing to hide, nothing to cover up, and nothing to be ashamed about. If that is true, bring some confidence to the conversation. Let them be the squirmy one. Smile. Nod. Carry on.

4. Act oblivious.
I have developed avoidance skills. Anytime I’m in public I think about the odds of certain people being there. I usually run into the same people at the same places. My ears are alert for people’s voices. I’m constantly scanning out of the corners of my eyes watching out for anything that smacks of a Leaver. I can suddenly get massively interested in the nutrition labels of Doritos when I need to. Usually the Leaver is glad you are ignoring them. They’ll ignore you too. In the off chance they don’t, you’ll at least be prepared for when they approach. Then smile. Nod. Carry on.

5. Don’t be fake.
There are certain Leavers who really honestly were massive jerks to me and people in the church. I feel no need to be friendly. We both know what went down. I’m not playing games. I’m not joking about stuff. I’m not amused. I won’t be a jerk, but I’ll also convey the point that I’m not interested in any further interaction with this psychotic person. There are dangerous people out there that I don’t want to mess with anymore. These are the smallest percentage of my Leavers, but I know who they are and I will not engage. I’m done. Handed them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. I don’t smile or nod. But I do carry on.

Any time I’m in public I’m slightly nervous. Who will I run into next? There are stores in town I do not go in anymore because I know a Leaver works there. You can call it childish if you want. I’m sure this isn’t grace or love or forgiveness. So be it. We all have our limits. I don’t want to blow my testimony and that’s the only way I’ve figured out how to do that with certain people.

Leavers are a massive downer to the ministry. I’m not claiming to be the expert, probably not Christ-like enough, but these are my tactics. Maybe they’ll help. If nothing else, you can feel superior to me and my weaknesses. Fine. I smile. Nod. And carry on.

The Pastor’s Job Is Not to Fix People

As soon as the pastor gets into the mindset of “You people are messed up. It is my job to fix you.” It is all over for all of them.
@FailingPastor

I grew up in a pastor’s home. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night I sat in the car on the way home listening to my parents talk about the messed up people in our church.

I knew who criticized my dad’s sermon. I knew who had an issue about the special music. I know who didn’t like the hymn selection. I knew all the problems and the people who caused them.

I also saw the pain and agony this caused my father.

When a young boy sees his pastor dad suffering and knows why he is and who caused it, that young boy becomes bitter and angry, not only at those people, but at the church.

That’s where I was for many years.

I grew up thinking that I belonged to THE FAMILY that had all the solutions. Everyone else was messed up. My family was pretty close to perfect. We existed to rescue all the idiots around us.

It doesn’t take psychoanalysis to know that this created some “issues” in my head about people.

When you grow up thinking that everyone is a moron set about to cause you pain and suffering, which is why I must save them, you’re going to have some strained relationships.

It does not shock me now, looking back, to understand why so many of my friends left me behind. We were rarely enjoying each other’s company; I was trying to fix them.

Now that I’ve been a pastor for a long time and had some distance from this mentality, and also been shown in many painful ways that my mentality was wrong, I’m changing my views of ministry.

The people in your church are not your projects. They are not “things” you put up with. They are not people who exist for you to demonstrate your skillz and take money from as they bow in adoration of your powers.

No, the people in your church are people. People just like you. People who have issues and sin and yeah, they are messed up. And, by the way, so are you and I.

The job of a pastor is to bring people to Christ. To do the best we can to live out the truth of God’s word and the love of His Gospel. We take every opportunity to know, care for, and serve those around us in hopes of making the Gospel powerful.

We don’t do this for followers, pay raises, building projects, or pastoral bragging rights. We do this because this is what Christ did for us.

Christ is perfect and surrounded by fallen humanity. He didn’t try to fix them; He didn’t charge them money to talk to Him. He laid down His life for them, for us, for me.

It is very easy to lose sight of this and start thinking that we pastors have it all together. The people need us; we don’t need them. They have the problems; we have the solutions. We then judge them as beneath us.

One reason why pastors fail to have friendships is because we look down on people too much and deem others to be beneath us. We show respect of persons rather than the love of Christ.

Watch out for this danger, pastors. It won’t end up well for you or for anyone you come in contact with. We’re all in need of a Savior and lucky for us, we have a great one. Let’s help each other get to Him.

Grace and Crazy People in the Church

Undoubtedly you assume this post is about showing grace even to crazy people. You should. It goes without saying. Which is why I’m not really saying that here.

What I want to talk about is the number of crazy people I’ve had in my church who can’t stop talking about grace, specifically God’s grace toward them. They take several forms:

  1. The Jerk
    They don’t even try to be nice to others. They constantly find fault with the pastor and many sermon points. They don’t show up to help others. They don’t give money. They don’t do anything except be mean to people. They will make other people in your church cry, and sometimes are the main reason people will leave your church–just to get away from The Jerk.
  1. The Sinner
    Now, I know, I know, everyone is a sinner. But these people, they go for it. They get themselves into all manner of weird sin. Every time you talk to them they are recovering from a sinful downfall. They are stuck in addictions of one sort or another. They can’t defeat sin, they aren’t even trying really, except for brief moments of sorrow that they get over way before ever doing any battle with their sin. They hurt people and destroy the testimony of the church and the name of Jesus Christ, because their sin does no one any favors.
  1. The Boss
    Some people join churches to take them over, or at least get a degree of power. They move in with suggestions, they actually volunteer (Beware of volunteers!). At first they seem really helpful, how cool to have someone want to be more involved. Then you notice they keep wanting to take things over. Next thing you know, they’re in charge of half the church. You’ll have a church split on your hands before too long. You have to let them do their thing because: grace.

One thing these people have in common is that they can’t stop talking about grace.

Now, for the record, I’m a huge fan of God’s grace! Wouldn’t be here without it. It is a great thing. Amazing, even.

But people who can’t stop talking about, maybe even to the extent that it’s pretty much the only thing they do talk about, are insane.

Here, as far as I can tell, is what they mean when they emphasize grace all the time:

God shows them grace, so you should too. That’s it. They will never talk about how they need to show others grace.

It is my opinion that grace is the key word of the Christian Narcissist. I don’t know if emphasizing grace makes narcissists of people, or if being a narcissist makes you emphasize grace, I just know there’s a connection.

The Jerk is all about himself. They are banking on God being gracious. Since God is gracious, why bother to change? Why take criticism or negative feedback seriously? God doesn’t have a problem with them, suck it up! Grace is the ultimate cop-out for not growing. This mindset (that God loves em just how they are) will keep them just how they are, and it will probably feed their grandiose views and make them even more of a jerk. Nothing empowers sin like thinking God approves of everything you do.

The Sinner will never battle sin, will never overcome their addictions. They’ll feel bad when their sin gets them in trouble, but their repentance will end long before any change occurs. Grace is often the final nail in the repentance coffin. Why go through the tough work of changing when God already forgives me? They will never get victory over any sin, because why bother? God’s already cool with their sin. Grace.

The Boss will react with shock if you question their motives or their power grabbing. How dare you question God’s servant! God’s blessed recipient of grace! Grace inflates the ego of these types. Again, God is on their side, who are you to find fault? Furthermore, they will point out all you are doing wrong, because remember, grace to them never means they have to be gracious, it only means they get to do whatever they want. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let em do what they want, too!

Now, again, let me just state, I’m a fan of God’s grace. This isn’t my hate for God’s grace. It’s a sincere frustration with an unbiblical understanding of Grace.

God’s grace was not given to us so we can sin.
God’s grace was given to us so we might show grace to others.

We even must show grace to people who abuse grace. But grace doesn’t mean approval of sin. Grace works with love. Love rejoices in the truth. God is gracious. God also convicts people of sin and judges. Grace isn’t the only word in the Bible.

You know you have God’s grace when you become more gracious. Dealing with grace abusers has been very difficult for me. In one sense they are right: grace does deal with our sin. Correcting people who are half-right is tough!

Anytime you call them out on their misunderstanding of grace they will accuse you of being under the law or putting a yoke of bondage on them or some such nonsense. It’s very frustrating.

Maybe I’m the only one who has experienced this abuse of grace. Maybe it’s my community and not a Christian-wide phenomenon. I doubt it. “Should we sin that grace may abound? No, in no way” is in the Bible for a reason! This is what people frequently do to grace.

It’s sad that such a beautiful word has been hijacked and ruined. All I know is that when a person comes into my church blathering on and on about grace, warning bells go off in my head. Watch out for it.