Preserving Unity When Your Church Struggles

Every church experiences its ups and downs.

Ours has had its share. Most have involved me as lead pastor.

Between mega-loss and poor health, it seems I’ve spent more time out of the pulpit over the last three years than in it.

It’s awfully tough for a church to maintain momentum when the point man goes down.

Those things are largely behind me now. We’re working on rebuilding. But staying positive has its challenges.

And yet remaining thankful in all things matters so very much to a church’s peace. Paul exhorts in Phi. 2:14, Do all things without grumbling or disputing.

The church at Philippi suffered its share of disunity. Paul went so far as to call out publicly two women at odds with one another within the body (Phil. 4:2-3). Yikes, that must have hurt!

A spirit of discontent cripples the peace of any congregation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered this counsel for navigating hard times in a needy congregation:

In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

How’s your thanksgiving quotient in your church? Its peace depends in part on your faithfulness in the little things.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:18).

Toughest School Ever (4)

Imagine my shock upon receiving my first grade on any paper in undergraduate school. I got an “F.” That’s right. I flunked my first college assignment. I wrote an English essay that the prof deemed utterly unworthy of the language. Talk about a reality check. Here I thought I could write. She begged to disagree. Guess who won? She did. I set about remedial composition instruction without delay.

Imagine my dismay upon discovering a certain course had little to do with its name, or at least so it seemed to me. When I signed up for Astronomy 101, I possessed a delusion of a cool curriculum of star-studying and universe-exploring. The joke was on me. The whole deal was a math class masquerading as science. I can’t recall how many early Saturday mornings I spent with the prof in extra help sessions just to survive that monster.

Yes, those were demanding curricula. However, neither compared to the requirements inherent in my toughest school ever – Christ’s school of contentment. In previous posts I have talked about the compulsory nature of the curriculum and its excellence. This post takes me to its degree of difficulty. I don’t know that it could ask more of me and those who enroll than it does.

For instance, Philippians 2:14 commands: Do all things without grumbling or disputing. Grumbling or murmuring is the opposite of contentment. The Bible leaves absolutely no room for fudging at all on this matter. There are no exceptions. We are to do all things without a discontented spirit. Good grief! Who is adequate for such a standard.

Then we have Jude 14-16.

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.

Notice the first vice in the list for which the Lord comes with ten thousands of His holy ones to execute judgment: grumbling. About this, my Puritan friend remarks:

These ungodly ones are murmurers; murmurers in Scripture are put in the forefront of all. You had need to look to your spirits; you may see that this murmuring, which is the vice contrary to this contentment, is not as small a matter as you think. You think you are not as ungodly as others, because you do not swear and drink as others do, but you may be ungodly in murmuring. It is true there is no sin but some seeds and remainders of it are in those who are godly; but when men are under the power of this sin of murmuring, it convicts them as ungodly, as well as if they were under the power of drunkenness, or whoredom, or any other sin. God will look upon you as ungodly for this sin as well as for any sin whatever. This one Scripture should make the heart shake at the thought of the sin of murmuring.

If that won’t do it, then consider Numbers 14:26-27. And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me (emphasis mine). In actuality, the congregation in the wilderness spoke against Moses and Aaron. However, God took it personally. He considered it an affront against Himself that the people griped the way they did. To oppose the Lord’s anointed was to oppose Him.

If I kept in my mind every time I felt tempted to complain, that ultimately my grumbling piqued God’s irritation quotient, I think I might think twice before giving way to murmuring.

There’s no escaping it. The bar is set immeasurably high. There simply is no room in this particular school for a grumbling spirit. Demanding indeed.

But the news with this reality is not necessarily all bad. Again I turn to Jeremiah Burroughs for help:

There is no way to set about any duty that you should perform, you might labor to perform it, but first you must be humbled for the lack of it. Therefore I shall endeavor to get your hearts to be humbled for lack of this grace. ‘Oh, had I had this grace of contentment, what a happy life I might have lived! What abundance of honor I might have brought to the name of God! How might I have honored my profession! What a great deal of comfort I might have enjoyed! But the Lord knows it has been far otherwise. Oh, how far I have been from this grace of contentment which has been expounded to me! I have had a murmuring, a vexing, and a fretting heart within me. Every little cross has put me out of temper and out of frame. Oh, the boisterousness of my spirit! What evil God sees in the vexing and fretting of my heart, and murmuring and repining of my spirit!’ Oh that God would make you see it!

Without seeing it, without feeling the sting of conviction that comes from the law, how will we ever cling to the cross and the hope of the gospel that we might experience the secret of contentment that rids us of the vice of murmuring and discontent?

Are you thus convicted?