CHURCH CORNER: Better to forgive than run to a new church
August 2, 2010 · 3:41 PM
By Dean Smith
Live to Forgive Ministries
My pastor was so great, until he really started ticking me off. When I began attending my church in the year 2000, I thought my pastor could do no wrong and I felt very committed to him and our church. His teachings were relevant, timely and inspirational. After a couple of years, I began to see some of his flaws and began questioning some of his ministry decisions. I found myself becoming judgmental and the things he would say began to offend me. Bitterness set in and soon his preaching was no longer inspiring to me. My wife and I began plotting our escape to find a “better” church.
Christians today are dealing with the same predicament. They have become offended by someone or something and think they should leave for greener pastures. I realize there are instances of legitimate reasons to leave a church, but today I’m talking about all the “other” reasons. Maybe you don’t like the way the pastor takes offering. The music is too loud. The services are too long. Many people are quickly leaving churches when they see faults with its leadership or fellow members. Today, I’m recommending that we first take our offense to God to help us evaluate the legitimacy of our complaint.
If you are really in the church God wants you to be in, the devil will try hard to offend you to get you out and coerce you to leave. Jesus said, “It is impossible that no offenses should come” (Luke 17:1). The very word, “offense” is translated from the Greek to mean a trap or stumbling block. A trap is meant to lure you in and keep you locked down. Be aware: you will eventually be offended with someone at church. The apostle Paul says, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). When we exercise our body, we undergo painful situations so we can build our muscles. Paul was explaining that by enduring painful trials, he has built up his “forgiveness muscles,” so he can live a life free from offense and unforgiveness. In this case, instead of bench pressing 200 pounds or running on the treadmill, we acknowledge our bitterness toward members or leaders in the church and we ask God for help.
In my situation, what God showed me was that I was the one who had the problem. I was offended at trivial issues and it was negatively filtering both my church and Christian experience. A friend suggested I pray about the issue and let the Holy Spirit guide me to decide what I should do. So, instead of being rash and abruptly leaving my church home, I asked God for wisdom. I was then able to approach my pastor with peace in my heart to authentically get understanding about my issues. We had a conversation that was rooted in genuine love and although he didn’t change his methods, my offense disappeared. It’s amazing what a little prayer and communication can do. If God is the one who led you to your church, He should also be the only one who can lead you away from it.
Although I was close to simply leaving my church and starting fresh somewhere else, God helped me to persevere. It has served as one of the better learning experiences of my life. If I would have run when I was offended, I would have brought that bitterness directly into the new church only to get offended there, too. If you are offended right now at one of the members or leaders in your church, don’t fret. You now have your best opportunity to exercise those forgiveness muscles and allow God’s love to see you through. Sometimes God will lead you to another church, but in most cases, all you need is prayer and loving communication. Having now attended my church for more than a decade, I can truly say it is a family I could not imagine leaving. Some of my best memories are with my church family. Thank God I didn’t leave when things got a little bumpy.
Dean Smith is the director of Live To Forgive Ministries and teaches about forgiveness and love in churches around the world. He attends The Vine Christian Ministries in Seattle with his wife Molly and daughter Ava. Learn more at www.livetoforgive.com.