Assuming that people experience brokenness in a variety of ways, I think it’s safe to say that our churches are full of people with issues. They might not admit it, but they have them. You have them. I have them. We all have them. Church is a crazy place full of weirdos, wackos, and crazies. I count myself as privileged to be among this redeemed family, and while we might be family, we got some crazy cousins among us that do some really stupid things. In other words, sometimes people in our church communities make decisions that are silly, foolish, and harmful to the collective church family.
How we handle those issues can literally make or break it. We can either deal with this brokenness in a positive and effective way, or we can botch the whole thing up.
Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about dealing with here. How would you deal with these issues:
- What would you do if you had a person who was accused of sexually assaulting someone in the church?
- How should a parent be confronted if their child is stealing from the church?
- What should be done about someone who comes to a worship gathering under the strong influence of drugs or alcohol, to the point of being out of control?
- How does a church carry out the process of church discipline?
If you talk to other pastors and consider how other churches answer these questions, you’ll probably find that most churches have some sort of a policy in place to deal with these issues. Most churches have some guidelines to help work through each of these situations. There are policies and guidelines all over the Internet that you can find and many of them are extremely good. There are sexual abuse policies, wedding policies, divorce policies, and more. If there’s one thing that churches in the U.S. are good at it is probably developing policies. We are influenced quite strongly by the legal system, and churches would be wise to make sure to protect themselves. Guidelines can be very helpful.
But guidelines aren’t perfect.
Far too often, churches use guidelines in a way that overlooks the individual. The problem is that no set of guidelines is perfect and can cover every issue that exists in a given situation. Plus, it’s likely that many of our policies and guidelines may produce the correct action but miss out on a crucial element of a person – their heart.
If you treat people like individuals, you are more likely to win their heart. Here are five ways to do that:
(1) Listen to them and allow them the chance to frame the problem. Obviously not every way that people frame a situation is going to be true or come from a healthy perspective. People have a habit of interpreting things through a lens that often overlooks their own brokenness. But it’s still wise to listen to people and to hear from their perspective what is going on. People are often better interpreters than we may understand. A lot can be revealed by people when they are given the chance to talk and to explain themselves. Even if your response runs counter theirs, if you take the time to listen and to give them a chance to share their thoughts on the situation, they will feel less like a policy-demanding-situation and more like a person.
(2) Be humble. Leaders who come across as spiritual superstars are great at enforcing rules and regulations while being weak at winsomely leading people’s hearts to embrace truth. If you aren’t humble enough to understand that you could easily be found in a similar situation, you aren’t being realistic. Or, as John Bradford is said to stated, ‘but for the grace of God, there go I.’ Your humility in acknowledging that nothing makes you essentially better or more accepted by God than the person you are talking to will help you interaction greatly.
(3) Be lovingly truthful. Just because you are commanded to love others and that God gives grace to the humble doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up for the truth. The fact of the matter is that our truth should be clothed in grace and love… but we still need to share truth. When we witness someone hurting other people, we need to graciously and lovingly be truthful in regards to what is happening. People don’t gain a sense of being treated like an individual if we ignore the things they are doing or if we address them in anger. Our truth must be wrapped in the garments of gracious love.
(4) Give second, third, and fourth chances. I don’t know exactly why some people struggle different than others, but they do. I’ve met people who seem to easily and quickly conquer sin issues. They don’t seem to really face the excruciating challenge of struggling. They just quit being drunkards or quit losing their temper and we’re left wondering why we can’t do that. But the reality is that most of us don’t do that. My current understanding of Romans 7 encapsulates this well: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15). People will feel like people if we give grace and more grace. If you are in the process of making disciples, you will know what I mean. You may meet with a young man who is struggling against the temptations created by pornography and find yourself having the same conversation many times. You could make a policy that states that you will not have Bible studies with people who look at pornography or you could give grace not only a second, third, and fourth time but an eleventh, twentieth, and hundredth time. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about cheap grace here, but I fear we often aren’t actually listening to people who are struggling in anguish and actually help them.
(5) Tell them why Jesus is the answer to them and their unique problems. If you stop and think about it, Jesus is the only person who can meet every single person’s needs and solve every single person’s problems. While it’s extremely important to talk about the big and general things that Jesus did (e.g., lived a sinless life, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead), you also need to show that Jesus interacts with us byway of the Holy Spirit personally and individually. Sure, people have unique situations, but Jesus is relevant to them all, and when you tell people that and explain to them how and why, you make them feel like individuals and not just statistics or generalizations.
What would you add?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.