How dare you rock the boat?

A good friend of mine made an observation on his blog, “I long to see God’s house restored to its former glory. Imagine if the church gave 90% of its offerings to the poor, instead of to buildings, salaries and programs. That kind of love could change the world. ‘To help the poor is to honor God.’ Proverbs 14:31.” Frankly it’s a great statement and a worthwhile longing. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that my friend risked negative feedback from people who could be offended by this statement. Specifically he risked offending traditional clergy who would take offense at the implications of observing that we put about 90% of our offerings toward buildings, salary and programs and consequently very little ends up helping the poor.

Does this kind of offense from questioning the status quo actually happen? Of course it does; it happens all the time. In essence those who respond with accusations and offense are asking “How dare you?” How dare you make uncomfortable observations? How dare you question the status quo? How dare you rock the boat? Usually, but not always, this negative feedback comes from traditional clergy.

I’d like to make some observations about the reality behind the negative response to legitimate observations to the brokenness of our current church situation. First, people can respond negatively to accurate observations for a number of reasons. Perhaps they can’t question the status quo in their own minds so they can imagine why anyone else should do what to them seems like very strange behavior. Maybe the way things currently are benefits them in some way, so to question it would entail risk for them. Another reason would be that they try to project motive on the person who makes uncomfortable observations. They only motivations they can come up with are being judgmental, angry or bitter. What strikes me as odd is that the response is rarely to check out the veracity of the observations. That happens, but it is much more common for people to feel threatened.

This brings me to another issue; how people (particularly clergy) respond when they hear accurate observations to the status quo. The rarest response is that the hearer listens to what has been said, realizes that the observations are correct and starts to deal with the new reality.[1] Another response, which is nearly as rare; they recognize the truth of the statements but just don’t want to risk the fallout from dealing with the status quo. I actually know a pastor who is quite frank about this. The way things are disturbs him but he realizes that he actually has no marketable skills to support his family should he leave his paid position.

The most common response is to kill the messenger. This is done by questioning the motives of the person who has brought up the uncomfortable truth. Most commonly the accusations are of being judgmental, angry or bitter. A number of times I’ve had someone say, “You must have really been hurt by some person or situation in the past.”[2] The implication is that the observations have no basis in truth, it is just coming out of some dark place in my own soul. I suspect that people often try to kill the messenger because they don’t want to deal with the reality. But, the truth is that I can’t completely know their motivations any more than they can discern mine.

The real question is how do we deal with this? Do we stop speaking out? Do we just go along with the broken status quo even when we know that it not only doesn’t match Scripture, it is often exactly the opposite of what the Scripture says? Do we avoid saying anything to make sure no one’s feelings are hurt? I don’t think so. I think we speak the truth in love. We do need to make sure that anger and bitterness hasn’t crept into our hearts. But we still say what needs to be said. Imagine if the reformers had not spoken about the problems of the Church in the 1500’s. Further we don’t return evil of evil. We don’t respond by accusing them or speaking as if we can clearly see their wrong motives. We can’t. So we turn the other cheek but continue to speak the truth in love.

Pick a question and respond:

  • Have you ever spoken out about the problems you see and been accused of being judgmental, angry or bitter? Were you?
  • Is it possible to be angry, judgmental or bitter but still see problems? What do you think should be our response if we realize this about ourselves?
  • What are the key problems you see in the status quo of the Church? What do you think should be done about it? What does this tell you about yourself, in other words, why does this bother you?
  • Does hearing people talk about the problems in the current Christian status quo bother you? What does this tell you about yourself? Why does this bother you?

[1] While this is a rare response, there is a corresponding truth, many people who have stepped out of the institutional status quo are actually ex-clergy; pastors, youth leaders, worship leaders or missionaries. I believe this is because questioning the status quo is becoming very common nowadays and the clergy are the people who are in a position to see the problems most clearly.

[2] Have I been hurt in the past? Sure, I know very few people who haven’t been hurt by the way things currently are. But what does that tell you about the way things currently are? Was the Church designed by God to hurt people?

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