There is a great deal of anger today in the church....over everything.
People are leaving churches in anger, withdrawing their giving, are incredibly cranky and irritable and find all kinds of things to complain about. Leaders have spent an inordinate amount of time in the past six months calling folks who are upset. It is often a fools errand. They cannot solve the discontent. What we can do is to focus on those who are with us rather than trying to convince those who are not.
Where does the anger come from?
It stems from Covid and the incredible burden this has placed on people, either discounting the threat and angry about the stipulations put in place, or, concerned about their own safety and the resulting fear. Just the additional burdens that this time places on people is heavy.
Then there is the political anger that divides our nations, and for many evangelicals that was magnified by the results of the last election. There are the racial tensions that divide our communities and additional division about how to deal with it. Sales of guns and ammunition are way up for members of both parties and those who fear racial unrest - Blacks and Whites. I have not remembered a time when conspiracy theories of all sorts had as much attention as today.
Unfortunately this all spills over into the church.
There are simply a lot of cranky, irritable, critical and unhappy people today. In fact, in my many years of working with churches I don't remember a time where attitudes were so bad. And it seems for leaders, you cannot win.
Churches that quit meeting for a season out of concern for their people were accused of allowing the government to "shut down churches" and "interfere with religion." Then, when the church reopened, there was the criticism that "you don't take the health threat of Covid seriously." Often this is pretty much a 50/50 split. So no matter what you do you face criticism. The same split is evident in how congregations are dealing with racial issues that have torn our nation. If you address the racial issues you face criticism from those who don't believe there is a problem. If you fail to address the issues you are seen as uncaring and contributors to the problem. In the arena of public opinion you cannot win!
On top of all that, there has been a lack of face to face communication and what people put on social media or into emails is usually far harsher than they would express in person.
What should our response be?
Be Compassionate but not empowering
While cranky, irritable, critical and unhappy attitudes are not what Jesus desires, mercy would have us give people space and grace. It is a tough time. One of the realities of ministry is that we are required to put up with times when people are out of sorts.
Don't take it personally
OK that is hard. Just this week our team put in an amazing number of hours to bring back live services after a six month hiatus. It was a wonderful day and the team crushed it but I got home to a critical email that lacked grace and simply complained. It is easy to take that personally but it is wise not to. But...I didn't bother to respond! It was not worth it given the attitude behind the comments.
Challenge people to live by the Fruit of the Spirit
We cannot control opinions but we can call people to the standard that Paul set for us, based on the example of Jesus himself. Remind people that the fruit of the spirit is the attitude that should flow from hearts that are like Jesus. Paul tells us that we ought to walk in the Spirit because the Spirit lives within us. Sometimes we just need to tell people that their attitudes are unacceptable. Be kind about it but not shy to say it. Scripture is pretty objective on how we should deal with one another.
Answer questions and have dialogue selectively
I say selectively because those who have a history of bad attitudes, critical spirits and crankiness don't deserve much of our time. You will not convince the inconvincible that they should change their attitudes or critical spirits. So don't try. Ignore those who have a history of critical spirits. Show then love but don't waste your time trying to make them feel good. Sometimes they just need to be told the truth about their attitudes.
If you are dealing with at reasonable person, answer questions and try to help them see why you have made certain decisions. A conversation with a reasonable individual can almost often bear the fruit of understanding.
When people threaten to withhold their giving or leave the church don't try to change their minds
Over the years I have seen a lot of people take their ball and go home. Sometimes because they didn't get their way, sometimes because we didn't meet their expectations, sometimes because they are just critical. Sometimes because they took a petty offense and made it a dealbreaker.
I once received an email that complained about something the church had done, made crazy allegations and finished with these words, "I don't need you anymore." Ouch. But here is a fact. With that attitude your congregation will not be very attractive to others. Blessed subtractions are not a bad thing. Let them find somewhere where they can minister with a happy heart and a clear conscience. Bless them and let them go. People left Jesus too. Sometimes in droves.
Walk in grace and truth yourself
Shepherds don't kick the sheep. Grace means that we give space and compassion. Truth means that we see attitudes for what they are. Our job is to be sure that we live in grace and truth ourselves. It is our surest antidote to the disappointment that critical spirits can bring to us and to our congregations.
It takes wisdom to navigate these days. Be innocent as a dove and wise as a serpent! And focus on leading the church into missional waters.