Loving Each Other in Words
The sad truth is that not all churches are places where people treat each other well. Some churches can become notorious for the way their people are prone to fight and mistreat each other. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 ESV) So, when the people of Christ don’t treat each other with love and respect, they are by their actions announcing to the world that they are not really Jesus’ disciples, regardless of what they may say with their lips. The surest way for a church to ruin its witness is for its people to treat each other unlovingly and disrespectfully.
I can tell you that few things can be so frustrating and anxiety producing for a pastor as when his flock begins biting, kicking, and butting each other. It’s frustrating, because dealing with conflict among the people of the church can distract a lot of the pastor’s time and energy. It is anxiety producing, because, like a brush fire, conflict between church members can get out of control and cripple a church and even break it apart.
No church is immune to conflict. Churches are made up of passionately committed people who come together around matters of ultimate importance. In such circumstances, imperfect people will unavoidably come into conflict with each other. In some churches, those disagreements are constantly flaring up into destructive, unloving fights. In other churches, those disagreements are quickly resolved, and loving relationships are carefully maintained. What is it that makes some churches volatile and unloving and other churches stable and peaceful? Stable and peaceful churches are always churches whose people exercise discipline and self-control in how they talk to and in how they talk about each other.
Of course, no church is perfect in these matters. Some churches are more stable and mature – emotionally and spiritually – in the way their members relate to each other. Still, we should all be vigilant and purposeful in the way we relate to each other, so that when people look at our churches, they will see in our actions that we love and respect each other in the way we treat each other.
In order to help us all create a loving and respectful relational environment your church, I want to point out some of the most common ways we can cultivate good relationships in our life together.
- Affirmation should always far outweigh criticism. A spirit of affirmation is an attitude that is always looking for the good and calling attention to it. A critical spirit is an attitude that is always looking for errors, shortcomings, and mistakes and calling attention to them. Churches in which criticism outweighs affirmation tend to be defensive, argumentative, and discouraging places to be. Churches in which a spirit of affirmation dominates are encouraging, uplifting places where people feel safe, accepted, and loved. An affirming environment is the kind of place people want to be. Always be a person who is alert for any opportunity to affirm and encourage the people you are with. In so doing your will make your church a better place; you will build up rather than tear down.
- If someone hurts or offends you, that person should always be the first person you talk to about that. If Jane hurts you, the only person you should talk to about that is Jane. Sadly, all too often, when a person is hurt by Jane, he will hurry off to tell Bill and Louise and Ruth all about it. And very soon, the peace and unity of the church are ruined and the hurt is multiplied instead of healed. If you come to me and tell me about how Jane has hurt you, I will ask you what Jane said when you talked to her about it. If you tell me that you haven’t talked to Jane about it, then I will ask you why you are talking to me about it. I will then say, “Let’s go right now and talk to Jane about this matter.” Let’s all promise to do that same. In that way, gossip will be stopped in its tracks and reconciliation and peace will abound in our church.
- Forgiveness is not optional, and it is never conditional. Jesus was quite clear and uncompromising about this. Forgiveness is often not easy, but the forgiven people of Christ must always move toward forgiveness when someone hurts them. The forgiven people of Christ must never hold grudges. Forgiveness must never wait for an apology. Forgiveness is one of the marks of a church made up of people who are unconditionally committed to following Jesus Christ in everything. The forgiven people of Christ should all want to be part of that kind of church.
- Apologies should always be quick, genuine, and specific. Forgiveness is always made easier, and reconciliation is always more likely, if we are all quick to recognize when we have hurt someone and quick to go to the one we’ve hurt with a genuine and specific apology. Try as we might, all of us at some time or other will do something that causes someone else hurt or offense. Don’t assume that the person you’ve hurt knows that you’re sorry. The only way to be sure is for you to tell them. A proper apology should contain three key points. First, you need to say that you are sorry for causing the other person pain or offense. Second, you need to be specific about what you are sorry for having said or done. Vagueness has no place in a real apology. Say exactly what it is that you are sorry for having done or said. Last, commit yourself to trying not to do it again. Promise that you will endeavor not to repeat the offense. This kind of apology make the task of forgiveness much easier for the offended party. And it makes the path to reconciliation and healed relationships much clearer. And in all of that, it brings joy to the heart of our Father in heaven. And one other point, when someone apologizes to you, don’t make light of it by saying something like, “Oh, that’s okay,” or “Oh, don’t worry about it.” Instead, say, “I forgive you.” In that way, you have taken their apology seriously, and you have honored it by affirming that you have forgiven them.
This is just a start. These are some concrete and specific actions we can all commit ourselves to in order to make sure that our churches always remain loving, respectful, and peaceful communities of our good Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. If we do these thing, we will be showing the world that we are indeed disciples of Jesus.
©2017 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.