In the last post, we started a discussion on offenses to church goers, and how we don’t get to define what gets people in a tizzy. We said that some offenses may seem silly to us, but they are still real hurdles for our guests.
But what do we do when an offense isn’t so much silly as it is a non-negotiable? What happens when the thing our guest is offended by is something that we can’t budge on, lest we change the very nature of our church?
Perhaps it’s an area of biblical interpretation that is universally gray, but generally agreed upon in your theological circles or your particular congregation. Maybe it’s a cultural hot button, and you’ve landed on a different side than a guest has. It could be that you’re not offering a ministry they want or you do have a ministry they think is frivolous.
When something has been thought through, prayed over, and had wisdom applied, the offense may have to stand. But that doesn’t mean that the way we explain or interpret the situation needs to be offensive. No, in our warring, defend-your-ground, take-no-prisoners social media world, we can take the rare opportunities to listen carefully, explain graciously, and hope for middle ground. Even in areas where we may have disagreement, I believe that there can be agreeable people who love and care for one another in a way that candid speech doesn’t cause us to part ways.
The goal is not uniformity, but unity. So when your non-negotiable becomes an offense to someone else, how do you handle that? I think there are at least four ways:
1. Know your why.
Is this really a non-negotiable? Are you pursing this action because it is central to your biblical viewpoints, crucial to your strategy, or necessary for your ecclesiology? Or is it simply a part of your tradition, a precious relic of the past that would be too uncomfortable to give up? Why are you doing this?
2. Take time for the conversation.
Maybe it’s better for this not to take the form of a cut-and-paste email reply. Schedule coffee. Take them to lunch. Pause in the lobby, for crying out loud. Listen patiently and with an open ear, hearing the perspective you may not be familiar with.
3. Explain the background.
You know your why, but does your guest know the why? Sometimes helping them walk the road that led to this decision can lead to greater understanding. Don’t adapt your mom’s methodology of “Because I said so, that’s why.” That’s not leadership, but dictatorship. (Sorry to your mom.)
4. Offer a way forward.
In the case of first-time guests, they are looking for a church to call home. I believe that individual churches should be places that are open to everybody, but not necessarily for everybody (see #1 above). If the offense is truly insurmountable – say, in the gray area of ecclesiological interpretation – perhaps one of the most loving things we can do is help a guest find another great church in the area that would meet the type of faith family they are looking for. Let us not be arrogant enough to believe that our way of doing church is 100% accurate. There are many ways that God’s glory is displayed through the local body – ways that need not be unbiblical or doctrinally dangerous.
How do you deal with seemingly insurmountable offenses?