Bullying in the Church?
These are thoughts and reflections from yesterday’s sermon, 1Corinthians 9:1-18, preached at Faith Baptist Church, 4350 Russell Ave N, Minneapolis, MN. To listen to the sermon please visit http://www.faithmpls.org in the next couple of days. Thank you to everyone who texted questions; I hope that this post will answer some of them.
Last week my wife, Stacy, did a week long series on bullying in schools for her blog at slowingtheracingmind in conjunction with the Search Institute. While there were some nuances of her series with which I would disagree, as a whole it is an excellent series dealing with a wide range of bullying that takes place in schools. Of course, it would be nice to think that bullying stops after school, but most of us realize that it doesn’t. The bully at school usually grows up to be the bully at work, and if they are unable to exert their “bullying” nature at work, they become the bully at home — bullying their spouse, their kids; or the bully in the neighborhood; or the bully at the PTA; or the bully at….
The good news is the Church has experienced 2000 years of bully-free ministry. It is a bully-free zone! Yeah right! The reality is that while the Church is the triumphant and beautiful bride of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, she is still made up of imperfect people, and some of those imperfect people can be bullies from time to time. And like bullies in school, bullies in church need to be dealt with — as brothers and sisters in Christ we need to stand up to them.
This may seem counter intuitive to Paul’s message of unity and peace in the congregation that he emphasizes throughout 1Corinthians. Paul is so adamant about not doing anything that would cause discord or someone to stumble that he even refuses to accept financial support from the churches to which he ministers (9:1-18). He knows that as a messanger of the gospel he has a right to this support, but he doesn’t want his support to be a stumbling block to those who might see him as “in it for the money.” He sacrifices his rights for the gospel. Therefore, aren’t we to give into the bully in order that there can be unity and peace in the congregation in the hopes that the bully will “come around” at some point and see the light. I don’t think so, at least not all the time. Paul didn’t think so and neither did Jesus.
Paul’s decision to not take financial support, which he hoped would avoid contention in the church, actually caused a great deal of contention in the church at Corinth. Apparently, there were some that were quite angry about this to the point that Paul addresses this issue not only in 1Corinthians 9, but again in second Corinthians:
Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. –2Corinthians 11:7-9
For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong! –2Corinthians 12:13
Paul does not give into the pressure to accept financial support from the church in Corinth. There are times in the life of the Church that bullies need to be dealt with while at other times we need to lay down our preferences in order to assure peace and unity in the church. The question is how do we know what time is it. Is it time to to stand or time to concede? I would like to put forward just two brief suggestions or criteria to help determine what time is it when it comes to standing up to bullies or conceding to the weaker brother or sister:
- Firstly, the “they-should-know-better-than-that” criteria. If you are dealing with someone that should know better than demand their own way, they are probably a bully to whom you need to stand up. In other words, if this is someone in church leadership, or who has influence over others, that is using his/her clout to sway the church, then a stand needs to be taken. I once heard a story of a church where an influential leader in the church would openly say in church business meetings, “That won’t happen as long as I’m at this church.” Because of the huge financial support that this one man gave to the church, this veiled threat was enough to sway the vote wherever and whenever he wanted. The pastor along with the rest of the church leadership, eventually handed him a check for his contributions up to that point in the year and told him that his money was too expensive for the church. He stopped contributing, and the church languished financially for a time, but eventually the individual conceded the error in his thinking and the church began to thrive. This is consistent with Jesus’ treatment of those that were to be leaders in the temple and Paul’s treatment of those that should have known better in Christian leadership in the church.
- Secondly, it is important for each of us to consider whether we are being a bully or even a weaker brother in our interactions with others in the church. One quick litmus test for this is to consider are you asking yourself how this applies to you or are you thinking of all the people that you wish would read this and be convicted by it. If sermons or the Bible seem to be less convicting to you than you think they should be to other people around you, there is pretty good chance you are they bully or the weaker brother/sister or possibly both.
May God give each of us the strength to lay down our preferences for the weaker brother or sister, the courage to stand up to the “Christian” bully, the wisdom to know the difference between the two, and the grace to handle each in a way that is consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.