Have you ever caught someone talking badly about you, your family or your employer?
When it happens around the church world, as pastors, we’ll say, “don’t tear down the bride with that kind of talk…” or “man, that makes the bride look bad”
This idea of the Church (i.e. The universal body of believers, Christians, Catholic, etc) as the “bride of Christ” has many scriptural reference points but here’s one of them:
2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. (2 Corinthians 11)
Recently I found myself getting all worked up, rehearsing all the comeback lines and talking points (all of this neurotically in my head-of course) over someone who had publicly made a whole group of people I represent look and sound bad.
My first thought was: flame war.
My second thought was: I should call someone first.
My third thought was: dangit now I can’t go pick a fight.
Finally, I thought: geeze, that really worked me up… what can I learn from all this?
And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who has every temporarily given into the adrenalizing nature of self-defense record straightening…
But the thing that bummed me out the most is that this individual was basically from the same team… you know like the same office, the same community or church, like someone who carries the same last name.
I’ll be more transparent: it was a comment from a local pastor about another pastor (and his church) and here I am a pastor. (Oh man this is starting to look like a horribly sad “3 pastors walk into a bar” joke…)
And that is what makes this scenario so pathetically painful… because you would expect better right?!
And in this case you expect better not just because you’re hoping that everyone thinks like you, operates like you and treats others like you. But because the team, the family, the household is all governed by the same exact commandments!
Here’s my favorite and most direct example of what I mean:
The Gospels record several instances of Jesus rescuing people from demon-possession; of all his acts and wonders it’s a very consistent thematic act of Jesus’ miraculous ministry.
So like many occasions before it, the people… “they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.” (Matthew 12)
And of course the religious elite were envious and humbled by their inability to explain and believe Jesus for who he was.
They-the pious ones of the times-(who so often stood in opposition to Jesus’ way and words) then call Jesus out (even though-yes, they’re supposed to be on same team) and say something to this affect:
“Sure, he can ‘cast’ out demons because he gets his power from the prince of demons.”
So I guess the logic is: he must be on the devil’s side because he has the ability to manipulate and control them.
And Jesus does what Jesus does best which is to confound them with a totally logical and truth-filled thing to say:
23 Jesus called them over and responded with an illustration. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. 24 “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. 25 Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive. (Mark 3; Matthew 12)
Well yeah, duh… I’m not trying to be magically original or profound here, I’m just trying to let the verse speak… It says very plainly: how can we be on the same team and yet tear each other apart-the sooner we do that the sooner we and all that we stand for falls to pieces.
A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. A family divided will collapse. An organization divided will collapse. A church divided will collapse.
Here are some learnings for me…
First, I got emotional. This was a great reminder of just how weak I am…
Now hear and understand me, I’m not suggesting that feelings are bad. I’m talking about a particular type of emotion that turns off the rational, higher functioning parts of your brain.
I was all alpha, all fight or flight, all incite a riot… and these, my friends, are a few of our favorite things, but not very helpful for a maturing leader.
Second, I was reminded of how I do NOT want to influence and lead people.
Here’s what I mean: do not mistake the catalyzing power of a message oriented around a common enemy. All good stories are born this way… hero, antagonist, plot (dramatic arch), conclusion. But I think it’s the lower and weaker road to mobilize people around an enemy rather than a common good.
Third, this affects all areas of our life. This is a motivation against common, everyday slander. Just don’t do it….
It does not serve anyone.
It doesn’t serve you or your reputation.
It doesn’t serve the listening audience and it obviously doesn’t serve the target of your verbal onslaught.
And when you at least say you believe in Jesus, and the way of Jesus was so clearly enemy love, you may have reason to pause and really begin to think about what serves your enemy. Weird, crazy, radical-I know… but that was the way of Jesus nonetheless.
Fourth, just take Jesus’ words… He says that when we do this, when we tear each other down from within the same team, we destroy ourselves. It’s self-destruction its cannibalism-it’s eating your own kind.
I think probably most Christians read the passage and think that Jesus was just talking about “them… out there”-the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of the devil.
But using his logic isn’t it so plain to see that the opposite is true within our kingdom-the kingdom of good and peace and righteousness? If we can even call it that with a historical legacy of in fighting such as ours.
Finally, my learning is that we have to build some consensus and some mandate around refusing to tear down our own team.
And in fact what I wanted to do to this guy who was putting my people on blast was not to meet him on that silly juvenile playing field that is the internet, but instead what I immediately sought to do was get his phone number…
No-not to call and berate him or crank call or threaten his children. But to set up a coffee date. Literally. And that’s something very recent that I’ve learned, but it’s as old as time… that when you have a problem with someone you go to the source.
You don’t go to their friends or their neighbors or their competitors, you go to the source and have words-eyeball to eyeball. If we could learn to do this more, if we could have the courage and resolve to meet “the enemy” direct and remember that we are in fact on the same team, oh Lord just imagine the possibilities.