When Pettiness in Church Rears Its Ugly Head


Each day that week, the Baptist Press website posted five of our cartoons on the theme of "Pastor Search Committee humor." The drawing was basically the same for the week but with a little tweaking on each day.

The captions were different for each. A committee member is speaking:

— "This guy lives in Hawaii. I think we should visit his church."

— "This pastor is unemployed. So we could get him cheap."

— "This resume' is from our former pastor. Wonder if he has gotten smarter."

— "This one's wife has a job, so he could use her health insurance and save the church money."

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— "This guy says he's a lot like our former pastor. Yes, but nothing like our next one!"

Among the comments was this one from a lady somewhere: "This is why I am no longer a Southern Baptist. I despise this kind of littleness."

I knew her only from Facebook—which means hardly at all—but sent her a private note asking, "May I ask what denomination you found where the human element has been taken out? Every religious group on the planet has to deal with people's ambitions, their littleness, pettiness, carnal thoughts, competitiveness, etc."

Two hours later she responded. She had joined a large independent church with "none of the kind of infighting and littleness I observed in Baptist churches. Here, the leaders take care of matters."

I do not know that church and certainly wish them all the best. But anyone with a smattering of knowledge of human nature is under no illusion about that church or any other one. They all have the same temptations, struggle with the same issues and work constantly to walk the path of righteousness.

The Catholic church, which on the surface appears to be as hierarchical as it's possible to get, has to deal with the same pettiness and self-centered ambitions among its priests and nuns as do Baptists and others with their ministers and lay leaders.

It's because we are human.

Furthermore, we did not stop being human the day we came into the church and began following Jesus.

That does not make pettiness right. It just explains what it's doing here.

Here are five realities for anyone who would join themselves to the people of God to accomplish His work on earth:

1. The people are all flawed. Just because they are redeemed and are called sons and daughters of God does not mean they'll always act like it. "For He knows how we are formed; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14). God is under no illusion about His children. The one who made us knows we are made of humble stuff. He knows He got no bargain when He saved us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us.

2. Because we are different, there will be different points of view. Some will call these arguments or disagreements. "Even we ourselves groan within ourselves" (Rom. 8:23b, NKJV). Complete unity is always the goal. That kind of perfection is rarely attained and never maintained for any length of time.

In one sense, disagreements can be healthy and even beneficial. Those who study management strategies suggest that leaders should not bring together a team of identical personalities. It's better they assemble some who are visionary, some more practical-minded, some spontaneous and creative, others more detailed and orderly. It can make for a madhouse but can also produce some great ideas if the leadership is strong and secure and willing to endure some differences of opinion.

3. Occasionally, the differences will result in estrangements and some kind of separation. It happens to the best. Paul and Barnabas had a falling out over John Mark (see Acts 15:36-41). And that's not all bad. See No. 4.

4. God will use these situations if we give them to Him. Because of Paul and Barnabas' disagreement, the church ended up with two missionary teams instead of one. Barnabas took the young John Mark and headed to Cyprus while Paul chose Silas and returned to Asia Minor.

5. We should always be working to do better, to grow more Christlike, to love more and serve better. The fact that God can use a schism does not mean we should try to create them. "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18).

We must not give up on churches that struggle to get this right so long as they are genuinely working at it. It's when the faithful members throw in the towel and give up on trying to do the godly thing that signals the time to move on.

Until then, brethren, let us love one another.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

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