When my wife and I bought our house we felt as if we had moved to ‘the country’. We live in a suburb on the North East edge of Dallas. While we are surrounded by developments such as malls, coffee shops and big box stores we were also surrounded by wildlife. It’s not the Alaskan Bush, but there are more critters than we would have hoped for. In the two years we have lived here we have run into our fair share or snakes, coyotes, falcons, water birds, possums, and even a bobcat. Don’t even get me started on the wasps. So many wasps.
That first weekend I mowed the yard I killed twelve snakes. I am not a snake expert and can not identify a single snake. In my opinion they are all deadly! When I find one while mowing, I take it like a man (i.e. stop squealing) and kill the cursed creature and finish my yard work.
I noticed that over time the more effort I put into caring for our property, the fewer creatures I run across. As I removed thick brush, miles of vines, dead logs, fallen branches, old fencing and kept the grass trimmed and clean each passing season there were fewer snakes and the wasps are all but gone. I have changed as well, when outside I am less jumpy and less fearful when I do run across a creature with fangs.
This is similar to the work we do in the church. Churches that are unkempt are crawling with snakes. Why? Because they have a place to hide with environments conducive to their existence. They hang out in the cool, dark shadows. They cling to death and decay. As a Pastor one of your chief responsibilities is to eliminate places where creatures with fangs can thrive or hide.
I call this Loving Church Correction. Church Discipline is a scary thing for many young or new pastors. It may seem like taking on a major supreme court case when you are just a small town lawyer. Through careful attention to the church and its environments and by removing common “hiding places” harmful creatures will be fewer in number.
Here are a few ways to do that,
- Be swift and clear when obvious ‘small’ sins are committed. If you hear racist jokes, or profane humor correct it. Be firm and direct. Don’t make a show of it but do pull the person aside. Let them know that sort of action is unacceptable and that it will not happen again. The same goes for gossip, division and any other little sin we so often over look.
- Disband or repurpose meetings that have no agenda. We all know of the groups that get together and use the time to tear apart someone or something. Take action and address it when and where it occurs. Sometimes it is as simple as giving the group an actual goal and the means to accomplish the goal. Sometimes they have valid concerns which should be heard and resolved. Sometimes you need to just pull the plug on the group altogether.
- Water, feed and cut. Simply mowing a yard does not ensure its health. Every lawn needs the refreshment of water. Regularly water each group, team or committee by centering them on the Gospel. Feed them through the reading of God’s word in their regular meetings, not just the weekend worship gathering. Cut and prune with loving correction when things grow out of bounds. Remember that your correction is only as impactful as your compassion. Celebrate with people at least twice as much as you correct them, this will make times of correction easier to receive.
- Submit to the same standards. Some of the more fruitful moments in my pastorate have been those times other leaders have challenged me, pointing out selfish motives, pride and insecurity. An environment in which others feel empowered to lovingly and respectfully challenge or admonish Leaders creates congregational health and unity.
The truth is, snakes never go away. You will run into one or two every now and again. That is the way it is in a broken world, and churches are comprised of broken people. But the good news is, by God’s grace and steady loving church correction you will see fewer and fewer as you go.
Published September 3, 2015