If you care about the spread of the gospel and the work of the church, you probably partner with other pastors and churches in your community. But what happens when one of these pastors or churches experiences a moral failing, congregational turmoil, or some form of a scandal? When rumors spread, accusations fly, and factions emerge, how should you respond as a fellow Christian in the community?
Before you respond, consider asking yourself three questions.
1. Do you secretly hope your ministry might gain from another’s loss?
We need to be honest with ourselves and admit this can be a temptation. Many churches grow simply because other churches fail. This is not the gospel advancing but the market share shifting. Your church may grow larger as a result of another church’s collapse, but this is a burden to bear rather than a blessing to anticipate, since those people will need significant help and healing.
Many churches grow simply because other churches fail. This is not the gospel advancing but the market share shifting.
2. Are you inadvertently contributing to the confusion from afar?
In the social media era, the urge to chime in and give your opinion on every controversy can be irresistible.
God raises up elders in churches to shepherd, guide, and care. Let them do their job without your armchair quarterbacking or Monday-morning commentaries. You’re simply not privy to the hours of conversations, emails, and meetings that surround such issues. Don’t presume to have a better perspective.
3. Are you contributing to the chaos by sowing discord or doubt?
Don’t seek to grow your church at the expense of another by actively poaching those hurting members or contributing to the situation in unhelpful ways. Questions like “Why are you still there?” or “How can you sit under that man’s preaching?” may make you feel better about your church, but it does nothing to help the church.
Trust God to build your congregation because you’re faithful to your calling, not because someone else may not have been in theirs.
Better Way to Respond
If you answer yes to any of the above questions, your ecclesiology may be more shaped by a business mentality than by biblical mission, seeing other churches as competition rather than partners in the gospel.
If that’s you, consider four alternate postures of response when another church struggles.
1. Be broken by the hurt this issue is causing in people’s lives.
If there’s truth to the rumors of a scandal, there will be pain, grief, loss, and so much more for the church. Now is the time for tears of compassion and pleading for grace, mercy, and help from God—if not for the guilty at this moment, than certainly for the innocent.
2. Be angry about sin’s destructive work.
Remember that our battle isn’t ultimately against each other, but against sin. Yes, be angry at the behaviors of a moral failing—the foolishness of arrogance, the pride and hubris so common to man—but make sure your anger is rooted in God’s hatred toward sin. Otherwise your anger may only blind you to self-righteousness.
Anger about a moral failing must be rooted in God’s hatred toward sin. Otherwise your anger may only blind you to self-righteousness.
3. Be admonished to walk more circumspectly in your own ministry.
Whatever the scandalous situation, it likely involves men and women just like you—which means it could’ve easily been you.
Be wise. Be accountable. Cultivate a deep love for God, the gospel, your spouse, your family, and your church. Ask others if they see any area of your life that needs more oversight. Scandal frequently involves sex, money, and power. Do all you can to live above reproach in all three areas.
4. Actively encourage hurting sheep to faithfulness, endurance, patience, and prayer.
Fight for the holiness and sanctification of the struggling church and its members. Encourage them to seek peace, be faithful, hold fast, and respect leaders. Pray that God would use even this for greater purposes. If you’re a pastor, tell your members what role you’ll take and how they can be peacemakers and instruments of grace.
May it be true that each of us did all we could to build up rather than tear down, to serve rather than merely ‘succeed,’ to co-labor rather than compete.
In the end, we must all understand that the well-being of the church in any community goes far beyond how our particular church is doing. One day we’ll each give an account for how we helped or hurt the broader church beyond our immediate context. May it be true that each of us did all we could to build up rather than tear down, to serve rather than merely “succeed,” to co-labor rather than compete.
Ric Rodeheaver will be co-leading a breakout session on church revitalization at TGC’s West Coast Conference this October 16 to 18 in Southern California. Speakers also include Alistair Begg, Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, Jeremy Treat, Ray Ortlund, D. A. Horton, and more. Register today at TGC.org/West18.