It has been said that you don’t talk about politics or religion if you want a relaxed and convivial conversation.
In the UK, the only topic for the past few years, and no doubt the next is Brexit. To say things have been a little fractious is an understatement and proof of the opening sentence. With regard to religion, debates will rage concerning faith vs no faith, or denomination vs denomination, or faith vs another faith.
My grandfather loved a quote from an old western film. During a bar brawl, someone says ‘I’ve seen better fights at church meetings’. For anyone involved in a church this will no doubt ring true. There is nothing like a little bit of brotherly and sisterly love to leave you feeling punch drunk.
So, what do churches argue about? What are the issues where dog collars are torn and quiches thrown in righteous anger? Let’s have a wry look.
Cupboards can all be highly contentious in churches. They are guarded like pirate treasures and opened just as infrequently. However, if you try and move, empty or rearrange them you’ll feel the full force of the cleaning team, the ladies’ afternoon tea club or the Boys’ Brigade. Youth clubs don’t fit this list, they don’t use cupboards but leave their stuff all around the place to be discovered through the art of tripping over.
Cups and mugs
The after-service beverage is the source of much consternation. You’d think that the various shades of brown liquid served would be the main culprit, however, it seems that the actual cup is. Many churches have managed to find the smallest or flimsiest cups available and stuck with them. Despite their inappropriateness changing them is tantamount to mutiny.
Movable or non-movable furniture is, well, part of the furniture of our church buildings. Try to remove the beloved pew and you’ll face an exodus. Trying to move a pew sitter is equally difficult. Martin Luther may have stated his theological stance with ‘here, I stand’ but ‘here I sit’ is the stubborn reply when you want to rearrange the seating. When you ask for help to move things, the number of volunteers may be limited, yet behind your back, you’ll find an army of the congregation putting things back to where they were.
The Right Words
We all know that Jesus spoke in English akin to the King James Version of the Bible. He also used the words from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer to pray his own prayer. If a thee, thou and wherefore art thou (hold on isn’t that Shakespeare?) were good enough then, they are good enough now.
You’d think that this ancient and modern tradition would be free from divisive issues, but no. Play a different tune to the one recognised by your congregation and choir robes will be rent asunder and replaced with sackcloth. And don’t even think about using modern or gender correct wording (see above).
You’ve probably all thought or come across the sermon being too long, or too short or too high brow or too full of expletives (yes, that has happened.) But timing can also relate to specific services, Christmas and Easter service times are ones not to mess around with. And, try to change the timing or frequency of a quiet evening meeting, that only one or two attend, and its supporters begin to number legion.
In conclusion, or how to avoid the issues
Simply ignoring the above situations is the most obvious. But the truth is they can be disproportionately stressful for those involved and sometimes things need to change! But how? If you want to keep the punches aimed to a minimum here are a couple of simple tips:
- Listen closely to what people are saying before suggesting doing something different.
- Float ideas in advance and listen to the chatter.
- Don’t be afraid to drop the idea - It can always be resurrected at a later, more receptive date.
- Hold a referendum! (Despite the current UK political situation, if you get the question right, you’ll at least know how your congregation feel.)
This is a tongue in cheek look at flashpoint issues within the church. However, all the above are, to some extent, based on real situations. They have all been shared constructively in the Hub community. Sharing situations, asking for, and offering, help and ideas on how to respond to issues within a church congregation are just some of the ways the Hub can help you do healthy ministry.
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