When the Pastor Excuses Sin...
I have alluded to a extremely troubling statement that was made during a recent discussion about the topic of fellowship. First, this statement was made by a pastor (yes, I know they are all human).
Second, it was I believe an overall statement but it really was a tale-telling paragraph. Third, when I processed it and really thought on it, it blew me away.
Let me say I am going to paraphrase because I can not remember the exact words that were said. However, what I am about to share with you is as close as it really was.
In the early stages of the discussion, someone said,
"One trouble with fostering fellowship is when there are cliques within a church. It is hard for a new person to be accepted or hang out with some people." He went on to say, "We really don't have cliques. We just have some people who like to hang out together. They like each other and have things in common. They just like hanging together."
On the surface that sounds all good and well, right? After all I like to hang out with people that I like and that I have some things in common with. You would never find me hanging out with a bunch of metalheads. Now, find me a group who love (d) the Possum and I'll hang with them all day.
Think carefully on that statement. It is an unfortunate truth that most congregations have cliques. Sometimes we call them "The Powers that Be." Sometimes we call them "The Old Guard." Many times we don't call them anything but we see them. More tragically, we often see the effects these cliques have on the body and on new people.
I have lived in a town where you could be established for twenty years and still be considered both new and as an outsider. I have seen churches where people have given up trying to penetrate a clique after being a member for several years.
Cliques are very dangerous. They focus on themselves and refuse to let new people "in." It is not just being refused "membership" or participation in the clique that is the major problem. It is the fact that the cliques are unaccepting and non-Christlike.
New people are not welcome. They are not treated as brothers and sisters who share the same father. They are often treated like the "red-headed step-child." They are not nourished, edified, encouraged, instructed, matured, or discipled.
So, for a pastor to recognize that his church has cliques only to excuse it furthers sinful behavior. It is one thing to see a problem but it is another to fail to correct it. What is worse is to allow the problem to continue by excusing the behavior by giving it a different name. To say that we don't have cliques, we just have people who love to hang together who won't let new people hang with them seems incongruent to me with Christianity.
Now in all fairness, no one picked up on that statement and the discussion went off into another direction. No further explanation and/or information was given by the pastor who made that comment. I don't want to put words in is mouth nor do I want to make a blanket indictment without all the additional facts. After all I don't know what his full thought process on cliques may be. Not to mention the fact that I really like this guy.
But -we can not excuse sinful behavior. I guess the first question we must ask, "Are cliques sinful?" Notice I didn't ask if cliques are natural. I didn't ask if cliques were inevitable. I didn't ask if cliques existed in all congregations. I am asking if they are sinful.
If they are we as shepherds must take steps to prevent them and to break the up if they are discovered. We must teach every member to accept, welcome, and nurture every member of the body.
Give me a break! I realize that first of all, this is extremely difficult. It just needs to worked at! Prayer is a difficult discipline. For it to become natural or second nature we must work at it.
Second, we do have to protect our congregation, our family, and ourselves. We must make every effort to determine if a new person is in fact a believer and not a tare. I realize we would deal with or handle tares a bit different from the real McCoy.
Remember you don't get to choose who will be your fellow siblings in your family. You learn to accept, love, and care for the brothers and sisters that come along. The body of Christ is no different. You don't get to pick and choose your brothers and sisters whom Christ has elected to salvation and placed in your local congregation.
You have to learn to accept, love, and nurture them like you would your fleshly brothers and sisters. My one brother and three sisters are as different from me as night and day. But I love them, I need them, and when I can in a Christ-like manner I try to nurture them.
My post today is not designed to deal with cliques. Nor is intended to encourage congregational members to nurture every believer with the congregation sans cliques.
My point is this - "Houston, we have a problem!" When a pastor or pastors excuse sinful behavior very rarely will congregational members eradicate sinful behavior. In other words, if we permit cliques to exist because we think they are just a group of people who like to hang together, new people will never have a chance.
They will be the ones who come to you one day and say "Pastor, we are leaving because we can't find fellowship." By the way, rarely will they say, "Pastor we are leaving because we can't penetrate the cliques that you have excused."
Well, I think I have said all that I can say for now about fellowship. We have spent several days at this and I hope I have shared something that might be useful.