hope for churches in stress

Clean up Your Mess

​As our daughters were growing up, we had a standing rule before mealtimes: clean up your mess. We expected our daughters to take responsibility to clean up the “messes” created by their activities.

This is also a good rule for the church.

Messes in the church are normal and generally good (Acts 6:1-7; 15:1-21, 36-41). Different viewpoints and contending ideas are “grist” for vigorous exchanges that culminate in good direction and action plans.

However, some messes will degenerate into hurtful speech and difficult behaviors. All of us are marred by sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)—and destructive messes inevitably ensue.

A church that is actively reclaiming “those who are sick” (Mk. 2:17) may have a higher proportion of difficult people and, for this (good) reason, even greater potential for debilitating messes.

In a smaller church, because everyone knows everyone else, any mess (small or large) is like a rock thrown into a pond. The ripples wash over everyone and the whole church is disturbed.

A good summary of a biblical and balanced approach to cleaning up messes has been articulated by the Mennonite Church USA, a faith community with a longstanding commitment to pursuing peace. The document, Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love (also available in Spanish), is a valuable resource for responsible and considerate ways to deal with difficult behavior.

But the first step is a decision not to sidestep or delay action. Clean up your mess!

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