EN article: Problems in the church? Don’t go nuclear at once

I have been asked to write a regular column for Evangelicals Now. The latest article (my original, unedited version) is below. The title (as ever) isn’t mine, but the unedited content below is.

We’ve been having trouble with our electrics of late. I am writing this just before Christmas, where the problems have come to light.* We knew, when we moved into this house two years ago, that things were not A-1. We didn’t, however, realise quite how bad things really were. To cut a long story short, we had three opinions from different electricians and all of them reached the same conclusion: our electrics were a total mess!

What then proceeded to happen was a series of moves to try and avoid an entire rewire of our home. Certain elements were changed, new breakers fitted, fault finding got underway. Having thought we cracked it, the next morning, the switch trips again. Back came the electricians to do some more investigations, attempt a temporary fix before some more serious work is carried out. This article will be out in the February edition of Evangelicals Now, I am only marginally confident we will have resolved this problem by the time it lands!

Of course, nobody buys this esteemed publication to hear me whine about electrical faults in my house (though, thank you for indulging me, it is cathartic). But the issues we are currently (or, hopefully, no longer) having with our electrics have developed in a very similar way to what we often see in churches. That’s right, I am saying churches can be a lot like faulty electrics (yes, I know, don’t write in!)

When we first moved in, we knew the electrics weren’t great, but we thought they would be manageable. That is, so often, how many of us enter church. Yes, we think, there are some issues. Yes, of course, we know the last pastor left and couldn’t address them. But we can definitely manage them. It will be different for us despite all those issues being exactly the same.

Then, of course, a small fault develops. In the case of our electrics, a periodically tripping breaker. No big deal, we just flick it back on and carry on as normal until it goes again. Similarly, those problems that we thought were entirely manageable for us in the church, soon develop into an actual issue. It may not be the world’s biggest problem and we may find ways to effectively manage it, even if it isn’t ideal, but there it is – a fault in the church.

Of course, as with my electrical fault, you might be able to manage it for a while but you know it isn’t going away by itself. Once the fault is there, you need to do something to rectify it. Managing the fault for too long, far from sorting the problem, will lead to other issues. Likewise, when issues rear their head in the church, simply leaving them – or ‘managing’ them – won’t make them go away. In fact, it may well exacerbate other problems that hadn’t yet cropped up. Genuine faults need fixing, not managing, lest they blow out your entire system. Similarly, issues in the church need addressing, not merely managing, otherwise they will create further, more serious problems for you down the track.

Once we had called out the electrician, they began with some obvious and smaller work to see if that rectified the problem. As the simpler solutions failed to address the heart of the issue, bigger and more costly work was carried out until the fault was fixed (or, rather, until I hope the fault was fixed!). Again, in the church, we oughtn’t to hit the nuclear button the first time an issue arises. Instead, we start with simple, small solutions to address the problem. If those fail to work, we move to bigger, more significant potential solutions.

We don’t necessarily need to rewire our entire house to when replacing our dodgy kettle would do. But, at the same time, replacing a lightbulb here and there won’t fix major wiring problems. Sense tells us to start with what is simple and easy before jumping in the deep end. Similarly, in the church, we must address issues when they arise. But we don’t have to move to defcon 1 the moment there is an inkling of a problem. We start with the simple, the gentle, the not so costly things first before working our way up to more serious solutions.

Think carefully about how you approach your church. And, of course, whilst you’re thinking about that, maybe you could pray for my poor electrics while you’re at it.

*This blog post comes out literally halway through the work the electricians are doing on our home. It is likely to be finished tomorrow but, as tends to happen with these things, one problem leads to the discovery of several others.