The assumptions we make when church isn’t going well

Yesterday, I wrote about the assumptions we make when things are going well in church. Today, I thought I’d take a little look at some of the assumptions we make when things are going less well.

We all know that churches are full of problems of one sort or another. It is an inevitable part of life. Rare is the church that has everything together, everyone on point, everyone doing exactly what everyone else thinks they should be doing and doing it all as well as everyone else thinks they should.

As such, the ministries of the church (whatever they happen to be) are not always as A-grade as everyone thinks they should be either. Some things don’t work so well, some people aren’t so great at doing them, sometimes people just let us down. The list of ways in which churches seem to miss whatever marks of excellence we think should define them according to whatever preconceived idea of what we think excellence looks like are legion.

When people observe the things that are sub-par, I have noticed a tendency to make a number of assumptions. I’m not entirely sure what drives these assumptions but they are relatively common.

Some assumptions – as I said yesterday – are rooted in ourselves. We may begin to think that the way we’re doing things is fundamentally the reason why the Lord isn’t blessing. Whilst that can be true – doing things badly and unwisely may not work very well – it does overlook the fact that the Lord can use anything at all. We might be a bit rubbish, but the Lord isn’t and nothing is bigger than him. If he wants to use something, he will.

Some assume the church is the way it is because the pastor – whom they apparently assume has all the power in the church (such people obviously haven’t spent much time around congregational dissenting churches) – must have purposefully done it that way. I was talking to a pastor just the other day who was relaying to me about somebody in their congregation who can be a bit pernickety about largely unimportant things. He rightly said to this person, on the latest cause of offence, that we all have to make compromises in the church. He went on, ‘do you think everything in the church is exactly as I would have it because I’m the pastor or do you think I might have compromised on some non-essential things for the sake of others?’ Hardly a pastor I know leads a church in which every part of the church is exactly as they would have it and that is entirely to be expected when you have a membership of more than one!

Others make the assumption that things being less than A-1 is evidence that nothing is being done to rectify matters. If something isn’t working as well as someone has decided it should, they can begin to assume that either nobody else has noticed and isn’t doing anything about it or nobody is willing to try and resolve whatever it is. But just because a problem exists doesn’t mean steps haven’t been taken. Sometimes things take time to kick in. Othertimes, the attempts to resolve matters just aren’t enough to overcome them. Perhaps, despite our best efforts, there sometimes isn’t a workable solution.

Others still assume that perhaps something must be done. They work on the old politicians syllogism: something must be done; this is something; we must, therefore, do this. But sometimes there just isn’t anything to be done. Sometimes issues just have to run their course and be allowed to be because – despite the way we would prefer to have things – there isn’t really anything to be done. Or, what can be done will likely be ineffective. Or, if not entirely ineffective, vastly more work for little gain. Sometimes, there is either nothing to be done or it is best just to accept that the thing may just be left and you trust people to be mature enough to recognise that these things will sometimes be.

Nobody wants things to be worse than they need to be. Everybody wants things to be excellent. But sometimes, what we judge to be excellent just isn’t attainable in our situation. Sometimes mess simply attends everything we do. The best assumptions we can make when we see these things are the most charitable ones.