Be Quick to Hear and Slow to Speak

It’s pretty easy to start a fight these days. If your first response to that opening line was, “No it’s not,” this might not be a good time to be reading this.

Of course, it has always been kind of easy to start a fight in the church, even if you don’t mean to.  I remember sitting with the board of a church and talking about the church as a family. One man strenuously objected and said, “No, it’s a body.” He wasn’t kidding around, and just like that, I found myself in an argument. He wouldn’t even agree that it could be both. It was a body or nothing. 

So yeah, it’s always been kind of easy, but now it is much more so. Everyone is on their last nerve because of the pandemic, and the prevailing way our culture tends to deal with complex issues doesn’t help. Nuance is lost, and shouting is in, so whether it’s complex theological issues, politics, conversations about the “other”, cultural issues, or good old pandemic talk, it’s not that hard to start a fight.

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The problem is I am not sure starting fights or winning fights is what we are called to do. The problem right now is that you may not know you have started one or entered in to one, like my example above, so what can we do to make sure we are all doing our part to be people who love like Jesus and are working towards unity in His church?  I don’t have all the answers.  But here are some reminders for all of us (including myself here).

  1. Be careful when you give your critical opinion. Think through what you are about to sound off on.  Why? Because there are most likely people behind what you are about to criticize. Behind every “worship here is terrible” is a person or group of people doing their best. There is no need to rip them apart, which is what you are doing even if you don’t say their names. Have an opinion, but be careful, prayerful, and thoughtful about how you express it. Look to solve the issue without tearing people down.
  2. You don’t have to join the fight. Sure, the opinion they are expressing may not match yours.  That’s ok. You don’t have to engage, especially if you feel your temperature going up. Maybe there is a better time and place to have the discussion or maybe it doesn’t need to happen at all.  If they are insistent, look for ways to de-escalate so that it can be a conversation, not a fight.  Proverbs 15 (Amplified Bible) – A soft and gentle and thoughtful answer turns away wrath, but harsh and painful and careless words stir up anger Let’s work on being turners away of wrath, not anger stirrers, no matter how wrong they are and how right we are.
  3. Don’t argue online. In fact, these interactions can be worse because you can’t read tone or see facial expressions, so we tend to think the worst. If you need to comment on something somebody said, try and do it in person where again you can have a conversation, not online where we are all tempted to say things we would never say to somebody’s face. Besides, nobody in the history of communication was swayed to change their mind by a comment on Facebook, but those comments have done all kinds of relational damage. 

Understand this my beloved brothers and sisters.  Let everyone be quick to hear (be a careful, thoughtful listener), slow to speak (a speaker of carefully chosen words and) slow to anger (patient, reflective and forgiving). James 1:19

I pray that this will be more and more true of our churches, as we interact with one another and then as we interact with the world around us.  This really is a church health matter.  Many churches have rifts in them that need to be healed. Fellowship and unity need to be restored, and we will all have to work at it. This has been a tough season. I get that, but we are called to be Jesus people. Our churches should be places of unity and fellowship.  Jesus said the world would know we are His by how we love one another, not by how we start and win fights but by how we talk and listen and love and work through difficulties together, so let’s do that.        

Marc McAlister

Director of Leadership Development and Church Health

Free Methodist Church in Canada

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