Marion’s third complaint was that there was massive church politics at all times and some of it reached the level of spiritual abuse in her mind. She could not be part of something that hurtful to her and that illegitimate.
There are two sides to the coin here. First is the nature of dysfunction, and second is our indirect legitimization of an organization by our continued presence and participation.
Let’s look at the first issue. I have knocked around religion for a long time and have loosely categorized faith communities into three kinds of dysfunction – plus those churches that are healthy and vibrant.
First are the pastors who are passive or powerless. Sin runs amok in the church, especially in the leadership team, but they do nothing. Those pastors seem to have evolved from the legendary three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.
Second are the powerful pastors who run their church like a personal fiefdom right out of the middle ages. Any suggestion that aught is not right produces violent blowback, designed to discourage any repetition of those kinds of observations.
Third are the churches where nothing is simple. There are sundry sectors of power, each discretely competing with the other for political advantage. Behind the facade of a simple question like, “Do you think we should have lasagna for the church potluck?” lies a minefield of competing agendas.
None of those are any fun to be a part of. But let’s be real. Each of those three is mirrored in the workplace. The exact same scenarios exist in millions of businesses, small or large where many of us work. The only difference is that the dysfunction in the marketplace is not gilded with the name of God.
Most people work at companies that they don’t respect, doing jobs in dysfunctional contexts that they don’t like. But they do it for a living. They need the income, so they endure the mess, make the best out of a bad situation and go through life reasonably well, in spite of spending 40 hours a week in a blatantly dysfunctional context.
That brings me to the observation that leaving a church because it is a mess is not necessarily a logical action given the fact that you don’t leave every job that is a mess. It actually reveals the fact that we bring a consumer attitude instead of a builder’s vision to our church relationship. If the church serves me well, I stay. If not, I go.
This is how we treat restaurants. And gas stations. And dry cleaners. And any other consumer outlet. Our association with them is fully dependent on whether we like the experience or not.
Why does church attendance fall in the consumer category where we get to be picky, but work falls into a different category where most people spend decades working at places they don’t like for bosses they don’t respect?
My proposal is quite simple. If God can give you the grace to work in a dysfunctional context, He can also provide the grace to attend a dysfunctional church and be productive for the Kingdom.
Now, flipping the equation to the other side is the issue of legitimizing sin, or crimes if we look at the marketplace. First of all, there IS a limit.
I fussed at my bosses from the time I started in construction until I left, because there was a significant gap between my ethics and theirs. A couple of times I refunded money out of my own pocket to customers who had been ripped off by my boss on jobs I was somewhat connected to. But one time was over the top. I was sent to do the final gas inspection on a track of new homes in La Mirada. Twenty of the 34 homes failed the final inspection.
That means that those 20 homes had the first two inspections falsified. It also meant that they had slow leaks inside the wall which my company was prepared to let slide. I quit that job because I could not accept the liability of a gas leak in a wall, for obvious reasons.
So whether you are at work or at church, there is a point where the malfeasance is so egregious that your knowledge of it compels action or you become complicit by your knowledge, even if not by your action.
In those extreme cases, it is actually pretty easy to determine a course of action. It may be difficult to implement the course of action, but seeing what has to be done is not hard when you are operating on the extremes.
But what do you do in the day after day scenario where people are being robbed and hurt by leadership that is knowingly exploitative?
Whether at work or at church, my answer is to focus on growth, not justice. There are two areas of growth. First is our own ability to walk in wisdom in corrupt contexts. Scripture is full of people who had to face sustained injustice and still be highly productive. From Jacob to Joseph to David to Nehemiah to Eliakim to Daniel we see godly people being challenged by corrupt systems and learning to walk in righteousness.
It is neither easy nor fun, but the challenge of growing in wisdom makes you a much larger person. And I believe that is why God puts us in those situation. He could certainly judge the turkeys of us a dozen different ways, but just like He used Pharaoh to push the Hebrews to grow in two areas they did not want to grow in, so God can use pastors and bosses to grow us up.
Secondly, when we are the sounding board for others around us who are grousing about the abuse, we should step into the builder’s mindset and teach them how to be productive in an unjust situation.
Any entrepreneur faces this all day long. In California, there is no workman’s compensation category for an employee involved in web development, and there is no category for a business that does online sales. Unjust? Certainly. There are some state employees that ought to get off their duff and update the categories every 20 years or so.
But business goes on even though the rules are unjust. We negotiated with the state auditor and agreed on a goofy category to solve both problems.
Whether we are at church or at work, a consumer goes in with a rights oriented perspective and any injustice that occurs becomes a significant emotional issue, blocking them from making progress in receiving what they want.
By contrast a builder goes into each situation fully aware that the context is skewed against them, but they are committed to finding a way forward, in the midst of the injustice to accomplish something of value.
And we are called to be noble subjects, not pampered parlor poodles. God does not owe us a cushy context for work. We owe Him a good product wherever He assigned us.
That means focusing on our responsibility, not our rights.
Copyright July 2015 by Arthur Burk
From home at the end of a highly productive Monday, marred by only one significant injustice.