Five Principles for Better Relationships in the Church”

By

Emmett I. Aldrich

 

Introduction

I would like to begin today with a poem.  The author is unknown, but the poem reads….

“A careless word may kindle strife;

A cruel word may wreck a life;

A bitter word may hate instill;

A brutal word may smite and kill;

A gracious word may smooth the way;

A joyous word may light the day.

A timely word may lessen stress;

A loving word may heal and bless.”

[As printed in: 30 days to Taming YourTongue: What you say (and don’t say) will Improve your Relationships” by: Deborah Smith Pegues, page 131].

Recently, I became aware of a book titled, “Antagonists in the Church.”  I have tried desperately to get a copy of this book, but so far I have not been successful.  In any event, from what I know about the book, the author outlines how animosity and dissension in a Church between members can lead to the overall demise of a Church and eventual closure.  The idea is, is that the relationships among members can be critical to the survival of that Church.

In this context, Mt. Olivet is no different than any other Church with respect to “antagonists” being among us.  Now, I’m sure that most people don’t set out to be antagonistic; but nonetheless, their interactions with others lead to this situation and are very disruptive to on-going relationships.

For the most part, we don’t expect this kind of behavior from “Church folks”, but why shouldn’t we?  The Church is an institution, and members bring their personalities with them on Sunday, the same as with any other institution.  We were born in sin, so we should not be surprised when negative influences seem to surface on Sundays, no sooner than the Pastor finishes the sermon.

Well, what can we do about it?  I want to offer five (5) principles that I think we can follow to help improve our interpersonal relationships.

 

Five Principles

 

1) Engage in Self-Control

 

Have you ever heard someone say…? “I always speak my mind, no matter what.”  What is your reaction when you hear this comment?  Do you start to slowly move away from that person, because you really don’t want to hear what they might say without thinking? 

When we hear this statement, we generally perceive that this person is likely to say the first thing that comes to mind, no matter how hurtful or damaging it may be.  They often will make this statement with a certain sense of pride, and expect that whatever they say will be respected and acceptable to the person hearing their comment.  It also tends to suggest that they are someone on the edge and may be out of control.  That’s why we move away – we don’t want to be the target of their thoughtless remarks. 

Proverbs 25:28 tells us that,

“A man without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls.”

This is a very simple verse, but we all remember what our parents used to tell us…. “Think before you speak.”  This is still good advice that helps us have positive relationships with those around us. 

We should never assume that our age or experience in life allows us to say anything we want, at any time, to anyone we want, at any place.  Our thoughts and attitudes toward others make a difference in how successful we are in our relations with others.  What we don’t say can sometimes be just as important as what we do say. 

Let me digress for a moment on this theme of what you don’t say can be important.  We all remember another saying our parents gave us that, “Silence is Golden.”  The real saying is, “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” [From: 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue, by Deborah Pegues, page 125].

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-7, we also find a familiar passage that reads in part…

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

Recently, I read a story about a husband and wife who became angry at each other over some infraction or slight that neither of them really remembered what it was about.  They just knew that it was the other person’s fault and they both were looking for an apology from the other.  Anyway, they were giving each the silent treatment, and neither one wanted to be the first person to speak until the other one gave in first. 

The husband had an out of town trip the next day, and left a note for his wife to wake him at 5:00 am the next morning so he could catch his flight on time.  His wife was the early riser in the home, so it was not unusual for her to wake him when he needed to get out early.  (Sounds like my household).

The next morning, (guess what happened), he woke up only to discover that he overslept and missed his flight.  As he started to get out of bed, obviously he was angry and was going to confront his wife on why she had not awaken him, when he saw a note on his night stand.  The note said, “Its 5:00 am, wake up.”   [From, 30 days to Taming Your Tongue, by: Deborah Smith Pegues, page 124].

You are in control of your attitude and actions towards others and we must always exercise self-control in our relationships.

To engage in self-control, we also need to have a reasonable level of self-awareness and an understanding of how our emotions come into play in how we respond, rather than react to certain situations.  How we respond may be shaped by our life experiences, but we still control our ultimate response.

            When we exercise self-control, we “consider the interest of others.”

2) Do Not Engage in Verbal Abuse

 

Most of us would never think of physically abusing a child or a spouse, but we don’t think twice about being verbally abusive to others.  When you think about it, verbal (or mental) abuse is just as destructive as physical abuse.

Verbal abuse may come in the form of terse comments that are belittling to others and can damage their self-esteem.  It might come in the form of harsh words or accusations that are spoken without giving thought to how it will make the other person feel.  It might come in the form of intimidating behavior that is threatening to the person on the receiving end.

How many of you remember the bullies from the playground when we were children?  Bullies can also be adults and they engage in activities or behaviors that coerce others into believing that the bully has control over them.  Have you been the victim of a bully?  Were you ever a bully yourself?

How did you feel the last time someone was just downright rude to you?  Did it spoil your day?  Did you remember how rude they were long after the episode occurred?

The book of Proverbs gives us guidance and life instructions on how we should or should not interact with each other.  Consider these in connection with how we should speak to each other…

Proverbs 10:11 and 14 – “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.  (v14) Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.”

Proverbs 10:19“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

Proverbs 15:1-2 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.”

Proverbs 16:23-24 – “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth and his lips promote instruction.  Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Proverbs 25:11 – “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”

Proverbs 31:26 – “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

These verses can help remind us that we need to be positive in our communications with each other.  We need to be affirming, supportive and encouraging of each other.

When we refrain from verbal abuse, we “consider the interest of others.”

3) Don’t Be Judgmental of Others

 

This one may be tough for most of us to do because every day we make judgmental comments (or have judgmental thoughts) about other people, many of whom we don’t even know.  We can see people in passing, and immediately our thoughts go to…. “Her dress is too short,” or “He needs a hair cut.” Or “Who sold him that suit?”  We find fault with others and make these kinds of casual comments without any thought to the other person’s circumstances.  It is even worst and hurtful if we give voice to these thoughts directly to the person to which the criticism is directed.  In Luke 6:36-37, Christ reminds us,

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

The message from this passage is that, we should not engage in certain behaviors because it is likely that we could not stand up to scrutiny if we applied the same evaluation criteria to ourselves.

In Matthew, Chapter 7, Christ gives a clear message about being judgmental of others. 

Matthew 7:1-5 - “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Wow!  There is no doubt about what Christ is telling us here.  But wait – there is more!  The passage continues….

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brothers eye.”

You might admit that it is easy for us to find fault in others, but not ourselves.  As Christian brothers and sisters in the Church, we are admonished by God not to be hypocritical or self-righteous in our actions with others.  Christ reminds us that we must first examine ourselves, before we can expect to help others.

When we are not judgmental of others we “consider the interest of others.”

4) Practice Forgiveness

 

There are many passages on Forgiveness in the Bible.  But one of the key passages can be found in the book of Matthew, where we can come to understand the spiritual dimensions of Forgiveness and the role it plays in our lives.  Matthew 18:21 reads…

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?  Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

This is a powerful message, and it tends to suggest that forgiveness is limitless.  So what does this say to us?  I would suggest that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we must move beyond hanging on to resentment that we may feel when someone makes one of those off-handed comments to us that we feel was undeserved or unwarranted.  We must be willing to forgive that person for what we may perceive as a slight or a disrespectful remark.

How many people do you know that hang on to anger or resentment for someone because of something someone said or did many years ago?  If you ask them why they are still angry, they may be vague as to what happened to make them angry in the first place.  They just remember that they are supposed to still be angry with that person.

The classic story on forgiveness is told by Bishop Desmond Tutu in his book titled, There Is No Future Without Forgiveness (page 272), where he recounts the story of two former prisoners of war from the Viet Nam war.  They had not seen each other for many years after the war, but just happened to run into each other one day at the Viet Nam War Memorial just by chance.  They were happy for the reunion, and as they talked and spent time getting caught up with each other, one of the veterans said to the other, “Have you ever forgiven those who held you as a prisoner of war?”  The other veteran replied in a strong voice, “I will never forgive them!”  The first veteran was surprised at the response, but said to his friend, “It seems as if they still have you in prison, don’t they.”

In Ephesians chapter 4:31-32, Paul tells us,

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

When we practice forgiveness, we “consider the interest of others.”

The next principle may surprise you a bit, but I need to put out there for you to think about.  Number five (5) is….

5) Don’t talk about the Pastor or Others in a Negative Way

 

As most of you know, the Mission Statement for Mt. Olivet on the back cover of the bulletin says….

“The mission of Mount Olivet is to be a community church, making disciples of all ages and cultures for Christ.”

            To achieve this mission, one of the things we do at Mt. Olivet is to go out of our way to make visitors feel welcome.  Another thing we do is to invite others to worship with us, and have special services, such as “Friends and Family” day or other special services.

            In Colossians 4:5-6, we see this admonishment….

            “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” 

Imagine for a minute what your reaction would be if you visited another Church and the members had nothing but negative things to say about the Pastor.  Would you want to visit that Church again?  What if the members frequently referred to other members in a negative way?  Would you want to be associated with that Church?  You probably couldn’t wait to get out the door.

Well, it’s no different for us here at Mt. Olivet .  If we refer to our Pastor or other members in a negative way, will we ever achieve our mission of being a community Church and making disciples of others?  I don’t think so.  No one wants to be in an atmosphere that is negative and generates a poison environment.

This doesn’t mean that our Pastor or any of us are perfect; and I know that Pastor Johnson will be the first to admit that he is not perfect.  But we must give him the “benefit of the doubt” and we must remember that he has indeed been called by God to be our Shepherd.  Moreover, he is one of the few people I know that truly works hard everyday to live his life according to God’s requirements. 

This is not easy, and he will make mistakes from time to time, but he’s going to get it right more times than he will get it wrong.  Can any of us as Christians say that we also live our lives on a day-to-day basis in the manner that God would have us to?  Probably not.  Now don’t get me wrong, each of us will continue to work at it, but we are more likely to get it wrong more times than we will get it right.  Thank goodness, our God is a forgiving God.

Along the same lines of thought, how many people do you know that have turned away from the Church because of a perceived slight from the Pastor or from someone in the Congregation?  Or how about… they are angry about something that was said to them, and they decide to withhold their donations that support God’s work no matter what was said or done?  Some people can find very frivolous reasons to leave a Church, and Mt. Olivet is no exception in experiencing these same situations.  When we respond in this way, we are not hurting the Pastor or our fellow parishioners; we are punishing God and his work in the broader community.

When we don’t talk about the Pastor or other members in a negative way, we “consider the interest of others.”

Closing

 

           So these are my thoughts on “Five (5) Principles for Better Relationships in the Church,” and the anniversary theme of “Consider the Interests of Others.” 

In some respects you might call this my “Sticks and Stones” speech.  In other words, we remember the saying… “Sticks and Stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  I think we can see that words can indeed hurt us.  In closing, let me recap the five principles…

 

1)      Engage in Self-Control,

2)      Do Not Engage in Verbal Abuse,

3)      Don’t be Judgmental of Others,

4)      Practice Forgiveness, and

5)      Don’t talk about the Pastor or Others in a Negative Way. 

 

When I started drafting my remarks for today, I initially thought I would talk about 10 principles for better relationships.  But I decided to limit it to five (5) so that I wouldn’t keep you too long, and run the risk of loosing the audience. 

It’s like the child who was brought to church with his parents, and he was very anxious to put his money in the collection plate.  His parents had talked to him about the importance of making his contributions, and the money he had was burning a hole in his pocket.  He was very patient, as he waited for the ushers to pass the collection plate his way.  But it seemed to him (as a small child) that the Pastor just went on forever.  He finally turned to his mother and said, “Do you think if we give him the money now, he will shut up?” 

Well, I’m about to “shut up.”  But there are few more principles I want to share before I end.  These include:

Take responsibility for your own actions – Don’t look to blame others when something goes wrong.  More often than not, we tend to respond to stressful situations with our emotions and not on a rational basis.  It is so much easier to blame others than accept responsibility for the possibility that we (you) may be a major contributor to discontent.  Be sure to “take a look in the mirror.”
 

Be willing to change – Be open to new ideas or alternatives.  Don’t get locked into a position, for the sake of maintaining a “position.”  For most of us, it is much easier to remain firm in our position because it’s the “principle of the thing that matters.”  We have to recognize that this is just being stubborn and we can’t expect to bring resolution to problems if we are not willing to consider another point of view.

Reach out to others – Engage others in conversation.  You may never know when your efforts may make a difference to that person.  The fact that you paid attention to them and displayed concern for their well-being could be very important to that person.  This may be especially true if the person is feeling down and out (and you may not know it at the time).  Somewhere in the process, you also make a new friend.

When we take responsibility for our own actions, are willing to change, and reach out to others, we “consider the interests of others.”

In Colossians, 3:12-14 we find the Rules for Holy Living, and the Apostle Paul writes,

“Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.   And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

This is the ultimate requirement… that we must model our behavior after our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.  God’s compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience give us direction on how we need to respond and treat each other.  If we do this, we are saved by God’s grace and united in his love as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Antagonism will not separate us because we are truly considerate of the interests of others.

 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keeps your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN.

 

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References and Other Resources

On

Improving Relationships

 

  • Antagonists In The Church, Kenneth Haugk, Minneapolis , MN , Augsburg Publishing, 1988.
  • Bullies: From the Playground to the Boardroom, Jane Middleton-Moz and Mary Lee Zawadski, Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach , FL., 2002.
  • Bullies, Tyrants and Impossible People, Ronald Shapiro and Mark Jankowski, Crown Business, N.Y., 2005.
  • Dealing with Difficult People, Roberta Cava, Firefly Books, Buffalo , N.Y. , 2004.
  • How to Deal with Annoying People, Bob Phillips and Kimberly Alyn, Harvest House Publishers, Portland, Oregon, 2005.
  • How to Get Along With Difficult People, Florence Littauer, Harvest House Publishers, Portland , Oregon , 1999.
  • Lion Taming: Working Successfully with Leaders, Bosses and Other Tough Customers, Steven Katz, Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville , Ill. , 2004.
  • No Future Without Forgiveness, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Double Day Books, N.Y., 1999.
  • Peacemaking, the Quiet Power: Conflict Resolution for Churches through Mediation, Terje Hausken, CPI Publishing, West Concord , MN , 1992.
  • The Ten Commandments of Working in a Hostile Environment, T.D. Jakes, Berkley Books, N.Y., 2005.
  • 30 Days to Taming your Tongue, Deborah Smith Pegues, Harvest House Publishers, Portland , Oregon , 2005.
  • You Are What You Think, David Stoop, Fleming H. Revell publisher, Grand Rapids , Mich. , 1996.
  • You Can’t Talk to Me That Way!: Stopping Toxic Language in the Workplace, Arthur Bell, Career Press, Franklin Lakes , N.J., 2005.
  • Winning With Difficult People, Arthur Bell and Dayle Smith, Barrons, Hauppauge , N.Y. , 1991.

About The Author

Emmett I. Aldrich is a specialist in facilitated discussions, is a certified Mediator and has been involved in community, employment, and interpersonal conflict resolution since 1986.  Mr. Aldrich serves as member of the Board of Directors for the non-profit Center for Dispute Settlement, in Washington , D.C. since 1987.  He has a BS degree with a double major in psychology and sociology from George Washington University and a Masters degree in Labor Studies from the University of the District of Columbia .

More recently, Mr. Aldrich has devoted considerable time and study to developing a Christian response to conflict resolution, and is promoting Biblically based mediation programs for Churches.  Mr. Aldrich is a third generation Lutheran, and has been a life-long member of Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Washington, DC, where he has served as the Congregational President, Treasurer, other ad hoc positions; and currently serves on the Board of Trustees and the Board of Elders.

   

Copyright © 2008 Emmett I. Aldrich.  All Rights Reserved.  Permission is granted to reproduce copy or distribute part or this entire article with attribution to the author. 



 

 

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