The Importance of Church Tension: True Life Chronicles – Part 7 (by Chris Francis)
For whatever reason, the summer feels like a good time to think about and take another look at all the things we’re doing as a church and to consider if it is truly the best way to fulfill the mission that Jesus gave us in our unique context here on the Jersey Shore.
I’m doing it, and many people in our church seem to be doing it as well. I have a good-sized list of changes that folks have proposed — new ideas, new ministries, transitions of roles, improvements, etc.
I think it’s a great list.
The funny thing is, though, some of those ideas seem to oppose each other, which causes tension.
And that made me think about how tension is important in some cases. There are healthy tensions that our church should have in order to fulfill our vision. They are healthy tensions that should not be resolved or fixed.
A tension is when two desires or goals are pulling against each other. When both those desires are healthy, then it’s a healthy tension. Like if one spouse is a spender and the other spouse is a saver, it’s a healthy tension. It should not be resolved. Spending and saving are both important.
So at True Life, there are a bunch of healthy tensions that must be embraced rather than solved because….well, Jesus embraced tension and he calls his church to represent him.
Here are three that are on my radar right now:
1. We want to be a church where mature Christians (or Christians who think they are mature) are challenged in deep ways, while at the same time being a place where non-Christians and non-church people can feel welcome and included unconditionally.
In theory, I think most churches agree this is a healthy tension. But the natural tendency is to drift toward one and neglect the other.
So not only must we embrace this tension, but we must be intentional about keeping “the rope taut,” so to speak.
Jesus was great at attracting large crowds, and then calling those large crowds to follow him at all costs, which only a few did. He was hard on his disciples but seemed weak on prostitutes. He flipped over tables in the temple, but then hung out with tax collectors and drunks. People far from God loved him, and people who sincerely wanted to follow God sometimes found his teachings offensive.
So when it comes to our life groups, our Sunday morning gathering, our outreaches, and even the individual conversations that we have with each other, we must keep this tension in mind. Are we gearing all these things toward church people at the neglect of those new to the whole Jesus thing? Are we only comfortable with people who are at the exact same place in their spiritual journey as we are? Do people who don’t believe in Jesus even feel comfortable coming to our gatherings? Or are they weirded out?
Or on the flip side do we focus too much on making everyone feel welcome and get too passive about confronting issues that need to be confronted? Do we try too hard to keep things light rather than dig in and challenge each other in deep ways?
It’s an important tension. We can’t lose it.
2. We Need to develop structures to make things run smoothly, but at the same time allow things to be messy because messy situations help us grow in grace.
One of our policies is that we always have two adults scheduled for each of our kids classrooms on Sunday mornings. Our insurance company sort of forces us to have this policy, but we also think it’s a good one.
And we always background check those volunteers.
However, we do not have a policy about what to do when one of those volunteers has a felony on their background checks. Of course there are some felonies that are somewhat obvious (especially since there are laws about them), but there are other felonies that people might disagree about when it comes to serving in our kids ministry.
So the question came up recently — do we need a policy on this? Something along the lines of, “If someone has a these types of felony charges within the last ten years they can’t work with the kids.” That would probably keep it simple and safe and fair.
But we’re not going for simple and safe and fair.
Because the early church didn’t go for simple and safe and fair.
When Gentiles started placing their faith in Jesus, the Jewish Christians were a bit up-in-arms about it. And after much debate over whether or not a Gentile can even be a Jesus-follower, the apostles had a meeting that is known as the Jerusalem Council to determine which parts of the Jewish law those Gentiles should be expected to adhere to. At this meeting, it was decided that Gentiles who trust in Jesus should be expected to essentially do two things: be careful what they eat (that it’s not food sacrificed to idols or from a strangled animal) and abstain from sexual immorality.
Just those two things. There was nothing about Sabbath days, festivals, pork and circumcision.
The result? Things got messy. As churches were established that contained both Jews and Gentiles, disputes arose. Expectations collided. Guys who were circumcised didn’t like the idea of Jesus loving the guy who wasn’t circumcised. It didn’t seem fair.
And what did the apostles instruct them to do in response to those conflicts? Altar the structures? Sometimes. But most of the time, they were told to do things like, “love each other, honor each other, be patient with each other, forgive each other as Christ forgave you.” Crazy stuff like that.
We decided not to have a policy for what to do with the kids worker felony deal. We’re going to have a lot of discussions instead.
We also don’t have a policy on what to do when a kid pulls down their pants in class (which has happened).
We also don’t have a policy for parents who bring noisy babies into the service. Many churches do. New moms like that we don’t have a policy. Including my wife. Other folks wish we had one. Like me. That’s okay.
We’re gonna’ make policies from time to time. But we’re also gonna’ allow things to get a little messy becauses Jesus does some of his best work in our hearts through messes.
So this is another important tension that we must embrace.
3. We Need to Try to empower people to serve where they are passionate and gifted, while at the same time encourage people to fill needs in the church that they are not passionate and gifted in.
God has wired each of us with specific talents and gifts and passions so that we would, collectively, be the body of Christ. None of us can fully represent Jesus on our own. There are ideas that some people will come up with that I would never think of. There are people in our church who have unique experiences that need to be tapped into for the sake of others. We need to be faithful with all those things.
But at the same time, there are needs in our church that simply need to be met, regardless of whether people feel passionate or gifted in them. And we can’t always resort to over-spiritualizing everything by saying, “I just don’t feel called to do that.”
In my home, I take out the garbage, change diapers, and pick up dog poop. Am I passionate about any of them? Nope. Do I have a special talent for any of them? Just ask Jess. But I do them. Because I’m part of a family.
If our church community is really a family, then we will be willing to do things that feel a lot like taking out the garbage and picking up dog poop.
And we will put our calling to be part of this family over and above our calling to certain tasks.
So that’s another important tension that is on my mind right now.
Perhaps you can even think of other tensions that we should embrace. Share them. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
But more importantly, if you are part of True Life Church, will you join me in praying for our church in this regard? Will you consider the importance of certain tensions the next time someone disagrees with you about something?
Because tension can be good.
In the gym, tension stimulates growth.
In the church, well…..it’s the same thing.