Feature

Knuckleheads

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Let’s get something straight right off the bat—we’re all knuckleheads at times. We all do things that are offensive and can hurt people. We can all be obnoxious and rude.

However, there are those special “church” knuckleheads who can suck the life out of church leaders and their congregations. If you’ve been a Christian long enough, you know what I mean.

In his classic work, The Fight: A Practical Guide for Christian Living, John White says, “You will discover that some Christians are stupid, ornery, tactless; ‘stuffed shirts,’ prudes, hypocrites and so on. Some will be bigoted advocates of totally unacceptable political positions, and others will slurp their soup or have bad breath.” In a word—knuckleheads!

I’m sure there are people coming to mind as you read this, but let me share one of my own stories. In my first pastorate, there was an older couple who not only were my next door neighbors but also parishioners in that small Alliance church. You know what kind of church I’m talking about—the struggling church they give to young preachers just out of seminary to cut their teeth on. It had lots of challenges and lots of problems and lots of people who were causing those problems.

I had been mentored well and was told repeatedly that I was never to make any major changes in the church during my first year of ministry. I heeded that advice for the most part, but by the second year I had to make a change. Although I had been nurtured on the New International Version (NIV), I had tried my best in that first year to preach from the King James Version (KJV). It was not only a struggle for me, but it was also an enormous problem for people new to the Scriptures. After securing the approval of the elders and the governing board, I set out to prepare the congregation for a translation change. I knew this would be very difficult for some of the “KJV only” people, so I tried to sensitively and thoroughly explain the issues. I preached on how we got the Bible and the history of Bible translation. I made sure that I honored the KJV translation and explained my sincere desire to keep an open mind to their arguments.

Finally, there came the Sunday when the pews were filled with the new NIV Bibles. I expected some push-back and maybe even some folks to leave the church, but I did not expect the let-ter I received the next day: “Dear Pastor, I was deeply hurt this past Sunday; in fact, I cried all during the service. This change was a complete shock to us. We had no idea that you intended to make this change [even though I had been talking about it from the pulpit for two months!]. This is a serious matter! I do not believe in arguing about religion. The Holy Spirit is the only teacher, and the fruit of the Spirit is important to me. I purposefully have refrained from expressing my opinion up to this point. However, my husband and I believe that we have no other choice but to leave this church. I hope my husband has no ill effects from this experience. His blood pressure is up, and he has had trouble breathing.”

I can laugh about this today, but at the time, when I was a young pastor, a note like this hurt deeply. So, what do you do with the knuckleheads in your church? There is really no pat answer that can be applied to every situation. Some knuckleheads need to be met head-on and confronted with their sin. Some knuckleheads need patience and prayer. And some simply need to be left alone for God to deal with.

For many pastors, nothing has quite the potential to cut as deeply as when someone unjustly judges our motives and intentions. Here’s where we need to remember John White’s counsel: “For the present it is enough to remember that God loves them even though you find it hard to. You must also be charitable enough to admit that there may be unattractive features in your own personality. You don’t wear robes and sandals yourself.

“Finally, you must realize that the same new life that is in you, is in them as well. Look well at their faults and see for yourself that the miracle of new life does not guarantee beauty of character.”

Quotes are from John White. The Fight: A Practical Guide for Christian Living (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press).

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