Sometimes you’ve got to get out of the house. You know, the times when you have to concentrate on something.

I popped into a local bakery for some thinking space. Coffee was good.  However, my cogitations were disturbed by a conversation I overheard.

Two young women came into the cafe, sat on a table nearby and started to talk to one of the people serving behind the counter. It turned out that the older lady working in the shop was the mother of one of the two seated women. The conversation covered many topics ranging from work to holidays, shopping, diets and haircuts. But the killer subject was the very bakery in which we were sat.  Mother and daughter launched a tirade of complaints about the products, the company, the bosses and just about anything associated with the place. It put me off going back.

All this set me thinking about the way we talk about the church’s problems to one another. Who else is listening? Of course no church is perfect. All groups populated by human beings need evaluation and improvement. But there is a time and a place, isn’t there? It didn’t seem right to Paul that the Corinthians were airing their dirty linen in public, “one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!” (1 Corinthians 6:6 NIV11)

Mind you, the problems of the early church are pretty obvious. We’ve been reading about them for 2,000 years. So, how do we balance this? Here are four principles.

  1. Personal before Public. It must always be right to first go and talk to the person or persons who can change things.
  2. Helpful or Harmful? Will talking about this issue build up or tear down the faith of the person to whom I am talking? “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV11). In particular it is wise not to talk about issues younger Christians may not be able to put into context – and our children should not hear us being negative about God’s bride. 
  3. Honesty and Holiness. It is fruitless to pretend the church is perfect. Therefore when someone asks you for an opinion about the church it is vital to be honest, but also to remember that the Holy Spirit is in the audience. What we say should reflect our real feelings, but not make the Spirit sad. 
  4. Hindrances and Healing. A good question to ask before beginning a conversation about the church’s problems is whether it will solve something and bring the church nearer to a state of better health or not.  Will what I am about to say hinder the church moving forward, or help it?
Of course, many of these issues are subjective and subtle, but I hope these principles will help us to be honest with one another, but also wise in the way we talk.  Let’s not “bash the bakery”, or no one will want to come and sample its delights.
What principles do you adopt when faced with these challenges?
Malcolm Cox