Friendly fire in the church
When Christians default to sinful assaults on other believers, the glory of Christ is dismantled and everyone gets hit.
Friendly fire is a devastating reality of war. In the velocity of action and unrelenting conflict battlefield weapons can be redirected toward the wrong target with unforgiving consequences. The trauma and scars of physical combat are compounded for everyone involved when the source is someone wearing the same uniform.
What takes place in that regrettable scene on a battlefield is sadly a reality in the church as well. Despite the obvious differences in force of action, there is also a difference in motive. Friendly fire on a battlefield is right intentions in the wrong direction. Friendly fire in the church is wrong intentions in the wrong direction.
When Christians default to sinful assaults on other believers, the glory of Christ is dismantled and everyone gets hit. Hugh Hewitt recently challenged a room full of leaders to “expect to get hit from behind.” Anticipate that your most scathing, personal assaults will often come from those you partner with in ministry. Those you learn from, recruit, hire, mentor, lead, and serve. It’s not the attacks from unbelievers in the community or even from believers on the periphery of the ministry. It is assaults from those who have direct access to your heart, who for whatever reason, use their access and knowledge to launch accusations, spread gossip and advance slander. Similar to the volley of war, it is anything but friendly.
Seminary can prepare a man for ministry in many ways, but classroom lectures did not warn us to expect false accusations, slander and unfair criticism from fellow alumni, pastors, and other ministry leaders with whom we would one day partner. The warnings about ministry perils postured attacks as coming from the outside bloggers or a faceless liberal that might have clandestinely crept into the church. Though by no means am I a seasoned veteran in ministry, the past 12 years have proven Proverbs 19:10, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.”
No New Testament pastor had his character assaulted and sabotaged more than Paul. Time after time, those he sacrificially served, attacked him, accusing him of being in ministry for impure, self serving reasons. It goes with the territory of ministry. When you find yourself in those crosshairs, here is a simple strategy for responding to and recovering from personal attacks:
1. Be humble. Dump defensiveness. We have sin in areas we do not even consider. Though we may not be guilty of anything to provoke the sharp assault of others, sin is nonetheless in us. God often uses these situations, including our reaction to unearth pride from which we must repent.
2. Examine your conscience. The sting of attacks can often blind us from our true faults. Take even exaggerated accusations as an opportunity to examine our heart before God. Invite the candid input of honest sources of biblical feedback. Cultivate a sensitivity to the Spirit’s conviction under the Scripture’s diagnosis.
3. Repent where you did sin. Repent of any sin that has been revealed. It may not be the subject on which you were attacked; however regardless of what it is, sin must be repented of and forsaken.
4. Respond immediately. Let your critic know you are humbly considering their words. If something is found from your internal introspection and consultation with others, then confess it immediately. This clears you out of the way and prepares you for the next step.
5. Confront the source. Cowardly Pharisees love to launch verbal grenades. If you are innocent in what you’ve been slandered, then with the boldness of a lion, confront them. Head on. Failure here only allows sin to flourish. In a loving, direct way, go directly to the source and follow the pathway of Matthew 18.
6. Forgive, even if reconciliation is improbable. Remember, some critics only want chaos, not biblical unity. Even if biblically reconciling is complicated and unlikely, we can have a genuine heart of forgiveness. That releases me from continuing to grow bitter and vindictive. When you forgive, keep your promise. Have a short memory for others’ failures even on this front. Leave a road back, remembering the kindness of God and his grace with you.
7. Pray for them. Jesus tells us to do this in Matthew 5. That’s not there simply as a nice thought, it is a critical prevention from bitterness and revenge. If conversations of your attackers arrive in your home, be sure to lead those family members in prayer for the situation. Never assume everyone in your home processes your attackers in the same way. Many “pastor’s kids” have grown up hating their father’s verbal assailants without being taught how to entrust these things to God.
8. Rest in God’s defense. One pastor recently reminded me that “one day all wrongs will be made right, it just may not be in my lifetime.” Vindication on earth is often rare. To the greatest extent possible, abide as Paul exhorted being at peace with all men. One day, on that day, God will make all wrongs right. Rest. Don’t replay the conversations with your confidants and shadow box your accuser. Entrust it to God and get back to work.
If you are walking in righteousness before our holy God, do not be surprised when false accusations, unfair criticism and slander flowing your way. It’s part of leadership, it’s part of ministry. Don’t flinch but endure in the same manner as Christ did with his disciples, Paul did with the early church leaders and countless godly servants of Christ continue today. Press on.