In Christianity, the study of theories about how churches form and function is called ecclesiology. The word comes from the Greek word that gets translated "church," but that literally means "called out" or "called together."
One of the problems with calling together people for a religious purpose is that people are flawed. In his wonderful book Unapologetic, (which I reviewed here) Francis Spufford accurately refers to any and all Christian congregations as communities of screw-ups.
One of the worst ways in which we Christians screw up is in how we sometimes treat the pastors who are called to lead us.
It can be simply appalling. In fact, of all the clergy of various faith traditions I know, I don't know of a single one who hasn't been wounded -- sometimes deeply so -- by members of his or her own flock.
In this Christianity Today piece, Peter W. Chin describes what this can be like. He writes:
"In conversation after conversation, fellow pastors told me their horror stories of how they too had faced poisonous and unwavering criticism from a single individual or, more commonly, a single faction of people. And this criticism had been so unrelenting that many of these pastors had left their congregations or the ministry altogether, sometimes both."
In some cases, something like a mob mentality develops based on what I call "parking lot conversations," those private little gossip-fests that take place in the parking lot after a church committee meeting among the purveyors of "poisonous and unwavering criticism."
What's the author's solution? It's the same one that has occurred to me: "I believe the answer lies with mature believers who recognize what is taking place in their circles and work to stop it."
When we hear poisonous criticism of our clergy, we can first recognize that we are, in fact, a community of screw-ups prone to such destructiveness. But then we can challenge what's being said and we can especially challenge the person making the criticism to make it in person to the target pastor. Cowards work in anonymity. We can short-circuit that.
Are there times clergy deserve criticism? Of course. But in a community of screw-ups, so do we all. And that's what worth remembering when we want merely to dish it out.
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A SYNAGOGUE INSIDE A CHURCH
Here's a pretty cool interfaith relations story: A synagogue has found a home in a largely unused Christian church in a town in Germany. And, as the story reports, even as antisemitism rises again in Europe, Jewish life is doing pretty well now in Germany.
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P.S.: I'll be participating in the annual AIDS Walk Kansas City on Saturday to benefit the AIDS Service Foundation. If you would like to help, click here to make a donation.