As long as there are people, there will be problems. As one of my colleagues and friends likes to say, ‘humans tend to human.’ There is no such thing as a problem-free church, yet most churches have far more problems than are necessary or desired.
Over the years, I have experienced a number of church problems. Some of them I may have even been the cause of! Today, much of my work is in dealing with problems and challenges, and I have come to notice some patterns that have helped me better address them.
Ultimately, almost every problem I have seen or experienced in a church falls into one of three categories. Most church problems are either theological problems, spiritual maturity problems, or they are ‘you don’t know what you don’t know problems.’ Sometimes they are some combination of these three.
The vast majority of church problems I have seen and experienced are theological problems. Fundamentally, I would argue that most problems in general are theological problems. What we believe about God shapes so much of how we operate in the church. As it should. Unfortunately, because we are not the Christ, our theology will always be imperfect; our theology is always flawed. Flaws in our theology shape how we lead the church, what we teach, how we view and treat people, the music we sing, and how we spend money, etc., etc. Most church problems are theological problems.
Church problems are often spiritual maturity problems. For example, many conflicts in churches are around personal preferences. Personal preferences are most often rooted in a consumer mindset (theological problem), but the instance on having your preferences met is most certainly a spiritual maturity problem. We often note that mature Christians set aside their preferences for less mature Christians. Additionally, the failure to honor the Scripture around conflict and instead engage in gossip are spiritual maturity problems.
Lastly, many church problems fall into the category of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ In my consulting work, this it the most common thread I see in every church that I have worked with. Many of their challenges come from a lack of information and education. They often have limited experience and only know the culture in which they operate. Many problems in the church exist simply because we just do not know what we do not know.
Where there are people, there will be problems. Problems do not always have to be a bad thing. We worship a redemptive God who can take any problem and turn it into good. First, we must acknowledge the problem before we can tackle it. As I work through problems in the church, these categories help me better name and address the problems we are facing.
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Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries