One of the big problems I’ve had in the church setting is letting people grow. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love to see people grow. I love to see them get stronger. I love to see them develop more faith. I love to see them learn new things. My problem is letting them be where they are before they do all that growing.
2 Peter 1:5-8 says we must all increase and add faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Here is what that necessarily means. Right now we lack some faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. If others are to grow in these areas, that means right now they lack in some of them too. That doesn’t make them bad. That doesn’t make them rebellious. That doesn’t make them someone who needs to be disciplined. We’re all on a spectrum. Some are farther along than me. Some are not as far along as me. I don’t want those farther along than me trying to control me and force me to be where they are. I want them to understand that I’m growing, be patient with me, and simply encourage me. Shouldn’t I do the same with others?
My problem is when I see someone who I think is less mature in some aspect of knowledge, virtue, or faith, I want to rush in grab control of their life and force them to be on the same page as me. Sadly, what happens most of the time is I polarize them away from where I am. I often push them into rebellion as they want to assert their right to be where they are right now. So, not only do I not help them grow, I actually stop their growing.
Why do I do this? Because I equate disagreeing with me or doing something different from me to mean that the other person doesn’t really want to serve God and I need to force them to do so. That just doesn’t work. However, when I’m able to recognize that we are all growing, that other people who are at different places than I am love God and they are growing, I’m often amazed at how much they do actually grow. I’m also amazed at how often we end up on the same page eventually.
Here is the hard part. This means I have to give others permission to disagree with me. I have to give others permission to make different choices from me. This means I have to give others permission to think and feel differently than I do about some things. This means I have to give others permission to be wrong sometimes. Or at least I think they’re wrong. Sometimes I was the one that needed to grow and came to believe I had been wrong.
The other reason this is hard is because I’m so afraid others might make me look bad. If folks found out someone who believed “that” or did “this” was in my congregation, they might think I’m somehow bad. It’s like when my children do something wrong. I take their wrong on to myself as if I was the one who did it. I’m not. I’m simply the guy who helps them grow and teaches them when they do wrong. Jesus was able to look at folks in Thyatira and Smyrna (Revelation 2:18-3:6) and not hold against them the sins of others. That’s what I need to hang on to.
I certainly do not believe a congregation can simply allow someone to live in divisive rebellion against God’s will. After all, God did tell the church in Thyatira to quit tolerating Jezebel. However, I also think I am too quick to label some as rebellious simply because they don’t think about every little detail the way I do. It is amazing how I can catastrophize even the smallest of disagreements. It reminds me of the time my dad found I had taken some caffeine pills and in fear had plotted out my life of alcohol, drugs, and crime that was the sure conclusion of having done that. Fortunately, those caffeine pills haven’t led me down that path. Not yet anyway. I remember being so mad at him. I remember wanting to take some more of those pills just to prove him wrong. I remember thinking I would never treat my kids like that. And yet, I do it to brethren all the time (I probably do it to my kids too). I can easily take the smallest disagreement and be sure it means someone doesn’t care about God, won’t obey Him, and is on a path for hell that will lead numerous others with her. Then again, she may simply be on a path of growth and this is where she needs to work. I need to let her develop on God’s time table, not mine. I need to share with her my experience, strength, and hope, encouraging her in what I believe is right. What I can’t do is control and manipulate her to be where I am right now. That’s not my job. Not to mention, it is impossible.
The long and short of it in our churches is there is a time to let people grow. That means there is a time to let them be wrong. That means there is a time to let them be weak. That means there is a time to let them make mistakes. I want others to do that for me.
Keep the faith and remember God’s way works.