The challenges of COVID-19 have made it more important for elders and church staff members to manage relationships with great care and discernment. This has not been easy for leaders. Satan has attacked relationships between brothers and sisters in the body with full force. Breaking and shattering relationships has always been one of his greatest weapons.
Here is the heart of the problem: COVID-19 and its ramifications have presented our church leaders with stormy seas that are dangerous and difficult to successfully navigate in our relationships in the body of Christ.
In meeting with leaders in churches of all sizes during this pandemic, I’ve found one of their greatest challenges is in managing disunity and strife between leadership teams and church members, and sometimes, between leaders themselves. Leaders are attempting to shepherd their churches, follow Scripture, and care for their people while following city and state guidelines. This has resulted in difficult situations that have included anger, frustration, criticism, contempt, accusations, and even betrayal between brothers and sisters in Christ. Strong disagreements over whether to wear masks, when to open buildings, when to begin the children’s program, etc. have even led some leaders and members to leave the church.
Who could have predicted this? Who was prepared for it? We’re left to manage each day and week as successfully as possible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
How should elders and staff handle these relational situations that turn ugly? How should we respond to attacks and intense criticism resulting in shattered friendships?
I recommend that every elder and staff member seek Jesus, his wisdom, and his teaching to guide us through this stressful and difficult time. How does Jesus want us to handle these situations?
Scripture is clear.
We are to pray for wisdom and discernment that comes only through the Holy Spirit. We are to respond the way the Lord instructed. We should forebear those who are angry and love those who strongly criticize us. We do not respond to cursing with cursing, but with a blessing. We do not cause upheaval; rather, we are called to successfully lead our churches through upheaval.
Does returning love for anger sound countercultural to our natural inclinations? Of course it does. Much of what Jesus taught us to do is directly opposed to what we would do in the flesh or what our culture would urge us to do. We are to rise above our natural inclinations. As leaders, we must strive to respond as Jesus would and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must respond with mature judgment and discernment, walking by the Spirit and obeying what Jesus taught us to do.
Jesus and Paul taught us what to do when confronted with anger, criticism, rancor, and even betrayal. Some of Jesus’ teachings deal with how to respond to our enemies. While most of our struggles within the church are not brought about by outright enemies, the struggle is real, intense, and results can be very destructive.
Jesus taught us to be ready to forgive when it is necessary. We are called to have the following attitude and demeanor when managing the relational damage wrought by our COVID-19 experience:
1. We Love Even Our Worst Critics
Church members are not our enemies, of course, yet we can still encounter hard opposition and great struggle at their hands. How do we respond to piercing criticism and condemning judgments in the church? We respond in the Spirit rather than the flesh. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus used the word agape when he said, “Love your enemies.” The idea behind that word is to love from the intellect, not necessarily the emotions. Our maturity in Christ calls us not to give back malice for malice. We respond in a controlled way and with a loving spirit. We do the right thing.
2. We Forgive Offenses from the Heart (Matthew 18:35)
We genuinely forgive from the heart those who severely criticize us. Again, this does not happen at the emotional level. By an act of our will, we decide not to harbor anger and malice but, instead, to work on forgiving and keep moving forward. We will not return anger for an attack. Through the power and presence of Jesus, we will not strike back but instead will seek reconciliation.
3. We Pray for Those Who Have Offended Us (Matthew 5:44)
Jesus said we should pray for those who have brought offense to us. He provided that example when he said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).Again, loving our antagonists takes place through our agape love toward them, as Jesus modeled for us.
4. We Find Ways to Do Good to and for Them (Luke 6:35-36)
When confronted with hurt and rancor, we respond with good deeds of love and caring. This may be one of the most difficult aspects of interacting with those who have hurt and judged us. But it is what a Spirit-led leader does in comparison to someone who leads from the flesh.
5. We Do Not Seek Revenge (Romans 12:17-21)
Paul said we are not to seek revenge for evil. Instead, we are to respond in kindness and “leave room for God’s wrath,” for the Father ultimately will handle it according to his will.
Spirit-led leaders will study Jesus’ teaching on forgiving and follow his directives.
This has been a tough season for church staff and elders. But one way we can beat Satan’s onslaughts during this time is to follow Jesus’ instructions for dealing with broken relationships with other believers. We take the high road, always. We forgive, forebear, and exchange love for rejection. In doing this, we lead like Jesus.