In the Irish movie “How About You?” (2007) a dying woman sits watching the river go by and says, “You only see things properly when you’re about to leave. Then it’s as if you’re seeing for the first time. Everything seems to shine.”
Here’s the trailer for the film.
It’s about four elderly people living together in a group home. They are “bitter and hateful” and their behavior has driven all the other residents away. Although they have been coddled by their caregivers, the home is nearly bankrupt.
At a turning point in the film, which is based on a short story by Maeve Binchy, a new, substitute caregiver dresses down the group by saying, “Just because you pay to be here doesn’t mean you have the right to treat (others) like s–t.” Empowered by the caregiver’s tough love, and her tendency to break the rules, the surly residents begin to come out of their shells and discover they actually like each other.
Sometimes, struggling churches can be like this group home: they find themselves populated by the last hold-outs. Once loyal church members, they have become jaded and discouraged by church decline, and their attitude poisons anyone who comes too close to their inner web. I sometimes say these kind of people are killing the church and keeping it alive at the same time.
I used to wonder if a diagnosis of terminal illness would soften people’s behavior in their last days. But I know of at least one church that died as bitterly as it lived.
If your church still has some healthy functioning, but is threatened by negative personalities that run others down, don’t be passive and let them rule the day. To kill a church, you need someone who bosses everyone else around or stops every new idea from taking hold. But you also need someone who agrees to be bossed or shut down. Eventually, the healthy people will leave, and the only ones left will be you and the boss.
The Church is not a game. It is the working of Jesus Christ in the world, and it matters. Don’t let the Negative Nellie or the Bossy Bob drive away those who are genuinely there to do ministry. Stand up and say NO to negative behavior.
If your church has already become a toxic atmosphere where bitterness and resentment rule the day because things “aren’t like they used to be”, why do you stay?
It’s not a game, but maybe it’s time someone changed the rules! How about you?