This week my Facebook feed exploded with discussions about Mars Hill Church and its senior leadership, which quickly turned into a debate on several threads over the nature of such discussions happening on Facebook (or anywhere public, for that matter).
As I read through it all like a gawker who can’t look away from a highway pile-up, I noticed four myths about conflict in the church that I’d like to debunk.
1) It’s wrong to talk about this in public, and Facebook isn’t the right venue.
We live in an era in which the use of technology is growing at a faster rate than policy about the use of technology.
For example, if a fourteen year old girl texts a booby picture to her boyfriend, she can be prosecuted under distribution of child pornography laws and will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. This is because there’s currently no law in the murky middle between foolish girl and sinister pervert.
The ambiguity of this murky middle makes people nervous about things like social media. We like it for sharing our lunch and cat photos. We like it for expressing joy in the weather, quoting a book passage or sermon, and posting quiz results for which Game of Thrones character we are.
But when someone uses social media to shine light into the darkness, we get uncomfortable. We wonder, is this gossip? Is this public shaming?
I’m not saying anybody’s showing their boobies, but we are trying to figure out how to be the body of Christ in this age and how to be a Gospel community.
In Matthew 18, Jesus outlines clear direction regarding the public discussion of sin. He says:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
So the step I suppose we’re all unclear about is, “tell it to the church.” In this day and age when content marketing and social media strategies abound, who or what is “the church,” and where should this discussion take place?
First of all, the church is described in the Bible as a group of people, not a building. The bride of Christ, the people of God, and so forth. By this definition, we’re not confined to having this discussion within the four walls of a building.
Great, so who are the people of this church?
Mars Hill would define its local church body by its membership, which is defined on their site as members of the family who “participate as the church: sacrificing time, talents, and treasure; committing to the care and community of their fellow members; and submitting to the authority God has established to lead our congregation.”
The tricky thing is, there’s currently is no forum for public discussion of the hard things that have surfaced over the years within the body of Mars Hill that I know of, and there hasn’t been for many many years. Church wide meetings are tightly controlled with scripted information going out and no opportunity to ask questions or dialogue.
In general, community discussion is not encouraged, and questions are not welcomed. Quite the opposite, actually, as those who ask tough questions are frequently labeled as dissenters.
So when it comes to the step Jesus describes in Matthew 18, “tell it to the church,” it’s still unclear how we are to Biblically address a grievance within the body when the first two steps have failed.
Well shit. Now what?
Mars Hill is a church that 1) utilizes technology to broadcast its message around the world, 2) uses social media tools like twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Instagram to communicate its values and mission, and 3) recognizes that a high percentage of “followers” are by those who don’t physically attend a local Mars Hill campus.
By embracing technology and social media to broadcast worldwide, and by shutting down public discourse within the membership, it stands to reason that people online can be considered part of the church, and that Facebook is a reasonable vehicle for asking questions, pursuing accountability, and seeking reconciliation.
2) You’re just bitter and out to get Pastor Mark.
I’m sure there are many people who fit into this category, so how can you tell whether someone is acting out of love or bitterness? Technically you can’t, because only God knows the motive of our hearts. But the way we talk about conflict can offer up some clues as to how our heart is leaning.
First of all, the point of Matthew 18 is to confront a friend who has sinned against you so that he or she can repent and the two of you can be reconciled. It’s an act of grace the offended friend offers the offender so the conflict doesn’t ruin the friendship or further divide the larger body through gossip.
Confronting a friend who sinned against you is an act of love. Watching that friend continue in unrepentance is sad. And the broken relationship is painful.
Chances are, the words and actions that come from a person who loves the friend who offended, is sad they won’t repent, and is in pain over a broken relationship, won’t focus on retribution or revenge, but on rescuing that friend from his or her own destruction.
Secondly, look for folks who skip steps one and two — the private confrontation alone and with witnesses — and go straight for a public soapbox to air their grievances. This is gossip and public shaming done by folks who don’t love someone enough to speak directly to them but merely have a bone to pick.
I’ve heard some say that people should just be quiet and let God take care of his church. But I wonder why we’re to assume that this current public discussion is not God taking care of his church!
People are hurting, and they’ve hit a brick wall in the system that Jesus himself gave us to bring about healing, repentance, and reconciliation.
If Mars Hill chooses to prevent any opportunity for “telling it to the church,” then technology and social media have provided a valid work-around for bringing to truth into the light.
3) You’re just jumping on a bandwagon or joining a crusade.
Don’t be fooled by my silence up to this point, lest you think I’m simply joining a drunken conga line. I’ve been praying for years for truth to overcome fear – not only for those who have been sinned against, but for those who are unrepentant (because I love them).
I was not personally sinned against by Mark or anyone at Mars Hill. But I know people who were sinned against — painfully, and with lifelong consequences — and have walked with them for years through the struggle to understand why repentance and reconciliation is so elusive.
I’ve been extremely impatient at the slowness of God to respond, and it’s very tempting almost every day to write about what I know.
I have a T-shirt that says, “Writing Well Is the Best Revenge.” It’s faded and worn where it rubs against my belt buckle, but I can’t bear to part with it because writing is my super power.
And yet, Christ called me to silence for a season because it’s not my story to tell.
But now that folks are “telling it to the church,” I support a healthy exposure of the truth for the purpose of reconciliation.
If all of this blows up, it will be a beautiful, glorious, mess, and God will be glorified because this is his church, and he takes care of her. If we look to the circumstances at face value, we fear and cry “gossip!” But if we lock eyes with “the one who sees our injustice” as Hagar did, we’re empowered to speak and live in the light without fear.
4) You shouldn’t talk bad about my church — Mars Hill changed my life!
I hear you. Mars Hill changed my life, too!
I was there for sixteen years – all of which I spent as a dedicated member who supported the vision and mission, and even spent some time on staff.
In the late 90’s, I came of age as a believer at Mars Hill. I am a smarter, more thoughtful, less cultural Christian because of things I learned at Mars Hill. I make friends with my neighbors, send my kids to public school, and moved into the city because of things I learned Mars Hill.
But as my friend, Wendy, says here, we’re all called to something much bigger than Mars Hill, so we need to be wise about our allegiance.
In that post she also provides a great analogy for something I’ve thought as well:
“During the years since I left the church, I’ve watched the branches of the Mars Hill tree grow even heavier with new believers as the root system of mature Christians desperately needed to disciple these converts continues to erode. It is only a matter of time before a wind rushes through and causes the entire tree to crash down. I perceive that these current controversies might finally be that wind, and I do not rejoice in that AT ALL.”
If you’re part of the body of Christ at Mars Hill and you haven’t experienced broken relationships because of unrepentant sin, rejoice!
But know that there are some among you who are experiencing broken relationships because of unrepentant sin. The correct response for you is to grieve with those friends, to encourage repentance, and to facilitate reconciliation.
There’s no need to be defensive or beat someone up because you think they talked smack about your sister. Truth transcends all earthly loyalties!
I write this post — possibly my longest post ever — because I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love the Church, and I love sorting out the messy nuances of living as one who is rescued.
I welcome your comments and further discussion.
**If you have a negative comment, please be sure to give the benefit of the doubt on motive or tone to the blog author or readers who comment.
Anonymous comments are welcomed ONLY if you need a safe place to be honest about a burden or concern that you don’t feel free to share with your name. Anonymous critical comments will be deleted immediately. If you need to respond critically, please use your name.**
(I borrowed that comment policy from my friend, Wendy.)
Peace to you.