I’m on aisle 7 at my neighborhood mega-supermarket, trying to remember if my wife asked me to pick up a can of diced tomatoes or stewed tomatoes, when I notice the boy. He’s probably eight. He is at the end of the aisle reeking havoc of a large display of fat-free, salt-free, taste-free chips. Apparently, he has learned how to get more chips in one bag. (You crush the bag and make the chips smaller.) Mom is standing a few feet away, simultaneously talking on her cell phone, looking through an assortment of tequila mixes, and smiling at her son. As a bag of chips comes sliding past me (Damien has switched to the sport of curling), all I can wonder is, “What kind of family is he raised in?”
Two hours and two store trips later (I should have gotten the diced tomatoes), I’m watching the evening news. The network is running a story about a gay rally somewhere in the Midwest. The focus of the story is not the rally itself, but the group of protestors on the fringes. My screen is filled with images of signs: “God hates fags” and “Jesus loves you, but He will kill you.” As the leader of the protestors is interviewed, I find myself asking the same question I asked earlier, “What kind of family is he raised in?”
Oh, wait. He’s in my family. At least he says he is. The family of God. The church. The body of Christ, which at the moment has a very ugly face.
Do you ever find yourself embarrassed to be identified with Christians? I do. I love Jesus, and I am in no way ashamed of walking with Him or being identified with Him. But I do get embarrassed when a friend sees Christians acting the opposite of Jesus and he says, “You’re one of them, right?”
Our children see the same thing. Our current crop of children are moving into young adulthood and abandoning the church. They like Jesus, but they don’t like the church. I’m not sure I blame them. We can be an ugly family sometimes.
All families disagree. Even healthy ones. There are definitely points of disagreement between the church and the world, and there are times when there is disagreement with the family of God. The issue, though, is how we handle the disagreement.
Let’s start with disagreements within the church family. Why? Because when we get a handle on internal conflict, we’ve better equipped to present a Christlike image when confronting those outside the family. The things Christians disagree over can vary. Let’s face it. Some are petty. The color of the carpet for the new sanctuary. What brand of toilet paper to buy for the church’s facilities. (Don’t laugh. It happened in my former church.) Other disagreements are more significant, but there may not necessarily be one right answer. Disagreements over the style of music appropriate for a worship service are fragmenting many churches. Christians also disagree over issues like war and capital punishment, and both sides will use the Bible to support their views.
When opinions collide in the church family, we should confront the issue. When you find yourself in that position, remember what the goal of confrontation is. It is not necessarily to correct the other person . . . unless it is an issue of morality and sin. In that case, Galatians 6:1 tells us “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit.” Granted, we do want the other person to see our side of the issue, but the goal is really to build up the other person. That’s right. Our goal is not to prove we are right; our goal is to encourage and help the other person. We are to speak “the truth in love” and promote “the growth of the body for building up itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). And from my own experience, when I am consistently gracious and loving, the other person more readily hears my side of things.
We can still disagree on some matters, yet walk in unity. We want unity, not uniformity. What unites us is a relationship with Christ, a love for His body (the family), and a desire to help that body grow in love.
The world is not drawn to our theological positions. It’s drawn by love. Throw blue-collar and white collar people in the same room, mix in a variety of Republicans and Democrats, a few skin color variations, and those who prefer Pepsi over Coke, and you can expect a whole lot of differences. Throw the love for Christ in the mix and let that migrate into love for His family, and suddenly the world takes notice. The non-Christian will want to know what makes them different. (It’s Jesus. But you knew that.) What has the potential of being down-right ugly becomes very attractive to an outsider. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Let’s step outside the church family and consider our confrontations with non-Christians. We are not striving for unity with a non-believer; we have a different set of values and convictions. We don’t share the same goal. But love is still critical. Love is not reserved just for the family. When I look at some of the ugly ways Christians act toward non-Christians, I find I usually share the same views as the Christian. What I see missing is the love. Do you want to see someone come to Christ? It doesn’t happen by browbeating someone with your views on morality. It comes with showing him Jesus in loving words and loving actions.
This generation of teenagers and young adults—the group your children are either a part of or soon will be a part of—are not drawn to propositional truths. A recitation of the four spiritual laws and a well-reasoned argument has no appeal to them. They are all about relationships. Relate to your kids as Jesus would relate to them: in love. Walk with other Christians—and confront them—as Jesus would: in love. And show your children how to confront the world in the same way: with the love of Christ.
What would happen if we handled disagreements and confrontations with love? Our children would see Jesus in how we relate to them and in how we confront the world around us. And the world might stop looking at the church the way a preschooler looks at asparagus. Who knows? They may even ask the question, “What kind of family is he raised in? I want a family like that.”
This article originally appeared in HomeLife, August 2008.