A friend of mine, who has pastored the same church for 35 years, has made the observation that much division, discontentment and discord in the local church comes when people allow what they perceive to be “the better” destroy their contentment with “the good.” Instead of being thankful for the many ways in which God has blessed a particular local church, individuals become consumed–on account of their preferences and preconceptions–with a desire to fix a problem that often doesn’t exist. This same phenomenon plagues marriages. Instead of being thankful for all “the good,” many become discontent with their spouse by focusing on that which they have convinced themselves would be “the better.” Convincing themselves that the only categories in which all their circumstances fit are “good” and “bad,” many conclude that anything that does not match their expectations must be bad. Perspective is sometimes all that is needed to see that what we may be dealing with is “good, better, best” rather than “good” vs. “bad.” In order to guard against doing this as a member or a leader in the local church, we must know the various categories in which this phenomenon may take place:
Music. Worship wars are among the most destructive elements in the life of the local church. Church members have been hurt on both sides of the wars. When people allow their preferences to consume them, in this regard, much irremediable damage may be done. On the one hand, it is understandable that people have preferences for style of music. We live in what is potentially the most poly-cultural society in human history. Everyone has their own playlist. It impossible to find two people who liked exactly the same genres of music. You can find many who love one or two of the same genres; but, you will almost certainly never find two who agree on each and every genre of musical preference. One the other hand, an unwillingness to yield to our brethren in the Lord with regard to preferences is a sure indicator of selfishness. The quest for a “better” musical style in worship has been the source of great division in many local churches over the past Century. Instead of seeking a preferential “better,” we should be simply seeking to sing Psalms and theologically rich hymns and spiritual songs with the people of God as we gather to worship our great God and Savior.
Discipleship. I know a man who constantly set up a meeting with his pastor in order to complain about how much more discipleship he thought was needed in the church of which he was a part. In almost every conversation with his pastor, this man would make his way to the subject of discipleship. Whether he was aware of it or not, he was in a perpetual state of discontentment. Having listened to him for weeks on end, the pastor finally said, “Well, I’d encourage you to take that on and start discipling some of the men in the church.” Apparently, this man remained speechless at hearing the pastor’s response. He was not looking to take up the mantle and give his time and energy to discipling others. He simply wanted to complain about how the leadership needed to be doing more in this regard.
While we can always do better with regard to our commitment to discipleship, the highest form of discipleship is that which occurs in the corporate gathering of the saints. We see this so clearly taught in the Scriptures. Personal discipleship is overshadowed by the collective building up of the saints under the ministry of the pastors and teachers whom God has appointed for this purpose. We should never discourage one on one discipleship; however, if we worship in a church that is committed to expository, Gospel-centered, applicatory preaching, we should never allow our desire for personal discipleship to leave us discontent with God’s foremost appointed means of discipleship under the ministry of the word with the gathered saints in Lord’s Day worship services.
Outreach. Who would ever dare deny that there needs to be more evangelistic outreach in our local churches! I certainly would never do so. However, it’s easy for those who have gifts in evangelism to start to complain about a lack of evangelism; and, to overlook the many ways in which the pastors and members of the church are seeking to be faithful in outreach in small ways. While some may rightly argue that evangelistic programs and outings would be better, we can often overlook the organic way in which outreach may already be occurring in the day in and day out interactions that members of the church have with neighbors or friends. We can sometimes miss “the good” that is already occurring out of a desire for our opinion about what would be better. Instead, we ought to commend others for the good that is already happening and simply exemplify and encourage “the better” at the right time and in the right way.
Fellowship. Many churches experience the division that flows from discontentment when a group or groups of individuals in the church allow a desire for “better” fellowship to ruin the good that is already occurring. This can happen in several ways. Some in the church may complain that the leadership is not doing enough to assimilate and integrate the members. The problem with such a complaint is that it often looks to the leadership to do all the work of fellowship–something to which the members must personally be committed and for which they are laboring. A second way that individuals can allow their desire for the better to destroy the good is that they can complain about not being invited to someone’s home or get together. Personal friendships are bound to happen in any church fellowship. Anyone in the church is free to invite any other member(s) to their home at any time. There is no requirement to invite the entire church over to your home. In as much as we must guard against creating or fostering cliques in church fellowships, personal friendships and invitations can, will and must occur. This is a good thing that must not be frowned upon out of a quest for what they deem to be “the better.”
Leadership. There will always be a diversity of gifts and abilities among the elders of a local church. Not everyone will have the same preaching gifts. Not every pastor/elder will have the same shepherding ability. Not all will have the same bedside manner. Not all will have the same gifts of wisdom and administration. The same is true with regard to the deacons of the church. There will always be a diversity of gifts. If someone in the congregation has a preconception that a great elder will embody every single gift set to the fullest degree, he or she will be sorely disappointed. Their desire for “the better” will most certainly destroy their gratitude for and contentment with “the good.” This in turn, will serve to potentially do great harm among the other members of the church. If such discontentment festers, it often turns to disrespect and then to discord. We must guard against having too high expectations of our elders and deacons.
To be sure, anyone can take the examples above and mistakenly employ them in such a way as to dismiss legitimate deficiencies and sinful actions in the church and among its leadership. We must diligently search the Scriptures (see especially the New Testament Epistles and Revelation 2-3) in order to see what God expects of a local church and its leadership. How Jesus–the King and Head of the Church–views the local church, its membership and its leadership is ultimately the only thing that matters. Music styles are not foremost among the things that Jesus’ critiques. While discipleship, outreach and fellowship are paramount among the things that Christ wants in His church, our expectations may not be in accord with His expectation of the way in which these are to be pursued and carried out in the church. And, while godly and gifted leadership matters deeply to Him, the embodiment of all gifts in one leader is not His expectation. The more we are concerned with Jesus’ definition of “the better,” the less we will be seeking to import our own prejudiced desires. May we give ourselves to a careful consideration of whether or not we are destroying “the good” with a desire for “the better” as we seek to grow in godly contentment and a desire to pursue “the better” for our own personal lives.