by Dick Wamsley
I was taking my early morning ride on the way to a bike trail in central Illinois. It was a beautiful, though typically humid, summer morning. As I approached the trail, bordered on both sides by trees and brush, I did not see the young woman walking on the trail. As soon as I turned from the road onto the trail, I had to swerve left to miss her. As I passed, I said, “Sorry. Good morning.” She replied, “That’s okay. Good morning.”
Later during my ride, I saw a biker approaching me in the distance. In a few seconds, I could see the rider was a young, good-sized athletic guy with sunglasses. His t-shirt and shorts looked like they had been painted onto his muscular frame. When he came close enough to hear me, I said, “Good morning” and gave a brief hand wave, as I always do when I meet someone on the trail. He did not flinch, nor say anything. He looked straight ahead and kept up his pedaling cadence. I said to myself, “I guess cool guys don’t say ‘good morning.'”
Later that morning I sat down at my computer and found the daily “Focus on the Family” newsletter. One of the stories they linked was headlined, “Why lawmakers are cursing more now than ever,” from The Hill. The article said in part that “Profanity — once considered a major no-no among those seeking public office — is no longer an earth-shattering political snafu. And according to new research, this year could be on track to see members of Congress swearing up a storm more than ever before. The research … shows a stark uptick in the overall usage of curse words by legislators on Twitter.” (Link to The Hill story)
These experiences remind me how social civility and common courtesy are waning in our culture and in some churches as well. There is a growing lack of respect for elected officials, police officers, teachers, political candidates, those with differing opinions on social issues, pastors, parents … and the list goes on. Instead of sitting down at a table and debating our differences, some choose to shout down and even physically attack those with whom they disagree.
As Christians, and especially as Christian leaders, we are commanded in Scripture to: “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18); to “Pay … respect to whom respect is owed” (Romans 13:7); and to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do[ing] it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
A recent blog by Thom Rainer was entitled, “Ten Common Responses from Fired Pastors.” After listening to hundreds of fired pastors, here are three of the ten responses he commonly hears from them:
- No one gave me a reason for my firing. Rainer adds, “Though this comment may seem unfathomable, it is commonly true. Pastors are often dismissed without any reasons. They are then told not to say a word if they want a severance.”
- No one asked for my perspective. Rainer says, “Countless personnel committees and similar groups fire someone because of comments they hear from others. They have no desire to hear the other side of the story.”
- A power group pushed me out. Rainer comments, “This reason often explains the [previous] response. The perspective of the power group or the bully is the only one they hear.”
Is it any wonder that a large percentage of those who enter vocational ministry leave it during their first seven years? The apparent lack of civility and common courtesy is a “black eye” for the church as a whole and contradicts the command given at least 22 times in the New Testament to Christians, “love one another.”
If the tide of social civility and common courtesy is ever to rise in our culture, people will need to see those traits in the church and especially in its leaders. As Jesus said to his disciples and future church leaders, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).