As most everyone knows, our government has been shutdown for two weeks. Although the government has been shutdown many times before, this one (obviously) is fresh on my mind. From history, I believe we can assume that, at some point, our nation’s leaders will strike a deal to end this ordeal. However, I cannot help but draw some comparisons between what is happening within our nation’s capital with what takes place in hundreds and thousands of churches each year; for every year hundreds and thousands of churches shutdown—either literally close the doors or missionally cease to be effective.
I understand I have some limitations when it comes to my personal experience with government, in that I am an outsider looking in, mainly through the online and cable news media. Nevertheless, I believe there are three main lessons we can learn when it comes to a government, group, body, or church shutting down their organization or operation.
1) A difference of vision will lead a government, group, body, or church to shutdown. There is no surprise that most Democrats and Republicans have a different vision for America. As the USA Today online stated, “Differences between Democrats and Republicans are deepening over virtually every issue, and federal spending is the biggest one of all.” When it comes to differing visions, having differences over primary issues has the tendency to lead to shutting down an organization or body. Or, on the other hand, when one group makes an issue primary, whereas another group believes it to be tertiary, the organization can be on a verge of a shutdown. The national debt is a good example. Many Republicans believe America needs to get its financial house in order and that we cannot continue to raise our national debt without making some major cuts to the federal budget, whereas many in the Democrat party think America can continue the same trajectory of spending without suffering any ill effects. When it comes to churches, there can be differences of vision that can lead to a shutdown. One of the sad realities is many churches even fail to have a vision, which leads them to be in a state of existence. If a church does not come out of a state of existence, they will first missionally shut down, which will eventually lead to a literal shut down. I believe a differing vision some churches face is over the question, “Who is the church, or church, for?” For some, they believe that the church exists for themselves and that people can come and join if they so desire. For others, they believe that the church exists for the world and thus (most) everything they do has the undergirding of the church reaching more people. The reality is that much of the difference of vision within the churches usually is not over theology, but methodology, structure, and strategy—which again goes back to the question, “Who is the church for?” Therefore, either agreeing with a direction, or agreeing to disagree yet move forward, is essential for any government, group, body, or church to avoid a shutdown.
2) A campaign of slander and smearing will lead a government, group, body, or church to shutdown. What usually happens when a government, group, body, or church cannot agree on a vision, or at least agree to disagree and move forward? The answer, people have the tendency to succumb to a sinful and selfish state where they abuse their power and platform by slandering, gossiping, distorting information, and misrepresenting the other side. In the realm of American politics, most Americans are immune to this style of ugliness. They believe slander, smear tactics, and a distortion of facts is just what partisan politicians do. However, these antics may be cute and funny for a while, but eventually people cross the line, and when politicians cross the line, it is usually the American people who suffer. For, when the slander, smearing, distorting, and misrepresenting escalates it leads to what we have currently, a shutdown. Sadly, I wish it were different within churches. But, although churches are the gathering of the redeemed children of God, many of them resort to pre-redeemed tactics. And when they do not get their way they begin their campaign of slander, smearing, distorting information, and misrepresenting the people with whom they disagree. When lines are drawn and these behaviors escalate, it can lead nowhere good, but to a possible shutdown—because they have turned the whole thing into a showdown.
3) A dis-unified government, group, body, or church will lead to a shutdown. What is the result of a government, group, body, or church that cannot agree on a direction and turns their differences into a showdown of slandering and smearing? The answer, disunity. Undergirded with a biblical truth, Abraham Lincoln in 1858 told the Illinois Republican State Convention that, “A house divided cannot stand.” Divisiveness and disunity can bring any government, group, body, or church crashing down. This is why I believe the apostle Paul was adamant to the churches that they strive to maintain unity (Eph 4:1-3; Col 3:12-17), to arm themselves with the mind and attitude of Christ (Phil 2:1-11), to think of themselves as one body with many members (Rom 12:3-8 and 1 Cor 12:12-31), and to put on the armor of God while being aware of the tactics of the devil (Eph 6:10-20). In order to flex great strength of power and of accomplishing a vision, unity must be present.
In closing, I have great love, appreciation, and concern for our county. And my prayer is that we would be a “United” States, even if that means sometimes we have to agree to disagree as well as have to give and take while maintaining civility and unity. While this probably will not be the last government shutdown, I pray that we will learn from it. However, as a child of the King and one who believes that the church exists primarily for the glory of God and the good of the world, I have great hopes as well as concerns for the church around the world. While we cannot go back and re-open those who have literally shutdown their doors, I believe those churches that have missionally and spiritually shutdown can be re-opened.