Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wouldn't It Be Nice...To Be Nice?

In a recent article in The Times (London) entitled Evil-minded parishioners making life hell for clergy, Cambridge psychology and religion researcher Dr Sarah Savage (no kidding) reports that a new illness has developed amongst ministers called Irritable Clergy Syndrome.

According to Dr Savage, clergy in the Church of England are tired of being bullied by "neurotic worshippers who spread havoc with gossip and manipulation." She states, "Priests are being torn by the pressure of having to be nice all the time to everyone, even when confronted with extremes of nastiness." As a result, say goodbye to Mr. Nice Priest and hello to Cleric the Commando.

Ministerial mistreatment and burnout are real problems not to be deminished. However, we should remember that the church is a place for sinners - for evil-minded parishioners and clergy alike. Local churches may indeed be a "toxic-cocktail of bullying and terror" filled with gossips and manipulators. But should we be surprised?

This problem is nothing new. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul addressed this situation head on. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor theives, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (I Cor. 6:9-11).

Lest we forget what we once were apart from Christ, let's not bolt the lock on the doors of the church just yet. The church may be a hellish place at times. But we should take comfort. Christ promised us that the gates of hell will not prevail.

For a helpful article on ministerial burnout, see Donald Whitney, "The Almost Inevitable Ruin of Every Minister...And How to Avoid It."

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