Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Collateral damage 6

You can cause collateral damage even when all you are trying to do is help.

That's a painful thing for me to think about, consider, and admit.

Such are the effects of sin that those who are called to deal with it cannot do so surgically, cutting it out without causing damage elsewhere.

My church career has been filled with prolonged periods of time when I've been tasked with stepping up to the plate, usually as part of a team, to deal with a harmful situation. These times have entailed weeks, months, even years of debilitating stress, disruption of family life, late and sleepless nights, endless rounds of meetings, communication after communication, fending off accusations, loss of friendships. They've taken a physical, mental and emotional toll on me and those with whom I've served. I suspect they've taken a few years off my life.

But no matter how diligently we served, how hard we tried not to make mistakes, how fair and Christ-honoring we attempted to be, the situations played themselves out in similar ways. Our fingers in the failing dikes may have saved a few people, but when the floods burst through anyway, there was collateral damage everywhere.

You take on the difficult, thankless task, you suffer for it, and still in the end, the actions you have taken contributed to the collateral damage people experience. In this kind of church work there is a kind of mutual collateral damage. It doesn't matter how thoughtful and prayerful you have been. Or how much you care about the people embroiled in the conflict, or how carefully you have considered your course of action.

The nature of sin, even when it is being addressed and dealt with, is to spread and cause as much damage as possible. When we dare to become involved in confronting it, we should harbor no illusions about its power. Collateral damage will pile up, even from the actions of those working to resolve the situation.

All we can hope for is that in the end the total amount of damage was less than it might have been without our intervention. And that is why we stepped up in service to begin with.

It's something worth pondering for an extended period of time:
• Where have you seen situations like this in the church?
• Where have you seen this in the world at large?
• Where have you read about this phenomenon in the Bible?
• Knowing this reality, how should thoughtful and committed Christians gird themselves for confrontations with sin?

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