In his book, Mere Discipleship, author Lee Camp recounts the Rwandan civil war from the mid 1990’s. At the time, Camp was located in Kenya as a missionary.
In the book, he explains how Rwanda had been considered a textbook case of successful Christian Missions. Churches were being planted and were multiplying rapidly.
Then came the civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi.
Adversity has a way of revealing reality. The very churches that had long been considered a “success” were suddenly ripped apart. Not necessarily by gunfire, but by something worse: allegiance.
Although the new converts had claimed allegiance to Christ alone, it soon became apparent that when push came to shove, allegiance to their tribe was more important.
According to Camp, “the Jesus who taught his disciples to ‘love your neighbor’ was missing when young men were hacking old men, women, and children to death, simply because these neighbors were of a differing ethnic background… the ‘gospel’ imported into Rwanda failed to ever challenge the ethnic identities of its ‘converts’—they ‘became Christian,’ but many remained first and foremost either Hutu or Tutsi.”
Before you point the finger at Rwanda, remember, my fellow Americans, some of our own churches were torn apart in the 1800’s during our civil war as brother fought against brother. Our own Christian heritage has black spots in which we have to wonder where our allegiance truly lies.
So how can pastors and churches develop disciples of Christ who will stand the test of adversity?
Here’s one thought: remember that actions speak louder than words.
For some reason, we allow ourselves as ministers to be satisfied when people say all the right words. We think that as long as someone can answer questions in Sunday School or lead a small Bible study, they must be a strong Christian.
This kind of thinking leads us to miss the small “civil wars” taking place in our members lives already. I’m talking about the seemingly small ways that we are all hypocrites from time to time –yelling at your daughter on the way to Sunday school to memorize the verse about controlling your anger, or harping on the evils of abortion and in the same breath looking down on the single mom –even though she ‘chose life.’ And what about the way we carry on about prayer in schools when there is hardly any prayer in our churches.
You don’t have to look very far to find our small civil wars. We all have them –and praise God, He pours out His grace on us for these sins.
But forgiveness of those sins doesn’t mean that we should ignore them. This is where I think we are in danger. Why? Because every major civil war in history began with small skirmishes based upon allegiances.
So as ministers we must look beyond people’s words –“God bless you, I’ll be praying for you, Jesus is the way”– and look at their actions. Then, speaking the truth in love, let us “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). In other words, help your members make their ultimate allegiance to Christ –not self, not culture, not personalities, and certainly not politics.
Putting your arm around someone and saying, “Bob, I’m concerned about your anger issues,” or “Mary, can we talk about your frustration with Suzie” is just the kind of Christ-like diplomacy that can help disciples grow in their allegiance to Christ and avoid major conflicts in the future!
Until then, here’s a relevant question that might help you look beyond the “right words” to get an idea of your members’ allegiance:
If civil war broke out in our country today between Democrats and Republicans, would allegiance to Christ be stronger to allegiance to a political party?