The book of Galatians records a quick but powerful lesson on how to change culture. The story occurs in chapter two, where the apostle Paul confronts Peter for his hypocrisy in dealing with the Gentiles. Paul wrote, “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (2: 11). Peter struggled with the acceptance of Gentiles when he was in the presence of more conservative Jewish leaders. When Paul encountered Peter’s hypocrisy, he didn’t just go home and tell his family, nor did he call his friends on the phone and vent; instead, Paul confronted the issue. He addressed Peter to his face and in the presence of other people (v. 14).
There are some strong personalities that have little problem with confrontation, but far more common in the church is a passivity and unwillingness to address people and problems head on. One of the unspoken, yet rampant, sins in many congregations is passive-aggressive behavior. This is the unwillingness to confront people in honest face-to-face dialogue while attacking them behind their backs through gossip, slander, manipulation, or personal attacks.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is that we lovingly challenge people and confront behavior that is incongruent with the values of the church. When people see that they are going to be held accountable, they will run, yield and grow, or engage in a showdown. But sometimes that’s what it takes. One thing is for sure: you are not helping them, or the church as a whole, by enabling sinful behavior and allowing immaturity to reign. I don’t care how long someone has attended the church or what their title is; you must hold people accountable for inappropriate attitudes and behavior. You don’t have to be a jerk, even though you may be labeled as one, but you can’t succumb to passivity. It is not biblical to avoid conflict. And it’s not helpful.
I hate interpersonal conflict, and I don’t like confrontation, but I cannot think of one instance where I’ve confronted someone for sinful or inappropriate behavior and regretted it. As a matter of fact, the only regrets I have are from not addressing people when I should have. When you begin to graciously hold people accountable for their actions and their words, you are on your way to establishing a healthy culture where people begin living out the church’s values, and when that happens, it’s important to take notice of it openly…
When you see people living out the church’s values, give them a word of encouragement. Tell other people. Have them give a testimony. Celebrate and make positive examples out of them. Too often we want to preach against what needs to be changed more than praising what is being done right. Most people in the church want encouragement, and they want to please God. By recognizing good behavior and acknowledging it, you are motivating people to move in the direction they need to go. Not only that, you are also giving the congregation real life examples of what it means to live out the values of the church.
--from Chapter 12 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation
Next week, I will offer the eighth of the nine principles you can use to implant your church’s values into its culture.