We’re connected to God and His ultimate wisdom, yet others sometimes view us as foolish. We represent a faith that people urgently need, but too often, they refuse to take us seriously. That’s because we’re prone to making dumb mistakes that render our witness ineffective.
Here are some dumb mistakes Christians make – and how you can avoid making them yourself:
* Dropping out of church. Don’t be one of those Christians who is missing in action. Make sure you’re participating in worship services and other church activities regularly, so you can keep growing and others can see that you’re serious about your faith.
* Chronically complaining. Rather than focusing on the negative, ask God to help you to see the positive. Make it a habit to notice your blessings, thank God for them, and think and act in positive ways. Ask God to help you be content, peaceful, and joyful – no matter what your current circumstances. Whenever you have a problem with particular person or group of people (such as church leaders), go directly to them to work it out rather than just blabbing about it to others. Try to encourage other people on a regular basis, through kind words and actions.
* Taking without giving. Instead of taking everything the church has to offer without giving anything back, commit to volunteering your time and energy to help out in at least one of your church’s ministries. Know that contributing however you can – even in small ways – will make a big difference in your congregation.
* Misbehaving. Be sure to practice what you preach. When you say you believe something, yet act in ways that are inconsistent with that belief, you become a hypocrite who turns people away from the faith. Ask God to help you life every part of your life with integrity. Don’t participate in any activities that you’d be embarrassed about if other people in your church knew you were engaging in them.
* Winning people to the church rather than to Christ. Remember that the reason why you’re trying to reach people with your faith isn’t simply so they can join your church – it’s so they can have a relationship with Christ. Focus on Him, whether or not the people you’re reaching end up worshipping in your particular church or not. When you discuss your church, make sure you’re not giving people unrealistic expectations about what to expect there. Recognize that just joining a church won’t magically make people’s problems disappear. Be honest about the fact that church, like any other place, is full of difficult and unpleasant people and that the church someone joins isn’t always going to be like it is currently, because change is inevitable. Emphasize that Christ (not the church) is the way, the truth, and the life.
* Living below the level of your beliefs. Be alert to sins that can slip past your spiritual radar and become part of your daily routine. Reject materialism by refusing to waste time and energy on pursuing things God isn’t clearly calling you to pursue. Reject worry by trusting that God is in control, even when you’re under pressure. Reject superiority by praying for a humble heart. Help your church become a place that presents God’s whole message instead of watered-down, seeker-friendly principles. Get to know the Bible well, and be ready to speak from Scripture rather than pop psychology when talking with others. Stay connected to God through daily prayer, and give Him your heart anew each day to stay close to Him.
* Speaking above the level of your knowledge. Be careful about saying more than you truly know. Resist the temptations to analyze people, explain suffering, spread rumors, or believe everything you hear. Take the time to think before you speak. Ask God to keep you from doing harm through your conversations and help you do good through them instead.
* Hopping from church to church. Realize that there’s no such thing as a perfect church. Rather than constantly searching for a church that can serve you better, decide to serve your current church. Ask God to give you the motivation to become committed and involved. Remember the blessings that come from a long-term commitment to one church: a sense of belonging, a sense of accomplishment, discoveries about yourself, lots of meaningful relationships, and a powerful witness for Christ. Start giving your time, energy, and money on a regular basis to contribute to your church’s work. Join a Sunday school class or small group to build friendships with others in your congregation. Understand that there are many biblical commands that you can’t fulfill if you’re church-hopping, such as: being devoted to one another, serving one another, building yourselves together, teaching and counseling each other, building each other up, leaving peaceably with each other, encouraging and warning each other, confessing your sins to each other and praying for each other, and living in harmony with one another.
* Fighting among yourselves. Do all you can to work conflicts with other Christians out peacefully. Understand that church feuds lead to disaster, because: church leaders are distracted, church members not involved in the feud are discouraged, God’s work is disrupted, the community’s seekers are disenchanted, important beliefs such as forgiveness are disregarded, the congregation’s testimony is discredited, and God Himself is dishonored. Remember Christ’s statement that believers’ love for one another will prove to the world that they are His disciples. Help create a calm and loving culture in your church by obeying church leaders, confronting troublemakers, refuting heresy, meeting hurting people’s needs, suppressing legalism and modeling grace and kindness, discouraging arguments, and forgiving sinners.
* Missing golden opportunities. Don’t overlook the mundane moments in life when opportunities to share the Gospel suddenly materialize. Seize opportunities that arise at the grocery store, PTA meeting, bank window, gas pump, ball field, or anywhere else God nudges you to witness to someone. Know that some opportunities, if they are missed, will be lost forever. Understand that God will give special opportunities to those who are committed and prepared, so make sure you know Scripture well. Recognize that some opportunities are much larger than they first appear, and that on opportunity is too small or insignificant. Understand that some opportunities bear immediate fruit for the kingdom. Remember that the goal of every opportunity should be to lead people to Christ, rather than to a church program. Ask God to give you the passion you need to seize the opportunities He brings your way.
* Settling for mediocrity. Don’t believe that the quality of your work doesn’t matter when you volunteer in ministry, because you’re not a professional. Realize that excellence matters, because: God loves excellence, the Bible commands it, and people respond to it. Ask God to give you the courage to make decisions for excellence. Decide to serve in your areas of giftedness. Invest the money necessary to provide excellent services, programs, equipment, etc. at your church. Thoroughly plan and prepare for events. Persevere and work hard, trusting that your best efforts are worthwhile.
* Allowing wolves to live among the sheep. Watch out for spiritual wolves (troublemakers) among the sheep (faithful people) in your congregation. Confront gossips, liars, caustic critics, legalists, and power-hungry manipulators. Realize that they can be deceptive, but will eventually reveal themselves by how they act. Don’t be afraid to call evil what it is – evil. Don’t allow people to destroy others in your congregation through their bad behavior. Confront them, all the while remembering that your goal isn’t to shame them, but to bring them back into a right relationship with God. Don’t be afraid to follow biblical principles for church discipline whenever you need to do so.
* Accepting the unacceptable. Ask God to help you be consistent in how you apply your faith to your life. Stop doing things halfheartedly and decide to act with your whole heart in every part of your life.
Adapted from The 10 Dumbest Things Christians Do, copyright 2006 by Mark Atteberry. Published by Nelson Books, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com
Mark Atteberry has been preaching for 30 years and held ministries in Missouri and Indiana before becoming the minister of Poinciana Christian Church in Kissimmee, Florida, in 1989. He has spoken and led workshops at the Florida Christian Convention, as well as many camps, colleges, retreats, and revivals. Mark has been married for 29 years to his high school sweetheart, Marilyn. They have one daughter, Michelle.