During the Second World War, millions of men volunteered to serve in the Army. Millions more were drafted. These soldiers served all over the world, from the sultry jungles of the Southwest Pacific to the snow and ice of Europe. On foot, in tanks, and on airplanes they fought the forces of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, often risking life and limb to liberate conquered lands and defeat the forces of evil. Many of them fought for months or even years, pushing back Japanese and German troops and freeing men and women around the world in the greatest campaign of liberation ever seen. In the process, they endured weather, shellfire, terror, and injury – and the vast majority of combat soldiers got to the point where they simply wanted to end the war and go home.
Not every soldier fought in combat. In fact, many millions of soldiers served in vital roles behind the lines: transporting supplies, protecting key facilities, caring for wounded in military hospitals, and repairing damaged towns and cities behind the lines. The Allied victory would not have been possible without these rear echelon troops, and most of them were every bit as heroic (in their own way) as the frontline combat soldier.
Some of these behind-the-lines soldiers, though, were looking for a fight – but they weren’t at the front. So they picked fights with MPs. They threw bricks through windows. They insulted other soldiers in bars. They bullied local townspeople. In short, they were doing many things that undermined the Allied mission of liberation – because they were looking for a fight, but didn’t have one worth fighting.
Unfortunately, I have heard many stories about the same thing happening within the church. I’ve even seen it happen in congregations I’ve served. People who are involved in the mission of the church – teaching Bible study, caring for children, introducing their friends to Jesus, working hard to serve the least of these – accomplish some truly amazing things for the kingdom. What they do not do, by and large, is complain. They don’t cause trouble or make things difficult.
The people who do are typically those who are not as involved. They may attend worship faithfully. They may attend Sunday school. They may even serve on a committee that meets infrequently. But they are not investing their time and energy into the mission of the church. They are not pouring out their hearts to meet the needs of others. They are not working through the details of God’s calling in their lives and the life of the congregation. In short, they’re not really in the fight – and so they go looking for one. In the process, they can cause a lot of damage: to their own walk with God, to their relationship with others in the church, to the ministry and self-worth of the pastors and lay leaders, to the work of the congregation, and to the kingdom of their Lord.
So what can the church do?
The church can take a page from the US Army Rangers. The 1st Ranger Battalion had proved its worth in combat in Tunisia, accomplishing missions that required skill and commitment. Just before the invasion of Sicily, the Ranger battalions needed recruits. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Rick Atkinson describes how they found the elite soldiers they needed: “Recruiters…swaggered into Algerian bars, tendered a few insults, and signed up soldiers pugnacious enough to pick a fight.”* Troops looking for a fight were just who the Rangers needed; they just needed to be trained and put into the right fight.
Perhaps that is what the church needs to do, as well: get people in the right fight. After all, as Paul says, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) Find a ministry they can contribute to. Encourage them to reach out to their neighbor or their coworker. Involve them in planning the next church event, or invite them to help visit prospective members. Make sure they take part in the next mission project, or help them start one of their own. In short, make sure they get in the fight.
It’s time for the church to stop its infighting and fratricide. It’s time for the church to take on the mission of the kingdom of God, sharing the Gospel through word and deed, making disciples of Jesus Christ, and overcoming evil with good. That’s more than enough fight to keep everyone at peace with each other – and accomplish God’s mission as well.
*”The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944,” by Rick Atkinson, p. 81