The Danger of Willfulness in the Local Church . . .

I tried to justify what I said as being in the best interest of the person with whom I was in conflict. But by the next morning the Lord showed me that my intent and motives had more to do with my desires than any good I sought for the other person. I had pursued my own will under the guise of doing something “good” but ended up discouraging a friend instead. Calling this what I believe God would, this was evil. Evil, like my selfish motives and words, takes many forms and can be found in surprising places, even churches.

  • Human evil can be defined as acting for one’s own interests while doing harm to important relationships, much as Adam and Eve behaved toward God in Genesis 3.
  • Evil causes damage to relationships where love and watch-care should dominate, like when Joseph’s brothers sold him off to Egypt and then lied to their father about what really happened.
  • Evil also manifests itself when those in roles of authority use their power in a way that discourages or damages spiritual growth in those being led. The Pharisees did this with their legalism and Jesus rebuked them for “laying heavy burdens on men’s shoulders” they were unwilling to touch with their finger.
  • Evil erupts with self-willed opinions which are inconsistent with God’s will. Peter felt he knew better than God when he rebuked Jesus for saying He must die. Jesus rebuked Peter right back with the words: “Get behind me Satan!”

Willfulness ties these biblical examples of evil together, and such willfulness often arises in churches. It commonly reveals itself in an unwillingness to address painful areas in our lives that put a ceiling on our spiritual growth until they are courageously faced and either forgiven or reconciled. God does not let us “get away” with such things because they limit us, and, at a larger level, He won’t let a church get by with it either. People, acting out of self-interest, decide the wounds are better off unfaced and untreated.  But, refusing to listen to our Great Physician, we miss His healing touch and end up causing more wounds to those we should love. Again, this happens at both personal and church level.

When willfulness operates in your church, God lays it upon church leaders to choose to resolve it God’s way. Sadly, many church leaders get infected by the very same willfulness and fail to repent of the spirit causing such pain. We are often amazed, in our work with churches, how much pain leadership is willing to endure. They even come to think of the pain as “normal.” We have known church leaders to tolerate willful, disruptive behavior in business or board meetings for twenty years or more. The timing was never right to confront it, and it never is. Thus evil comes to mark such meetings as the spiritual lives of the people involved are negatively impacted.

This is nothing new. Jesus had to rebuke the church at Thyatira for ignoring the willful behavior of a woman with the symbolic name “Jezebel.” For whatever reason church leaders “tolerated her” (Jesus’ words), with her willful and dangerous notions. Her teaching spread like gangrene through the congregation. From Jesus’ rebuke of Thyatira’s leadership, we learn that dealing with such evil can become the last thing on a leader’s to-do list.

When church leaders fail to discipline willful members or exercise willfulness themselves, the Lord brings discipline on the church as a whole. When we overlook what Jesus refuses to overlook, He turns up the heat of His own loving discipline, intensifying our corporate pain to get our attention (Rev 3:19).

Amidst a generation marked by the evil of willfulness, intensifying because of the way we continue to wound each other, we as leaders need to courageously assess our own hearts and our church’s heart. Our churches should be shining examples of a willing rather than a willful spirit.  May we bravely confront the evil within ourselves, then humbly repent and address the evil manifested within our churches. Then, and only then, will we be equipped to resist evil in our world.

We invite your comments. What are some ways you’ve seen willfulness impact a church? How have you witnessed courageous church leaders confront a willful spirit?

Rev. Mark Barnard serves as President of Blessing Point Ministries. Blessing Point works to heal local churches that have been wounded by painful crises. Barnard is the author of the recently released book, Diagnosing the Heart of Your Church – How Church Leaders Can Assess Systemic Corporate Dysfunction.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  1. Barbara Belton July 12, 2016 at 9:59 am — Reply

    Thank you so much for this information. My spirit bears witness of its truth. I will first begin with myself and then share this article with others. May the Lord’s blessings continue to be upon this ministry. Again, thank you.

    • Mark Barnard

      Mark Barnard July 12, 2016 at 10:55 am — Reply

      Beginning with oneself is a sign of a “willing” spirit. Thanks Barbara.

  2. John Eastman July 12, 2016 at 11:45 am — Reply

    Mark –
    You have touched upon a problem that has probably caused more damage within the fellowship of believers than imaginable (James 4). This is a matter that must never be dismissed.

    • Mark Barnard

      Mark Barnard July 12, 2016 at 12:44 pm — Reply

      Sad but true. May the LORD grant a great humbling among His people during these increasingly dark days for the church. Great to hear from you!

  3. M Schultz July 13, 2016 at 7:34 am — Reply

    I am counseling two men/couples right now where I’m urging the man to go back to his church and confess his sin of adultery AND ask -almost beg – the leadership to put him under discipline. I was shocked when I asked what the church’s reaction was to their sin to hear both men say, “nothing”. It leaves the poor chap swimming on his own against the new current of surviving in the wake of a broken suffering marriage. What a relief I think it would be for his wife to see a group of men, church leaders, come to their rescue by 1) giving the man an opportunity to repent publicly, 2) place him under discipline, or another way of saying, under the authority of the elders, 3) and finally reach out to the gospel with a strategy for restoration. -I feel a blog coming!

    • Mark Barnard

      Mark Barnard July 13, 2016 at 1:45 pm — Reply

      Or maybe it’s another novel. The Anti-Guardians! Given the nature of the situation, the church may feel overwhelmed and hurt by the man’s actions. If they don’t have a track record of handling church discipline in a way God can bless, they would not start now. The pain the man caused may be God’s message to the church about doing a better job guarding the health of the body, if they’re listening.

  4. Mike J July 13, 2016 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    Good words and reminder. I wonder how many churches fail because it is more about keeping everyone happy instead of trying to keep Jesus happy.

    • Mark Barnard

      Mark Barnard July 13, 2016 at 1:36 pm — Reply

      Mike, that’s a scary thought. I wonder too. Thanks for commenting.

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