PSA: People in Church Aren’t Psychic
I don’t know what the (quite possibly) made-up statistic is on how much church conflict is caused by a lack of communication and/or miscommunication, but I’m going to guess it’s pushing 100%. Even the doctrinal conflicts that arise every now and then likely have a communication component that exacerbates the problem. But of all the communication-based issues a person could have in church, my favorite (read: least favorite) is the apparent assumption of psychic abilities. Disclaimer: I’m guilty of the psychic assumption as much as anyone else, and I only hope someone else can grow with me in my mistakes.
Examples include, but are not limited to:
The Cold Shoulder
Your friend at church, who is a mere acquaintance on Facebook and outside of church, hasn’t asked you any personal questions for two or more weeks; they merely smile and wave. Obviously, this means they are upset with you or no longer like you, so you spend your time analyzing your casual relationship and history to uncover why they must hate you. You then turn to others for a peer review of your analysis and confirm they must have a problem with you, leading them to give you the cold shoulder. The condition worsens with time if left untreated and builds resentment.
Sudden Mood Changes (in worship)
Something is different. Perhaps there are now too few or too many songs, someone didn’t pray before communion, the Scripture reading was from The Message, the sermon changed places in the order of worship, new symbols have been introduced, potential political themes were lightly alluded to in someone’s comments, too much Old Testament is being read, etc. Whatever the case, the result is the same: worship feels different, and you are concerned about the changes. Perhaps you have legitimate concerns and worries, or perhaps you suspect you simply don’t like something that likely isn’t a big deal, but you keep it to yourself and grumble on the ride home. Eventually you might even disdain the changes so much that you wake up dreading going to church so you stop going sometimes, if not always.
You, a long-time member, have survived a handful of ministers and some rotations in the eldership, and the church seems to be heading in a different direction than it used to. You don’t dislike the new leaders that have come and gone over the years, and each has shaped you and the church for the better, but you just can’t help but notice that the church isn’t the same as it used to be. Perhaps you start waxing nostalgically about the old days, or you are nervous about what might come next. You share these thoughts with other long-time members, and they nod in agreement, but the conversation stays there. You continue to mourn the past and hold the future in suspicion.
All three of these examples are side effects of unhealthy communication but are easily treated by remembering the people in your church are not psychic.
The one giving you the cold shoulder will not know you feel that they are mistreating you unless you talk with them and explain your experience. Perhaps they will have no idea you felt ignored, or maybe they actually did have an issue with you that can now be addressed and resolved.
Things change in worship for many reasons, and it’s virtually guaranteed that not all of us will like all of the changes, but you can understand them better if you talk to the people who plan and organize worship. They likely would welcome and value your feedback.
And perhaps you are right that the church’s vision and direction have changed. You should absolutely share your concerns with your leaders and invite them to help you understand some of the changes you’ve seen.
All of these examples are resolved by communicating your concerns with the proper parties. After all, they are not psychic and likely have no idea that you’re upset. But I am willing to bet that if you take the time to voice your concerns (rather than spread them elsewhere or stew on them), the symptoms of unhealthy communication can be relieved, if not resolved. For more on unhealthy communication caused by assuming someone knows that you are upset, please consult your physician, who will likely prescribe remedies from Matt. 18. If symptoms worsen, seriously, talk to the people you are in conflict with; they will not know your thoughts or feelings until you express them.