In high school, I had a tell-it-like-it-is friend known for her blunt manner and direct opinions. Frequently, when we were hanging out, she’d lean back on her elbows, tilt her head, and announce to the room, “I am a no-drama girl. I do not do drama.”
I have learned since that, all too often, “I don’t do drama” is code for “drama follows me everywhere.” The very friend who spoke those words lived in the center of a constant cycle of arguments, gossip, and disagreements, and yet never seemed to understand the role that she played in facilitating any of it.
Unfortunately, “drama” – emotional upheaval, arguments, disagreements, gossip, simmering conflict, resentment, and anger – isn’t just confined to high school. Adults deal with it every day. And so do churches.
In fact, church drama has been a part of church life since the very beginning. It goes all the way back to the New Testament, and is evidenced by Paul’s constant settling of disputes and debates in his letters. Believers are always taking sides over something or other, exacerbating disputes, backstabbing, making incendiary comments, and building mountains out of molehills.
Yet no one wants to believe they’re the one doing it.
Talk to almost any believer caught in the middle of church drama and they will tell you that someone else is causing it, continuing it, or worsening it. They will tell you that most of what they are doing is perfectly justified, if not Biblical, and usually that they are doing their very best to be the “no-drama”, Biblically-behaving soul in this scenario. If only other people would stop doing something/start doing something/change something/apologize/leave/confess/agree, everything would be fine!
The thing is, “church drama” is more often than not a hydra-headed monster. It might be caused initially by a particular incident, or a particular person, but over time it becomes a labyrinthine mess of believers behaving badly, all contributing to the problem without ever owning a part of it. Conflict and resentment and bitterness grow and expand, casting a much larger shadow than their origin might have.
Because of this, church drama seems profoundly difficult to solve. But it isn’t. In fact, most church drama can be dissolved if believers subscribe to the following guidelines:
1. Err on the side of being quiet. No gossip. No burning up the phone lines to share news about the latest indignity. No commiserating and replaying an incident or an experience with others to reignite and restate bad feelings. No secret plans, schemes, warnings, or whispered pieces of advice not meant for everyone’s ears. That’s not to say you can’t speak at all. But when you must, speak as the Bible advocates: honestly, directly, hiding nothing, with love, and in gentleness.
2. Forgive meaningfully. Forgiveness does not require an apology. Forgiveness is mandated in Scripture. Forgiveness is consistent and frequent. Forgiveness means not holding on to grudges, not nurturing resentment and bitterness, and not re-litigating closed and settled matters over and over again. Sure, forgiveness doesn’t necessarily cancel out consequences – if Angelina has a habit of stealing from the collection plate, maybe supervise her with it for a while – but forgiveness also does not spend all its time creating new consequences, moving the goalposts, and demanding greater and more meaningful shows of repentance beyond what was initially given.
3. Remember the point of this whole thing. I feel like a lot of drama would come to a screeching halt if people faced up to it and answered the following questions: “Is continuing with this godly or Christlike?” “Is this impeding our Christian mission?” “In what ways am I seeking to satisfy myself rather than God?” “In what ways might this be hurting what God put us here to do?” So much drama centers around human feelings and emotions. It centers on people wanting to be proven right, wishing to be vindicated, wanting to punish or hurt, wanting to exact revenge, wanting to satisfy desires that aren’t godly. But all of these things ignore what God wants us to do, and who God wants us to be.
But here’s the kicker. These guidelines only work if everyone buys in. Often, few people do, believing that only other people (the people presumably in the wrong) should. But that’s not how it goes. Whether you’ve been hurt or have been the one who caused hurt, whether you offended or were offended, whether you perceive yourself to be an innocent in the situation or not, this is all still required.
It’s Biblical living in practical, day to day life. It’s putting Scriptural teachings about forgiveness, service, and our words into action. And if we truly want no-drama churches, it’s the attitude that all of us are required to take.