Recently a young friend of mine asked, “What do you do when you discover your congregation is pretty much all tares?” This, of course, a reference to the parable of “The Wheat and the Tares.”
This question may shock us, but it shouldn’t. We always assume that the wheat outnumbers the tares by a large margin– but why should that be so? We know that Satan works his hardest within the church, since that is his greatest enemy on Earth. Given human weakness, and ou propensity to pride, it shouldn’t be surprising if, over time, the tares population increase and the wheat population decreases, perhaps, nearly to the point of extinction within a given congregation.
Over the last 40 years, I have belonged to several tare-dominant congregations. What does one do in that situation? First of all, it depends upon whether God has called you to that congregation, something which is between the individual and God. If you have a spiritual mentor you can trust, you can discuss it with them, but in the end it will be between you and God.
Until you have a definitive answer, you simply have to do the best you can under the circumstances. Here’s what I have learned in tare-land.
One day, when our older daughter was just a toddler, we took her to the grocery store. No sooner had we placed her in the infant seat in the cart, than she called out “Unnnh?” And almost immediately we heard another toddler reply “Unnh!” somewhere out in the grocery aisles. It was a fascinating display of toddler communication. Shana said “Unnh?” meaning, “Any other toddlers in here?” And quickly came the reply, “Yup, over here!”
When living among the tares, that’s our first duty, and our first opportunity– to discover other kindred spirits. Not to sit around and deplore the leadership of the church, or the condition of the believers, but to find another who shares our experience, and whom we can encourage. Over and over again I have used this technique.
Now, we can’t simply go into the sanctuary and say, “Anybody else think this congregation is full of hypocrites?” even if that’s our opinion. Although you’ll certainly have takers, it’s not the opportunity for a rewarding relationship. Instead of highlighting the shortcomings of others, be open about your own struggles. Don’t share all your deepest secrets in such a setting– hypocrites will savage you. But do be willing to say, “You know, I just don’t see things the way most others do here. I don’t think (for example) the evangelistic approaches we use actually do what we want them to.” And be ready to share what you do think.
Yes, you will be criticized. Don’t let that bother you. In a tare congregaation, you’re being criticized anyway. But the upside is that some other kindred spirit will say– perhaps privately, because they’ve been too afraid to reveal their true sentiments in public– “You know, I’ve been thinking the same thing.” In other words, it’s a signal to kindred spirits that you exist.
And then you have an opportunity to help the wheat grow, not just frustrate the schemes of the tares. That’s the first suggestion I have. Seek kindred spirits. Next time I’ll give some other options.