It has been "cold" the past couple of nights. We have not yet turned on our furnace/heat, so the morning chill has been noticeable in our house. Both Marsha and I like it to be cool while we sleep, so that has not been a problem. But that first step onto the bathroom tile floor has been "invigorating."
But let's put it into perspective. If next January or February we wake up to outdoor temps of 39 degrees, we will all be grateful that it is so "warm" – won't we? So what is "cold" and what is "warm" weather? Answer: it is all a matter of perspective.
I remember one winter in Fargo, North Dakota during my years there as bishop when our temps never got up to 0 degrees for 38 straight days. Now that was cold! By contrast these recent days have hardly been cold. It is a matter of perspective.
Keeping things in perspective is important in the church, too. I sometimes get mail or email telling me about some problem in a local congregation, and then comes the declaration, "Everyone is upset" or "everyone is leaving." Really? Not likely. Without underestimating the importance of dealing well with conflict in a local congregation, it helps to keep it in perspective. As one older bishop advised me when I first began serving as a bishop, "It is never as bad as they tell you, and it is never as good as they tell you." It is important but difficult to sort out which concerns are extensive (wide-spread) in a congregation, verses which concerns are simply intensive from a few critics.
Even if a concern is truly widespread, it seldom means a local congregation is going to fall apart. Churches are incredibly resilient, and most church members are able to keep things in perspective. As one veteran member once told me, "I was here long before this current situation, and I will be long after it. So I try not to worry too much about such minor disputes." Or as another observer once noted, "The Church is always dying, but it never does."
Lest my comments sound uncaring or unsympathetic to the painful nature of church conflict, let me say that I am concerned whenever any congregation loses sight of their mission and instead focuses upon their internal hurts. I know it is painful, and too often innocent people are the ones who are hurt while others engage in back-biting and other un-Christian behavior. Such conflict never reflects the Spirit of Christ, and the Fruit of the Spirit is not present during such difficult times.
But let's keep it all in perspective. We have over 1,100 United Methodist congregations in the Indiana Conference. At any one time the number of those congregations going through tension, conflict, and division is typically 10-15. Those few congregations are, of course, the ones that require much of our attention and effort as the Bishop and Cabinet. But in our Cabinet meetings we always start by sharing the incredible "glory sightings" of God at work in the vast majority of our congregations – as a way of keeping things in perspective.
Yes, things can seem "cold" or "hot" – but really things are often just about normal.