Dealing with “Issues Christians”

I came across this blog yesterday about so-called “issues Christians”. It seems kinda harsh at the first read, particularly if you don’t have any experience leading in the church. After mentioning a few of the different common “issues” that some Christians will attach themselves to including prophecy, politics, Calvinism (or Arminianism I might add), charismatic practice, and homeschooling, he summarizes his main point:

These are often good people and those are important issues, but when these are the primary defining issues in the first (and every other) conversation, the correct response is help them move on and do so quickly.

I haven’t led in a church in the usual sense (Sunday morning worship community). I have led in a couple of different small groups, and I’ve encountered this type of Christian. The author doesn’t explicitly define what an “issues Christian” is, but the course of the blog would lead me to a definition something like: somebody who is stuck on one issue, not because they’re trying to solve it, but just are determined to rehash this one thing over and over again. This is a tough line to see at first sometimes. Maybe they really are just working through that one thing right now in their life and in that case you can’t just dismiss that need. But other times they really aren’t, and they are just determined to say their spiel about why they are right and all of these other Christians are wrong over and over again. Always border on the side of grace: assume that they actually want your help until it is clear that they really don’t.

And as I thought about it, I thought his answer was essentially correct, and I realized that I have actually done this before myself. Arguably I’ve been this issue Christian myself, although I’d like to think that I stayed just short of that line I mentioned. When I was the one being the issues Christian and when I was the one managing them, I think Ed’s main points are right. He identifies four reasons why it is better to just cut them off:

  1. Some “issue Christians” get stuck on specific ideas–you don’t have time to persuade them.
  2. Some “issue Christians” have divisive views–you don’t need them to fit in at your church’s expense.
  3. Some “issue Christians” drift from church to church looking for willing ears–you do not need to let that in your church.
  4. Some “issue Christians” will talk forever if you do not cut them off–you will probably offended them less than you think.

To me those also serve as clues of who has crossed that line. If they don’t show any interest that there may be other views (whether you agree with them on the issue or not is irrelevant), if they are willing to exclude other Jesus-followers as not real Christians, if they have a history of this type of thing taking the same issue to various places, and if they aren’t willing to just move on when the conversation is clearly over, those are big problems for constructive dialogue. And in that case, it is usually better to wish them the best at another church or small group that does provide the very specific things that they think are the marks of a true Christian.

Care for them the best you can by doing it gently and with love, but don’t be afraid to say that maybe they would fit in better somewhere else. If you even know somewhere else which does emphasize that issue, recommend specifics – they’d probably appreciate that, not be offended. And maybe they’ll leave thinking you’re a bunch of heretics or you are just completely missing this obvious central part of the Christian faith as they define it, but you can’t please everybody, in the church or anywhere else. In the process of acknowledging their diversity while saying that your particular church is different, you’ll also be modelling that there is more than this one issue to consider.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.