The Corrosive Effects of Congregational Blame

NOTE: First article in this three-article series

I guess you can blame others…if you want.

The problem is that blame is so corrosive and unproductive. Blaming as a strategy is like turning into a cull de sac in your neighborhood, expecting to exit out to the highway. Blaming in congregations is a dead-end street strategy, nearly assuring we won’t get anywhere close to implementing our congregational calling.

Even so, blaming is really in style now. Blaming others for our predicaments, failures, disappointments in life is not new. Blame enjoys a long and storied history of infamous engagement by humankind. The only new thing about blame is its prevalence in and permeation of our current culture.

Need we turn any further than national political news to watch blame at work? Though using blame to deflect personal responsibility is not a new strategy, it appears to be the strategy of choice currently among national politicians. Each branch of government blames the other, while trying to avoid overtly blaming the American people. If they cannot blame each other, then the “system” itself becomes the problem. Rarely is personal responsibility exercised; remaining out of style at the moment.

How about church then? Surely we don’t use this dead-end-street-strategy in congregations. Those of us deeply involved with churches regularly hear how the story goes when listening to congregational constituent groups. The pastor(s), church staff, lay leadership team, personnel committee, and congregation each blame the other when experiencing disappointment. Each one, when interviewed, will generally blame the other. “If we just had different, better, or more effective _________, then we would be flourishing as a church.” Fill in the blank with whosoever is not you. Others turn blame outward, blaming larger cultural and secular trends for our problems as churches. Though there is a time to critique performance and effectiveness of each of these groups and individuals, blame identifies the other as THE major source of our problems overall.

Certainly this blame game is not the primary activity in many churches, yet it’s far too prevalent in far too many churches. It’s like blame is the contagious virus in our culture with churches ignoring the Holy Spirit’s immunization. Or blame is like a quiet voice, whispering crazy statements in our ears, convincing us that we are completely innocent bystanders with no influence on the problems at hand. Blame tells us to change others in order to solve our problems. When it comes down to it, blame is excessively corrosive, directly breaking down communities of faith.

So, in case we need further clarification, here are the top five corrosive effects of unchecked blame in congregations.
1. Downgrades our efforts to resolve concerns. When we blame others, our problem resolution strategy becomes changing or eliminating others. So, our personal engagement in problem-solving declines. Blame turns congregational effort into impotence, helplessness, and paralysis.
2. Corrodes spirituality with unfaithful theology and action. Remember that pithy saying of Jesus in the gospels about removing the log from our own eyes before trying to remove the speck from another’s? Jesus never encouraged blame; rather preaching against it.
3. Encourages a victim mentality. When we blame others, we paint ourselves into the victim corner, from which we cannot contribute. As long as we perceive ourselves as victims of others’ behavior, we are out of the action. Congregations who see themselves as victims of secular culture which took their attendees away won’t likely embrace their calling to be salt and light in their community.
4. Sows the seeds of destruction in our relationships. Remember what it’s like to be held excessively responsible for things beyond your control (blamed)? Blame corrodes relationships in the body of Christ.
5. Gives us a false sense of superiority. Superiority is blame’s sibling; always showing up together. By putting others down, we feel lifted up; spiritually superior. Superiority is contrary to most every line in the New Testament. Jesus had strong words for the self-appointed “spiritually superior” of his day. None of us want to be among them.

The good news of the gospel is that blame does not have the final word. Since we are an alternative community (church), we are free to opt-out of this culturally popular blame-game. We know a better way. The next two articles in this series will describe the journey out of blame into faithful church interaction.

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle Leadership Associates