Years ago I had my friend Billy in town to preach for a mini-conference we were having. Each day we would pass by a traditional church that had a sign in big letters on the side of the building reading “We Love Thy Church O Lord.” We laughed about it and asked what “does that mean!?” I was super critical then but I actually think that is a good thing for a church to put on a building for the world to see —minus the King James language.
I want to share my heart for a few moments about sarcasm especially as it relates to criticism and specifically in the Church.
I am a graphic designer. I work really heard at looking critically at my design work and the work of others with a critical eye. The problem with developing a critical eye is sometimes it comes with a critical spirit. I always caution when I am teaching graphic design to my students to be careful of that. They usually laugh when I talk about churches and how bad they are at excellence and we laugh at the fonts they use and the poor approach to branding that is often used. With my students, as with most people, as we grow in a skill it’s easy to look down at those who are not as developed in their skill set as we are. If we are not careful, we can develop a cavalier attitude with our opinion, especially in a field that we have some knowledge in. The critical spirit can be the caveat of pursuing excellence.
There is a critical spirit in our culture today. In the church we are pretty critical. Our sarcastic smirk when we hear the latest song, our attitude towards the well known preacher, our reaction towards a cliche we don’t like. I get it, a lot of the criticism about the church is accurate and we need to do better, no doubt about it, but I think we first need to start with the sarcastic, self-righteous, critical spirit at which we sometimes function in. Here are a few things to remember before functioning in a critical spirit. 1.Own Up- It’s a “we” problem. If it’s a church problem, it’s my problem. We are pretty critical of ourself. It is not solved by awareness, it’s solved by praying, working hard, and loving the body of Christ. If you see an issue, then own it and step in to help. A large majority of the blogs and posts I see are written from a place of criticism. Things Pastors Need to Stop Doing. Things Christians Should Stop Saying. The Problem With The “American Church”/“The Western Church”/“The Modern Church." (By the way there is only one “Church”, and it’s HIS Church.
2. Shut Up- Stop doing it. Criticism is cheap and it robs you from the opportunity to honor others. We need less critics and more advocates. If you are not in a place to influence change, keep your mouth shut.
If you are not in position to have a conversation with the one you are verbally criticizing, then don't voice it. You are simply complaining and complaining is not contributing. Saying “stop” is a lofty command, but culture is steered from the inside not directed from the outside.
The greatest problem with criticism is that it is simply posture of observation. It costs nothing and it changes nothing. Well except the heart of the one who is being critical. Criticism is most deadly to the one issuing it.
3. Show Up- BE the church, contribute. Serve in a local body. Do the work of the ministry. Isolation will only feed bitterness. Contribute first, criticize later. We should make it a rule that we only criticize what we can control. If you want to see change get your hands dirty.
4. Love up- Starting with each other, the Church. We talk about loving the world all the time. We understand the need for humanitarian efforts and being salt and light in the world, and indeed we should. But Jesus did not say that the world would know us for those reasons. He said we would be know because WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER!
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” -John 13:35(NLT)
“So Love your brothers and sisters in the faith, love them in their weakness love them in their failures. Remember Jesus gave himself for us showing his great Love so we could become His Church.” (Eph 5:25)
WE ARE THE BRIDE OF CHRIST, and we should treat ourselves and one another in that light. It is one thing for me to recognize the issues my wife may have, however, if you come to me criticizing my wife then we are going to have a problem. We need to tread lightly when talking about the Bride of Jesus.
We need to embrace the fact that the church is different than the world. We have a different worldview. We are culturally different. For some reason, we have measured our effectiveness by what the world thinks of us. Don’t get me wrong, our presence in the world, the goal of the church, is not to be liked by the world but to transform the it. We are not trying to emulate the world, we are emulating Christ and being authentic in our expression of that.
Let us keep in mind when we are dealing with the church, we are simply dealing with people. Sometimes corny, goofy, people. If a critical spirit arrises, let’s make sure to put it in check.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. -I Corinthians 13:1
In order to lead, there must be some sort of system that you hold to, a way to manage the madness that comes along with influencing others. Most leaders function in multiple roles and carry different responsibilities. We understand that if we do not have the framework to carry those things, eventually we or the area will lead in will collapse. Systems are key, however, if we are not careful systems can sometimes get the best of us.
The more driven, organized, and passionate we are the more difficult it is to be flexible. I speak from experience! I am pretty intentional, carry a lot of vision, and I am usually well structured. When the structure does not play out right or when my expectations are not met, frustration can enter the scene. So something that leaders like myself struggle with is being flexible. In many cases flexibility is as important as structure. This is what I am learning about flexibility…. Hard things have to be broken. Stiff things have to be cracked. Tight things have to be stretched. Only flexible things can be molded.
Here are a few truths concerning flexibility:
1. Flexibility Keeps Us Healthy
Wether you are a parent, a volunteer leader, a school teacher, or a pastor, you know that things rarely go as planned. Murphy's law is in full effect when we lead; if it can go wrong, it usually does. Great leaders are able to roll with the punches and lead with confidence, we just figure out ways to make it happen, it’s what leaders do. However, sometimes that competence comes with a great deal of tension and frustration. And that is never fun for anybody. We know how hard stress can be on ourselves and those we are close to. If we are going to be emotionally healthy we have got to chill out! Some of life’s best moments happen in the margins! Enjoy and build memories on the unexpected. 2. Flexibility Increases Our Capacity I love Jesus’ teaching on wineskins. "No one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” Mark 2:22(NLT) Old wineskins are stiff and their inability to be flexible causes them to loose their capacity to carry anything. No matter how experienced they were, their hardness killed their capacity.
3. Flexibly and Well Planned Work Together Flexibility is not the same as laziness. Organized is not the same as being high strung. In fact, I have found the more prepared I am that it’s easier for me to be flexible when the unexpected happens because I am not frantically and urgently planning at the last minute. After I put in all the hard work of planning I can relax and roll with whatever happens because I have already done all I can do. Planning actually helps us be flexible in the moment because the only things that get our attention are the issues we could not have dealt with until they show up.
Let us be passionate, vision filled, organized and structured. And beloved, let us be flexible!
Isaiah 64: 8(NLT) And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.