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
Often times when we hear the word ministry, many people think about what preachers do. We think about people that “get paid to meet the spiritual needs of people.” We relate ministry to a vocation or an occupation. Although ministry may be an occupation for some of us, it’s an invitation for all. I will go a step further and say it’s an assignment for all.
If we are not careful, we can so personalize our faith in God that it becomes about us.( ie. peace through circumstances, joy for discouragement, the Spirit that is sufficient for me.) Albeit true that God sustains us personally, it is impossible to encounter an ALL sufficient God and it stay at a subjective level. Encountering him means his influence pouring in me and through me impacting my world. Our faith is a personal devotion that demands a public demonstration.
The concept that ministry is for the specific “called ones” usually comes from the idea of Old Testament priesthood where priests would minister to the Lord and represent the people to God.
However, when Jesus showed up on the scene he eliminated that system because people no longer needed to go through a priest to get to God. In the new covenant we have an all access to the Father. Therefore, we have full access to his presence AND his power. The focus is usually placed upon the accessibility of his presence: his availability to us. It is also important to remember we also have access to the power of God! It’s not just for us, it’s for the world around us. God has given us great power and if we learned anything form Uncle Ben it’s, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Here are some keys to affirm you in your ministry.
1. You are called into ministry
Callings are real and we should determine what we are called to. (see this blog about calling)
You may not have had a moment when God called you into full time or vocational ministry, but we all have an assignment to impact our world for Jesus. The great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) to advance Gods kingdom on every nation is not for a select group of super christians, it’s a call for all who would follow Jesus. I suggest that if God called you to simply live a good moral life, then he would have taken you to heaven when you gave him your life. Instead he left you on the earth to accomplish his purposes. Remember, it’s not really about God’s will for your life but your life for God’s will.
2. You are qualified for ministry
You may not have a license form an organization, yet as a follower of Christ you have been qualified to share the the goodness of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV) - He has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant.
Whereas our lifestyle does not qualify us with it, it may disqualify us with people. It is important to remember that as ministers of the kingdom that our currency is our credibility. Therefore, we should guard our credibility and never surrender it to our liberties or convinces. We should live worthy of this calling we have received!
Ephesians 4:1(NLT) I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
3. Your ministry is unique
God made you in such a way that there are very special assignments that were made for you! There are generic principles that we all are to follow, but there are certain things that he has set up for you to accomplish! I suggest that God has a list for your life, I encourage you to start asking God what he has on that list!
4. Your ministry is today
Don’t wait till you are a “better” christian, a more knowledgeable scholar, or for the right time. Start today.The Kingdom is at hand and God has incredible ways for you to demonstrate his goodness. There are people we encounter everyday that need to simply hear that Jesus loves and desires them. There are sick people that need to be healed, people that need to hear a word from God, lonely people that need encouragement…today. Don't wait, the time is now for people to encounter our great God. Make haste!
Revelation 1:6 (NLT) He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.
1 Peter 2:9 (NLT) You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
John 14:12 (NLT) ”I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”
What if churches didn’t have someone to greet you when you got there? What if they didn’t have clean bathrooms to use, even worse a bathroom to use period? What if they didn’t have a place that you could drop off your kids ages birth to 11 so you could sit in a nice service? What if you had to bring your own chair to sit on? What if the church had no heat or air conditioning or electricity (let alone free wifi- gasp)? What if the church had no musicians to provide the worship? What if the church had no projection for you to know the words to sing along? What if the people speaking/teaching spent no time preparing and just got up and started speaking? Have you ever realized just how much goes into a church service?
Greeters. Cleaning crew. Nursery and kids workers. Finances. People serving with their gifts. Equipment. Paid Staff.
Incase you didn’t know, churches run solely off the people investing into them with their time and finances. People give, so the church can be there, the way it is, week in and week out. Hours of preparation work go into an hour or so service on Sundays. Like any other organization, the staff is paid by the funds that are brought in. Pastors aren’t getting a pay check provided by someone else unless they are bi-vocational, which many these days are. Then their time is divided between their job and their calling-the ministry, simply so that the church doesn't carry the full burden of providing their total income.
Your church needs you. Your gifts, your support, your encouragement, your attendance. Your pastor needs you. To be there, to be thankful for what they give, to be a supporter before a critic.
Must be easy being a pastor though, right? Preach for 30 mins give or take once a week, maybe twice, and then what do they do the rest of the week? Pastors don’t have a time clock. If someone calls at midnight, broken down and needing to talk, they don’t send it to voice mail and get back to you Monday- Friday 8-5. And when they give someone counsel in their marriage, they don’t stop thinking about it and praying about it, like, EVER. They hold onto that. Pastors carry this weight of making sure their church is inviting and put together, and provides an atmosphere of peace, and has enough helpers to accomplish the plans, and doesn’t do anything to possibly offend anyone, while obviously not doing anything that offends God.
Pastoring is probably one of the few professions that has to deal with rejection at such a high level. People come and people go, in every are of life. If you own a restaurant and someone goes to eat at a different restaurant, you probably won’t lose sleep over it. That is most likely because the owner of a restaurant isn’t invested in the lives of its patrons. They might know a few details, and learn a name or a favorite item on the menu, but when a person is broken down and needs hope, financial help, someone to perform a wedding or a funeral, or pray that their wayward teenager would come back home and find salvation, they aren’t going to go to their favorite restaurant. They are going to go to a place that offers hope, and provision, and support, and counsel, and helps carry the weight- long term.
Why did they leave? Did I offend them? What happened? Do you think they will come back? Why aren’t they responding to my attempts to reach them? These are the thoughts that go through a pastor’s head possibly forever. Because someone is always leaving and basically what they are saying is, “I fire you as my pastor.” Is that to say that you should pick a church and grin and bare it until you die, no, but would you want to be fired with out being given any reason why, with little to no notification?
So if you are going to leave, here is what your pastor most definitely wants: A conversation, an HONEST conversation, as to why you are leaving. If the nursery doesn't feel like a safe place for your child, don’t you think the pastor wants to know so that they can fix it? If someone in the congregation is spewing gossip, don’t you think the pastor wants to know so that they can fix it? If you disagree about one issue even though you see mostly eye to eye every where else, don’t you think the pastor wants to know so that they can fix it? Just like never returning to a restaurant because you had hair in your food once with out telling the manager and giving him a chance to make it right does not help to the restaurant, leaving a church with out giving any one a reason does not help. The real reason.
What am I getting at here? Is this post about leaving, no. It is about being there. Being the greeter, being the nursery worker, being the one to clean the bathrooms, being the musician in the band, being the person running the words on the screen. Being a part of a movement that is bringing hope and help to the lives of its community. The church isn’t a building, it is all the people that give of themselves to do life together while enjoying the process. The more you plug in, to the lives of others, to helping serve, to the vision of the pastor, the more you will receive and benefit from your church. But if you want to leave, because it will probably happen at least once in your adult life, don’t just be a disappearing person. Have a conversation with the pastor so he doesn’t deal with rejection and the “was it because” questions for ever.
I know it’s happened to you: you are in a conversation with somebody sharing life, talking, possibly expressing frustrations then here comes advice, unsolicited….advice. An opinion you didn't seek, from a source you were not petitioning. It’s so annoying. It has to be the most aggravating thing to me.. Seriously one of my biggest pet peeves.
OR you post on Facebook and people you rarely interact with chime in to share their wisdom!
“What you need to do is….”
“You know what I think…”
“What I always do….”
I ain’t gonna lie I have deleted a few annoying comments from trolls AND I have had to hit backspace on a few of my of my reply’s.
So how do we manage unsolicited advice?
1. Chill out.
Why does this issue bug me so much…because of pride. The pride of the unsolicited advice, possibly, but my pride as well. It is a pride thing on my end because my attitude is “hey who do you think YOU are telling ME what to do.” I am trying to get better at this and just chill out, take a step back, humble myself and value people. Even if what they are doing is difficult to tolerate. It’s hard, but we can’t allow pride to drive us to a place of hardness with people.
2. Understand people usually mean well.
Most people are not mean spirited and most people mean well. Most of the time people are trying to help. I know it’s irritating but it will help us if we can just try to see rationally through the irritating comment and love the person that is wanting to help. Even if we disagree or disregard the advice, we can still try to love the person that is frustrating us.
3. Ask yourself, “Do I do this?”
For me the answer is yes. I offer unsolicited advice and it probably annoys people and pushes them away at times. Now that I’ve come to grips with the fact that I am annoying at times, it will help me be gracious to those that do the same things.
4. Remember, advice fits best in relationship.
Something to remember when sharing advice especially unsolicited advice is that if we don't have relational equity with that person, our advice will most likely fall on deaf ears. Before we ever offer advice, it’s polite to ask, “Can I share something with you?” This takes the “unsolicited” part out off of the table.
If the advice is something that is challenging or possibly threatening to the person, keep in mind that it might not be accepted unless we have history and have built trust with that person.
This is really important for advice givers. ;)
5. Consider that possibly God is speaking.
People are valuable. Their opinions are important and valuable. God put that value inside of them and that value can be beneficial to your life. Many times God will deal with our heart by giving us a gift we need in a package that we don't like. This is why its important for us to maintain a humble and gentle spirit towards those that rub us the wrong way!
1 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV) 8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
I must have heard it over a hundred times in the past year, “You need to get rid of the toxic people in your life.” There are numerous sermons and YouTube videos about separating yourself from people, finding new friends, cutting the cord, etc. A lot of different ways to say, “eliminate people that discourage or drain you.” I get it. One thing as a pastor I understand is that people can be incredibly draining, and yes, Jesus often removed himself from others….to pray.(Lk 5:16) Quiet possibly to pray that He would have the strength to love the object of his assignment: People. You know what I cannot find Jesus doing? Writing people off because they were doubting, discouraging, draining, disappointing, deceiving, and denouncing. Jesus loved till the end. He is the model. I understand we live in an age where the goal is self-preservation, but following Christ is about being light, bringing hope, and loving like He loves. A love that lays itself down.(Jn 15:13) If it’s always comfortable and always easy, then what has it cost us to love? I mean, how effective is a candle in a well lit room? Remember Judas? Jesus knew he was a back-stabbing sell out, but He loved him till the end. Remember, Thomas? How about Peter, one of Jesus’ core group of guys. Jesus continued to invest in him, knowing he made a fool of himself time after time. Jesus even knew he would deny Him? So what did Jesus do with Peter? He invested in him, and in return Peter lead a movement for Christ that turned the known world upside down(Acts 17:6). Peter eventually got it together because he was invested in and believed in.
So how do we handle the difficult people in our life?
Here are a few ways we follow Jesus when there are difficult people in our lives.
#1. Pray for them.
One of the ways that God gives us a heart for people and turns our heart towards people is in the place of prayer. Don't pray “about them” pray for them, and watch God transform your heart. Maybe the “toxic people” are not the problem, maybe it’s your attitude towards them.
#2. Invest in them.
#3. Manage the relationship.
Beloved, let’s love like Jesus loves and watch the potential of others unfold before our eyes.