I have an issue with my church – what now?
For whatever reason, lately a topic of conversation among some Christians I know has been how to handle having a critical opinion of something a church is doing. This is something that is probably a universal issue for believers, for I have never met a follower of Jesus who has not one single complaint about his or her church. In fact, it is unfortunate to say that some Christians have formed a downright critical spirit towards the Church. While this kind of negative attitude is to be rejected as sinful, there certainly are valid concerns that are worthwhile to be shared. However, simply having a conviction about a matter does automatically give one license to air their opinion without carefulness. Behaviour such as this is destructive and a tool used by the enemy to sow discord and division among God’s people. So the question begs to be asked, how does one voice criticism in a healthy way?
The Bible lays out certain principles that should be followed in cases such as these. Each one must be carefully adhered to in order to bring about peace, growth, and life in both churches and church-goers. This post in no way covers fully the various factors and outcomes that may be seen in situations such as these. More specific guidelines may be sought in the comments sections. However, as overall general rules, let’s briefly examine a few of these principles one at a time to give some framework to operate from.
1. The heart is deceitfully wicked. We must first acknowledge that our sin leads us to blindness, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy (Luke 6:37-42). Often we are quick to point out the flaws in others while ignoring our own personal issues. This can cause us to be overly critical of the church without having valid concerns. Taking time to bathe the matter in prayer, seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and asses the motives of the heart will go a long way towards killing an overly critical heart.
2. There are two sides to every story. As humans we are prone to jump to conclusions, having neither all the necessary information nor giving what information we do have a fair evaluation. We cannot help but see things from our own limited perspective. This is not sinful but it should be kept in mind. Often the decisions and direction of a church makes more sense when we give consideration to all of the relevant factors (Proverbs 18:17).
3. Pursue constructive criticism. Sometimes it is not the complaint itself that causes disruption but the way in which it is shared. It is possible to have the same issue shared in a way that is helpful and shared in a way that is unhelpful. The Bible commands Christians to make every effort to live at peace with all people (Hebrews 12:14) and to speak in such a way that it builds up and not tears down (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Practically, this would mean speaking humbly, showing respect to those with differing opinions, and perhaps offering one or two solutions to your perceived problem.
4. Should you feel the need to confront, do it Biblically. The culture of technology has in some ways forged a generation who does not know how to handle confrontation. In teaching Christians how to confront one another (Matthew 18:15-17), we can glean some principles from Jesus on how share criticism with the church. Three crucial points can be seen. One would be the absolute avoidance of any gossip; we must never be free with our criticism to others while neglecting to share them with the relevant people. Second is the related need to keep confrontation private. There are proper settings for public criticism but they are extremely rare. Third is the need to be open and accountable with complaints. Never are we to take anonymous pot-shots through emails or unsigned notes.
5. Conclude the matter. Regardless of the outcome of a confrontation, find some way to bring some closure the matter. In some cases this will be agreeing to disagree. If so, explicitly state this is the result and what your subsequent action will be (anywhere from a silent disagreement to leaving the church, depending on the seriousness of the issue). In other scenarios, the church may look further into the issue and get back to you. It is also possible that a church may receive criticism as accurate and make necessary changes. Whatever the result, it is healthy for both sides to “close the book” on the problem so that unnecessary strife can be avoided.
6. Pray for your church and its leaders. It is no easy task to lead the church. Nor is it always easy to trust the direction of the church to others. Both church leaders and church members are sinners and in need of God’s grace. We ought to seek the good of one another as much as possible and pray for each other’s well being. Give no room for bitterness, pride, or vengeance. Remain humble and loving and trust the Good Shepherd to keep watch over his own.