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.
We sometimes hear people use the language of making the gospel relevant. Christians know already that the gospel is relevant to all people whether they realize it or not. Evangelism is not making the gospel relevant, but rather showing people how the gospel is already relevant to their lives. There’s no debating this.
So the challenge of evangelism is not in making Christian truths seem more important, but instead helping a person see how these truths are important specifically for them. In other words, the evangelism battle in not fought in the arena of truth, but in the arena of culture.
What this means practically is that Christians must be students of culture; or, at the very least, not naive of it. We should have a basic understanding of who people are around us, what they struggle with, what influences and inspires them, what strikes fear into their hearts, what their thoughts are like in quiet moments. When we understand people (ie. culture) this way, it becomes easier to show the relevance of Jesus to them.
This has been on my mind recently, especially in light of music and movies. If you are familiar at all with either of these media outlets, it should be fairly simple to profile out the North American culture. Follow the lyrics of music or basic storylines of movies and they lead you right to what makes people tick. Armed with that kind of knowledge, it should make our task as gospel-sharers that much easier.
As the risk of making it too simple, I see the same basic theme crop up in music and movies: Life sucks, so do what you gotta do to make it better. Of course, this exists in many forms. The “life sucks” side of this equation might look like any of the following:
- I’m a loner / I’m irrelevant
- Life seems empty
- No one cares about me
- The world is not fair
- I’ve experienced tragic loss
- I’ve been abused
- My life has no purpose
Of course, all of these feelings/thoughts are a result of the fall. Sin has caused God’s perfect creation to be tainted. Life was never meant to be this way, and so that inner feeling of “it shouldn’t be like this” that most everyone has is bang on. However, now these problems must be dealt with. This is the “do what you gotta do to make it better” portion, which often looks a lot like this:
- Do something ridiculous, dangerous, or illogical to make yourself famous
- Party hard / have fun
- Get rich
- Numb the pain (ie. distract yourself)
- Have lots of sex
Again, this may be oversimplifying it, but the basic point can’t be missed. Our world is broken, people know it, and they want relief. This is the perfect setting for the gospel! How much more relevant can the Saviour be? What is terribly sad is that our culture keeps doing all the wrong things to fix the problem, somehow hoping that this time it will work. Yet it only makes things worse. People are stuck on a downward spiral of misery that they can’t escape, and in trying only get themselves deeper still.
Even worse, movies and music conveniently overlook the negative consequences of trying to make life better with solutions that don’t work. So what we have is modern-day youth culture. One big party on the surface, but deep pain underneath. And the places they look to for guidance – namely, movies and music – aren’t offering them much long-term hope.
Add to this bleak situation the shallowness of relationships thanks to social media, and it’s easy to get pessimistic. People are more connected than ever, yet often feel more alone than ever.
Friends, let’s show them a better way. Let’s show them Jesus! Though Jesus does not fix every problem in life, he does promise the be there, to help us make it through, and offers a tangible promise of a future hope that you can take to the bank. Christians, I encourage you to listen to people around you. There are more opportunities to share the gospel with people than we think, if we would only listen to the subtle hints that “life sucks”. It’s moments like those that are open doors for the gospel.
The book of Proverbs is my favourite book of the Bible because of its intensely practical nature. Often it communicates profound truths in simple, one-sentence analogies. Proverbs 14:4, one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible, is one such example. It states:
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”
At first glance this may not seem particularly interesting or inspiring. Yet it explains a lot of what life is really like. The point of this verse is that hard and unpleasant work is part of living a productive, abundant life. Consider the farmer who is behind the story of Proverbs 14:4. He is a simple man wanting to make his way in the world. He needs to provide for himself (and his family if he has one), and to do so he will need crops to eat and sell. Realizing this, he acquires an ox to plow the fields for him. Seems easy enough, right?
Yet what the farmer notices next is that the ox requires a lot of maintenance. He must be fed and not soon later makes quite a stinky mess in the barn! So, the farmer must work hard to maintain his ox, keep a clean and sanitary barn, so that the ox will help him produce the abundant crops he desires.
This is the basic point of the proverb: abundance comes at the cost of hard labour. Too many people wish to have “abundant crops” without putting in the effort it takes to get it. We want riches without having to earn it, a spouse without having to make personal sacrifices, a job without having to inconvenience us, a car without all the attached maintenance, and the list goes on. This is often true of young people early in life, who look at older folks and want that kind of life without realizing it took that person 30 years to get there. The pursuit of many people are for shortcuts to get them further ahead in life by benefiting from the work other people have invested.
Proverbs 14:4 reminds us that life does not work this way. God has designed it so that we must humble ourselves, be willing to work hard and get dirty, and make an honest living all to his glory and our joy. The truth is that earning money takes hard work, loving a spouse takes self-sacrifice, working a job is inconvenient, and owning a car requires extra maintenance. In short, the ox you desire to make you happier will also make life messy. The point is not to run like a coward from the hard work life throws at you, nor is it to try and find every shortcut to make things easier; rather, the point is to know that everything worth anything requires something, and we should be willing to pay the cost and put in the hard work in order to reap the rewards. Pick up your shovel and start cleaning out your barn.
- In what areas of my life am I neglecting to put in the hard work to see it flourish? (Ex. faith, relationships, work, studies, health, ministry)
- What causes me to be lazy or fearful of working hard in these areas?
- Take a moment to repent of your sin and ask God for help and strength to take on the responsibilities you should.
I remember back when Sarah and I were engaged our friends and family thew us an engagement party. One of the things incorporated into the event was a scrapbook that had a page dedicated to marital advice everyone could write in. This seems somewhat humorous to me now, considering more than half of the people present weren’t married themselves, not to mention that marital advice-giving was hardly kept contained to one page in a scrapbook.
What I found interesting was that the advice all seemed very inconsistent. Some would say you need to spend time with your spouse doing the hobbies they like; others would say you should let them have their time alone to do it. Some said the key to a happy marriage was spending time together; others said it meant not being too dependent on one another. Ideas concerning how to control the budget, manage vacations, incorporate immediate families, and share friends all varied. It seemed that no one really agreed on how to build a successful marriage.
In addition, resources from the Christian world also seemed to conflict with one another. While highlighting the differences between men and women, some authors said it is the man’s job to speak more like a woman, while another said the woman needs to learn how to interpret her husband.
Through it all I have come to a one sentence conclusion for all this information that beats them all. Love your wife. This simple command comes out of Ephesians 5:25 and Colossians 3:19. The passage in Ephesians stresses the sacrificial nature of such love, while the Colossians passage focuses on kindness.
The key truth I wish to highlight here, however, is neither the sacrificial nature nor the gentle nature of a husbands love, though certainly both are worthy of attention. Rather, I wish to emphasize the word your. Husbands, love your wife.
The reason all the marital advice often conflicts is because each person has learned how to love their spouse. They have figured out what works for them. However, what works for one couple may be disastrous for another. The key is not so much in the specific advice as it is what lies behind that advice: figure out who your spouse is, what they need, what makes them feel loved, and then do it.
This is the thinking behind the popular Love Languages series from Dr. Gary Chapman. In these helpful teachings, spouses are encouraged to learn how their partner best receives love in one of five main ways: physical touch, gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service. While everyone enjoys all of these, certain ones will resonate more with certain people. So, the husband must find out how his wife best receives love and then love her in that fashion.
I believe that many marriages would thrive if spouses simply loved one another. Not love who their spouse was 20 years ago, not love the imaginary perfect spouse in their mind, not love someone else’s spouse, but rather love their spouse as he or she is right now. This takes effort, investing time to learn and study your partner to figure out how to best love them. This love must be specific love, meeting the real (not perceived) needs of a partner in ways that they consider helpful.
Scripturally, the call is focused on the husband to love his wife. This does not mean that a wife does not need to love her husband. But particular emphasis and responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the husband. No matter the state of your marriage, how difficult it may be, or even the presence of sin, husbands are called to initiate love. Any marriage can be healthy and strong when husbands love their wives, and vice versa.
A few ideas to try out:
- Take a personality quiz. They say opposites attract, but after marriage, opposites irritate. Figure out your personality differences and try to understand where your partner is coming from.
- Learn each other’s history. Because everyone has had different experiences, we all interpret life from a different angle. Take the time to share and learn about one another.
- Ask questions. Get to know one another and figure out how each other thinks. This will help you better know how to love your partner.
- Read The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman and work through the discussion questions.
- Stay engaged. We often forget that people change over time. You may not really know who your partner is anymore. Be present both physically and mentally in your relationship so as to keep up to date.
- Repent of sin. Sometimes conflict is not a matter of differences but of selfishness.
- Be proactive. Don’t always assume you can love your partner on the fly, because life gets busy. Figure out a system to regularly show love to your spouse in practical ways.
When I look at figures from the Bible and other admirable Christian leaders throughout history, there really seems to be two distinct characteristics that define them: character and competence. This may be oversimplifying it, but I’m not sure the basic truth can be overlooked. Any man or woman that God has used in positions of leadership (be it high-profile or low-profile) possessed both strong character and competence in their God-given tasks.
Look at Joseph, for example. Joseph was faithful to God for many years despite being hated by his brothers and being horrendously mistreated. If anyone had the right to complain about life not being fair, it would be Joseph. Yet his integrity remained intact despite every obstacle that came his way. God was gracious enough to raise Joseph up to save Egypt and literally the entire surrounding world in the face of severe drought. Additionally, Joseph demonstrated a knack for leadership, organizing the entire Egyptian empire in such a way that it became the most powerful nation on earth. Joseph had both character and competence.
Others come to mind as well. Nehemiah was a man who stood firmly for God while successfully leading a complicated building project. Joshua walked with God and functioned as a gifted army general. Esther demonstrated great trust in God on her way to saving an entire race from genocide. Paul was as passionate a Christian as there ever was and oversaw an amazingly successful church planting movement. Outside of the Bible, figures like Saint Patrick and Charles Spurgeon also come to mind. And, of course, Jesus tops them all as the sinless Savior who instigated the largest and fastest-growing movement in the history of the world.
The point is that effective leaders have both character and competence. They don’t need to be perfect (thankfully!), but they do need to have a genuine and growing walk with the Lord. And, they must also possess certain abilities that help them achieve the tasks to which God has called them. To have either one without the other kills the effectiveness of a leader.
It should be noted, however, that character precedes competence. They are not on an equal plane. If a leader has all the needed skills but has no character, they are not ready for Christian leadership. It seems that the typical pattern is that humble people are the ones God raises to positions of leadership, even if they don’t initially have all of the skills. God is the one who equips each leader with what they need to do his will, and the first thing any leader needs is the power of God. That comes through character.
In one sense, we are all leaders. God has a calling for each one of us to fulfill. Don’t just think of leaders as those with big names, big ministries, big educations, and big resources. Any humble servant God can use to effect change. I fact, he desires to do so!
A few questions for reflection:
- What are the tasks to which God has called me? List some of them.
- Do I spend more time sharpening my character or my competence? How can I rightly focus on character first?
- While focusing on my character, how can I also develop my level competence? What resources do I need to tap in order to be more effective?
One of the greatest inhibitors of the North American church is the consumer Christian. Few things drain resources and lag the advancement of the gospel more than this sin. Being a consumer Christian means you are more concerned about how a church fits your needs than how you can meet the needs of others. It includes a mindset that church exists for your benefit, rather than for God’s glory. Typically, consumer Christians have a few standard markers identifying them. They might include:
- Frequently moving from church to church because none seem “biblical” or “good enough”
- Regularly criticizing the way things are done while contributing little to nothing yourself
- Being more concerned with your own preferences than the good of everyone collectively
- A regular desire to see your own needs met while neglecting your responsibility to meet others’ needs
- Witholding financial giving from a church for virtually any reason
Consumer Christians, sadly, are common in our churches here in North America, likely because of the self-centered culture that exists all around us (and has affected the church in some regards). We see that the world around us caters to our every need; we wonder why God’s loving people can’t do the same. The unfortunate yet provoking reality is that a consumer Christian is no different than a parasite, selfishly sucking resources and contributing nothing to the very mission to which they too have been called.
Truth is, we all have a little of the consumer Christian in us. We’re all guilty of subtly (or maybe blatantly) thinking the church exists primarily for our own benefit. Before any of us are too quick to point the finger, we need to examine our own hypocrisy and consider how we have misplaced us at the centre of the universe instead of Jesus.
Here are a few things to consider in regards to consumer Christians:
- There may be a grain of truth in every criticism. Every church can do a better job of serving it’s people.
- Point them to Jesus. Encourage them to see the church as primarily existing for God’s glory and the proclamation of Jesus’ gospel.
- Help them to get connected. Christians who are serving have less time to complain because they are too busy doing kingdom work. Serving is the antidote to consumption.
- Motivate them with joy. Loving God and others in practical ways is one way in which Christians experience great joy and satisfaction.
Lastly, a few questions for a self heart-check:
- Am I more concerned about what I get out of church than if God is glorified and others are uplifted?
- Am I being generous with my time, abilities, and money?
- Am I expecting too much from the church?
- Do I do more talk than action in my Christian walk?
- How am I contributing to the mission of the church?
- How can I raise legitimate concerns in helpful ways?
- Have I considered that there may be logical reasons things are done the way they are that I don’t know about?
Don’t just consume…produce!
I’ve been thinking about doing a blog for almost 2 years now, and it has finally arrived! It feels kinda weird, actually, having my name in a url at the top of a web page…just more fuel to feed the pride it seems. Truth is, writing this blog has far less to do with me sharing my extremely valuable opinions on everything (chuckle here) than it does me honing my writing skills. I’ve enjoyed writing since high school, and someday I’d like to see some of my work published. You know what they say – practice makes perfect! Hence, welcome to jeremyedgar.wordpress.com.
On the other hand, some of the content you find here may be of value or interest to you. I’ll be writing about the 4 things I am most passionate about: Christianity, marriage, family, and ministry. That’s a pretty good sum of my life right there. I love Jesus, I love my wife, I love my kids, and I love the church. Hopefully, along the way you will find some things profitable to you personally.
In the future, I may also turn part of this blog into a resource tool for those I pastor and lead, adding things like my lesson notes with discussion questions, topical resources and book reviews, leadership training, or anything else that might be helpful. We’ll see, but for now I’m just going to start writing and see where it goes.
Thanks for joining me in my journey. God bless and have an awesome day!