Growing up, I never really had any “enemies.” Sure, I got into a few scraps; but, I never had people who hated me. For the most part, I tried to value people even if they were a bit strange – & share my opinion with humility. So you could imagine how weird it was when I became a senior pastor. People would suddenly say the meanest things about me all the time.
One time I put my whole heart and soul into doing a youth conference in the middle of Central Wisconsin. Kids came from all over. And I preached God’s Word intensely and with all my heart. Hundreds of kids made passionate commitments to holiness. We even had the privilege of casting a demon out of two kids – something that our youth group had never seen before. (And although I pretended to be confident, I was totally freaked out! I acted like it was “just another day”). Overall, the weekend was powerful but exhausting. Our conference even made the front page of the local newspaper.
Monday morning, I came to work exhausted. My voice was shot. My fingers were blistered from playing guitar on the worship band all weekend. I figured I’d come into work and do something brainless, like clean up my desk. And suddenly, there was a letter from a strange individual.
An wealthy and influential Christian in the community took it upon himself to cut out my picture from the newspaper and write in red ink: “Repent: You are only one step away from completely pagan worship.”
Why would this guy be so angry? I mean, this guy was a well known Christian? And we were doing more for the youth of the region than probably any church around. The further I investigated, the guy barely knew a thing about me. He hadn’t even been to our conference, so how would he even know if our worship was “worldly.” The truth was, in this man’s mind, anything that went outside of his formula was heresy. And he was happy to let me know.
Of course, everything in me wanted to write him back and slam him. Thankfully blogs weren’t very popular then. And Twitter didn’t exist. But even still, I could have written him a letter just to school him. I mean, I had ten times the education (not to mention fruit) on the subject. But, the moment I started drafting up a nice email response, the Holy Spirit rebuked me. After all, scripture teaches that confrontations must be done gently and with humility (Gal. 6:1–5); And my response was anything but gentle : ) Even more, “Wisdom from heaven is… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy” (James 3:17). And I knew that, although my email response was “technically right,” it clearly wasn’t “wisdom from heaven.”
Unfortunately, we live in an era where pastors and Christians disregard basic Biblical mandates for confrontation. The Bible teaches that, if we have a problem with someone, we are supposed to go to the source of the problem first before involving others (Mt. 18:15). Thus, blogging or tweeting about another pastor without talking to them first is sin. Even secular journalists have the dignity to call their sources and verify facts before publishing an exposé; and yet many Christians don’t even have the dignity that unbelievers have.
Unfortunately, I’ve been guilty of these types of sins before. There’s been numerous times I’ve critiqued people using public forums. Of course, I imagined myself to be like an Old Testament prophet – stating inconvenient truths; but, in reality, I was living in sin. Even worse, it was religious sin.
17th Century theologian Blaise Pascal once said: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it with religious conviction.” Quite often, we become so convinced that our methods and formats are the best that we start publically critiquing anyone who does things differently. Like I mentioned in my book Pharisectomy, our convictions on gray areas of scripture become more black and white with time. And before long, we become a tool of fratricide and friendly fire. One of Satan’s names is the “accuser of the Bretheren.” And unfortunately, many Christians take on the nature of their true spiritual father, the devil, more than the nature of our selfless God, who is “slow to speak.”
Now a days, I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about haters. The devil knows that if he can distract me with any old person with opinions, I would never have time left to fulfill the call of God on my life. Don’t get me wrong: I need to be teachable to somebody. I have long lists of mentors, coaches, consultants, & peers who have permission to speak into my life (& I go out of my way to make it easy for them to do so). And this list is important because, it enables me to be teachable without being trashable.
And in an era when every “non-expert” can have a platform, we need to be more careful than ever about applying Christ’s advice on “judging a tree by its fruit” – not mere talk. Thus, the best way to critique someone is to simply bear more fruit – and do so joyfully. Joyful practitioners trump cynical theorists every day of the week.
Besides, as the apostle James warned us, “there is only one lawgiver and judge” (James 4:12). “For the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed… He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness” (1 Sam. 2:3,9). I.e., Don’t be bickering with your sibling when Dad walks in (My kids are still learning this : ) And why? Your siblings should be your smallest concern. It’s DAD’s opinion that matters : )