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.”