Combatting a Critical Spirit in Ministry

I recently read a book that had a profound impact on my understanding of Christ’s heart for his people. The book was well received by most evangelicals with the exception of one group. This group’s review, in my opinion, was unnecessarily critical. Sadly, they are becoming known for their critical spirit toward anyone not associated with their theological brand.

Regrettably, it’s not just this group. I’m afraid a critical spirit has made its way into the larger church, particularly in the west. My goal here is to move toward a solution to the problem, not instigate it. Given Christ’s heart for his bride and prayer for her unity in John 17, I’m saddened by behavior that is unnecessarily critical from one believer to another. It feels out of touch with the Christlike character every Christian should model. It seems to disregard the “love one another” commands in the Bible.

To be sure, there are times when we must confront one another on issues related to doctrine and our practice of it. Think of Paul. Some of his letters were addressed to churches who allowed false teachers to stir up bad theology in their midst. He rightfully confronted them. I’m not talking about situations like that. What I have in mind is combative language or divisive behavior toward other Christians who differ on a theological point but live within the broader evangelical camp.

Perhaps you have noticed such divisive behavior within the church. Many people have been hurt by it. Lots have left because of it. It’s ugly. It does not reflect the heart of Christ. How can we engage in ministry without casting a critical gaze on anyone who doesn’t talk like us or think like us? Ministry is messy. Theology is messy. But we must figure it out.

Jesus is so different than us on so many levels. One thing Andy Stanley has helpfully pointed out is people who were nothing like Jesus, liked Jesus. You see it time and again throughout the New Testament. Jesus did not hang with people who believed everything he believed. In fact, most of the people hanging out with Jesus in the first century had a radically different worldview than he did. Jesus didn’t rail against them. He never fired shots at their attempts to understand who he was. He taught them truth and invited them on a journey. He saved his criticism for prideful people and religious people.

One thing I have learned about the Bible over the years is there is a certain amount of mystery to it. We can’t possibly have everything buttoned up and packaged within the walls of our theology. At times, God is going to use his word to shift our categories. He is going to confront us with truth that shatters our preconceived notions or deeply held beliefs. In fact, we should welcome such interruptions, especially if we want to be made into the image of Christ. Which brings me to my main point: if you want to combat a critical spirit in ministry, humble yourself.

In Luke 14:11, Jesus says, “for all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” To pretend we have a monopoly on truth is to exalt ourselves to a vulnerable position. Yes, we have the word of God which is inspired and without error in all that it teaches; however, we shouldn’t assume we’ve figured it all out. There are mysteries in scripture that, God willing, will be revealed to us in time. A lot of things are up for interpretation. It’s not as black and white as some would have us believe.

We live in a day and age where people are divided. We divide politically. We divide socially. We divide at every turn, it seems. Imagine the potency of a church united around essentials and gracious when it comes to non-essentials. Imagine how compelling our message would be if we loved those who differ from our opinions. What if we didn’t pick fights? What would it look like to engage a differing theological opinion with a desire to understand it rather than dismantle it? How might our gospel witness be improved if we respected a person’s right to hold a different view than ours? Much of the tension in our world would disappear overnight. I’m convinced the world would be vastly different tomorrow than it is today.

Combatting a critical spirit in ministry will take work, no doubt. But I’m convinced the work will be worth every awkward or frustrating interaction. Jesus will be glorified and we will become more like him. Let’s start today.

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