(This is numbered 2 because I posted one and took it down because I thought I needed to work through my comments with more gentleness.)
I find myself in an interesting place in ministry these days. Several times in recent weeks and months I have heard interesting criticisms against many of the Biblical convictions I hold about church, ministry, and preaching. Often these comments have come in bland statements in meetings with other pastors or in a denominational setting. They have also come from well-intentioned and perhaps a couple of ill-intentioned church people. Criticism does not frighten me, it challenges me. It does not cause me to think I should back away from what God has told me to do.
It does, however, challenge me to be correct in what I do and say. I am not afraid of criticism because I have found it makes me better and stronger. This year I dealt with some criticism about how I led Fellowship through some significant changes. There were several people that brought criticism with love and passion for the ministry. These people are priceless in my life. God really used them to teach me and to show me his correction. God used them to help me better at what I am called to do and honestly just to be better at being me. On the other hand, criticism not given for the sole purpose of bettering the person you lovingly share it with, is just selfishness and does neither of you any good.
The key to being a person who can bring honest and constructive criticism instead of hurting and selfish criticism is found in the Biblical truth of 1 Cor. 1:10. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly unified in mind and thought.” That sounds like “pie in the sky” to most of us, yet is the Biblical mandate for the Church. Each one of should seek to not cause any division. Actually we should seek to “uncause” any division. We should each feel it our responsibility to seek unity with one another and to do that which prevents any division whatsoever.
Yet, this is instruction is found in a letter in which Paul gives lots of strong commands and disagrees with the believers in Corinth on many issues. Seeking unity and fighting against division does not mean that leaders with Biblical and Godly convictions forget about them to purchase peace at the cost of the work of the Gospel. It also does not mean that any follower of Christ should put away their Sprit-led and Biblical convictions to have ungodly unity with those who stand against his truth.
So, how do we deal with seeking unity while not always agreeing? Paul in this letter speaks of many “disputable matters.” Disputable matters cover a wide variety of issues. Many Christians today, however, build their entire concept of what a Christian looks like on disputable matters. Many people believe “good” Christians like certain types of music and wear certain styles of clothes. Or perhaps your big issue is that good Christians never take a sip of alcohol. Or perhaps you define it by never miss a worship service in a year. Or maybe it is the boxes you check every week on your tithe envelope.
The problem is that many divisions are the result of people desiring uniformity and not unity. The problem is that many people want to turn their convictions into mandates. God is the only one that gives the mandates in Christianity. The issue, that leaders – like Paul – have, is that they have to make decisions concerning disputable matters that affect every person that is under their leadership. I, as Lead Pastor, at Fellowship Church and responsible and will be held accountable for the work of the ministry at Fellowship Church. The Lord will one day call me to account for many things. I must be willing to stand on my Spirit-led, God-given, Scripture-inspired convictions concerning the disputable matters in “church world.”
Such issues as how do we express the Biblical vision of the Church? (The vision of every church should be the Great Commission – but we have to figure out how we will communicate that at our church. For us it is Connecting to Love…Grow…Serve…Go. Your communication of it is disputable – the vision itself is set.) What music style to have. Or what clothes should people wear? What is appropriate in a worship service? How will small groups be done at our church? Etc. Etc. But the truth of the matter is that most of these issues are disputable matters. They can have a wide variety and still please God. But each church can not do the whole variety. It is not possible and is a futile attempt. So, leaders must make those choices. The Bible is most often descriptive about such matters not prescriptive.
As a result of some criticism that has challenged me to be correct in all that I do as a leader, I have decided to spend some time over the next few weeks and months to express in writing the Biblical convictions for the ministry I lead. I believe it will be good for me and perhaps be enlightening to someone else along the way. You will probably see these issues come through in the blog some. I ask that you would pray for me during this endeavor. My prayer is that I will not defend anything, but that I will simply express the truth of Scripture in the convictions God has given me through His Spirit.
The reason I feel led to do this is that I want to be able to share with others my convictions without being critical of theirs. The truth is that I celebrate a church down the road that does it different than us and, therefore, reaches someone different than who we are reaching. I think that is totally awesome. I guess some times when you hear enough criticism (although be it, usually from the same sources over and over again) you start getting critical of others about things they do not deserve criticism over.
The remedy to this problem is to leave no doubt why you stand where you stand. Then stand there. And if you find others that it is difficult for you to stand with because of a disputable matter, then either decide to stand with them and not allow that difference to cause a division or choose to not stand with them. But you must know why you stand where you stand. I know why I stand where I stand, but I need to work a little harder at allowing others to see the depth of it.
In a couple of months I am preaching an entire series on disputable matters. I am excited and terrified to preach it. People live real lives in the disputable matters. Disputable matters cause disputes. Disputable matters often hurt. But they don’t have to if we will just decide to “agree with one another.” Some times that means agreeing on what we can agree on and “shutting up” about the rest without “shutting down” about the rest. Don’t shut down on your convictions but if they are disputable then learn when to keep those thoughts to yourself. Some times what God really wants you to say is nothing. Every time you see something that in your opinion could be done better does not mean it is your God-given job to tell the other person that thought.
Thanks for your prayers as I tackle this God-given and criticism-inspired challenge. My prayer is that God will use this endeavor to help me grow. (My hope is that because of that it will help others grow, too.) Many of my convictions and thoughts about such things began with great books written by great church leaders but they honestly did not do a great job using Scripture in them. I, however, do have Scripture behind those same convictions (as they probably do, too). My goal is to share that – the Biblical convictions.
Are you willing to do what it takes in your life to stand on your convictions? Before you take that stand you need to know why you stand where you stand.