April 2017

How do we handle criticism?

April 17 2017 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Sometimes it helps to state the obvious. So, here goes my opening line. Churches are filled with humans. In other words, there is no chance for perfection in any church – zero chance! There is no perfect church. We’ve said that so many times it has become a cliché.
Individually, we are fallen human beings; cursed with the sin nature of Adam. Though redeemed by God through Jesus when we repent of sin, no believer achieves sinless perfection this side of heaven.
There are no perfect pastors, no perfect teachers, no perfect musicians and no perfect church members. Together, these well-meaning human beings produce a very imperfect church body.
We wish it was not true, but our lofty goals and best intentions are well beyond the actual result of gathered believers.
Somehow, all of this basic information is overlooked by those who take pleasure in hurling verbal grenades at churches and toward those within this temporal, earthly gathering of believers.
There was a time when criticism against churches came through gossip, anonymous letters or face-to-face condemnation. Now social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are the new delivery methods.

Unrealistically, critics have a different set of expectations for God’s church. Since God is perfect and His Son, Jesus, is the perfect Savior, surely we should expect His church to be on the same standard. At least, that’s conclusion of many outsiders.
Chuck Lawless writes a popular blog that provides practical help for churches and church leaders. He draws from his experience as a former pastor and his daily interaction with ministry leaders as the dean and vice-president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions.
In a post early last year on ChuckLawless.com, he described, “What pastors don’t like about their jobs.”
The information was drawn from responses to his non-scientific survey on Facebook and Twitter. Lawless said, “The responses were quick and numerous.”
Obviously, pastors want to talk about the things that trouble them and complicate their job.
Pastors’ top 12 dislikes were listed by Lawless. The top six are:

  1. Criticism and conflict.
  2. Unrealistic expectations.
  3. Committees and administration.
  4. Little family time.
  5. Unreliable volunteers.
  6. Loneliness.

You can read the other six at ChuckLawless.com. A book could be written on each of the 12 concerns.
Pastors and their families can provide ample illustrations if a writer is willing to pursue the project.
With no pretense of making an exhaustive statement, I want to comment briefly on the subject of criticism, included in the first item on the list.
Criticism is a good tool for improvement when offered constructively, with a motive to edify.
That is not likely the kind of criticism pastors had in mind when they listed the things they dislike about their jobs. Instead of constructive criticism, they were probably thinking about destructive criticism that is designed to hurt.
Some of that is aimed at the church at large. Some is focused on hurting individuals in the church, including the pastor and his family.
The two biggest criticisms of churches seem to be, first, “your standards are too high,” and second, “your standards are too low.”
First, a church is accused of high standards for baptism, membership, marriage, alcohol and basic moral standards. For example, your church may be criticized when, “they won’t accept my baptism as an infant,” or “they rejected my baptism as a Jehovah’s Witness.”
What about this one, “I’m not going through a membership class to join that church. I know more than they do about being a good church member.”
I’m sure most Biblical Recorder readers can fill in the blanks with many more illustrations.
Your critics think the standards for the church are too high. By the way, this is the “perfect” church they are criticizing, right? Think about that.
Second, a church is criticized because their standards are too low. Have you heard something like this? “They let that man join the church even though he has a prison record.” Or, “That woman used to be a drug dealer, now she’s a church member.”
By the way, this is the “imperfect” church they are criticizing, right? Think about that.
Even the most petty complaints tend to fall into these two categories.
Random criticisms don’t usually make sense.
Like a drive-by shooting, drive-by criticism can be very cruel and completely senseless.
Church leaders, you read the cheap shots on Facebook, or you heard a second-hand comment from a church member and wonder if you should respond. When you hear someone making very judgmental comments about the church being very judgmental, you wonder if it should be ignored or confronted.
It’s painful to hear criticisms, and it is difficult to discern when a response is appropriate.
If you’re President Donald Trump, maybe you can fire a tweet into cyberspace. But, if you’re a pastor, such a response could spark the end of your leadership in ministry.
In most cases, a response is not necessary. In all cases, time and wise counsel from mature believers will be priceless as you weigh the value of an appropriate response.
Remember this, criticism is easy. It requires no moral character to unjustly blast the pastor, the church or one of its members.
Random criticism is an expression of man’s fallen nature. It’s evil.
Put everything in perspective. Recognize that most church members are men and women of character.
They love the church and the leaders. They pray for each other. They want their pastor to be a successful, effective pastor. They want their church fellowship to reach the community with the gospel.
As a pastor, I’ve been frustrated by critics and self-centered church members over the years. But, I am eternally grateful for serving alongside some really great brothers and sisters who have encouraged and strengthened me.
I give God glory for those who blessed my family and allowed them to serve God according to His design. The priceless relationships we had (and still have) with these church members far outweigh the sting of the critics.
Stay the course. Don’t get sidetracked by critics.
Remember Paul’s plea in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

4/17/2017 3:59:54 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Pence-Graham rule causes media frenzy

April 4 2017 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

The media reported that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch may make it through the confirmation process in the Senate. At the same time, headlines told us the repeal of Obamacare was disastrously dead. On international fronts, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly interfered in last year’s president election in the United States and the insane leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, is ready to take on the whole world with his nuclear weapons.
But what was the biggest news of the week? Mike Pence, vice president of the United States, is committed to his wife!
Everyone learned that the VP and his wife, Karen, have disciplined boundaries for their marriage. One news report called the guidelines “unusually strict.”
Ashley Parker, a reporter for The Washington Post, wrote a story about the Pences’ 32-year marriage and their mutual commitment to the Christian faith. She explained that the VP never eats alone with a woman who is not his wife. This standard is often called the “Billy Graham rule” because this has been the announced practice of Billy Graham through his marriage.

Clara Jeffery tweets

By now, everyone knows about the social media eruption that followed a tweet by Parker.
Newspapers, television networks, cable news, blogs and websites carried the tirade along with countless articles. Everyone wanted to take sides over this strange information.
Believe it or not, a simple biblical standard caused some to endure a complete meltdown – they literally freaked out. They seemed utterly shocked that such Stone Age ideals actually exist in our modern, progressive world.
Some thought the VP was courting Sharia law – the Islamic legal system that is imposed on national and local governments by the Muslim faith. Pence was taunted and ridiculed with labels such as “sexist” and “chauvinist.” There were accusations that his practice is discriminatory and illegal.
Baptist Press reported that Clara Jeffery, editor-in-chief of the liberal publication Mother Jones, tweeted a series of responses claiming, among other things, that the vice president relegates women as “second class citizens.”
The fact that the vice president’s self-imposed standards caused such a fuss in social media and mainline news only demonstrates the stark contrast between the far left progressive mind set and the traditional Christian world view. Progressives just don’t understand.  
They live in a strange bubble. Of course, we live in a completely different bubble, and I understand that they might say my bubble is very strange. That’s the point! It is very ordinary for each of us to believe our world, our bubble, is the norm for everyone else. But, it is not the case.
When you think about it, it’s actually very self-centered to believe that my personal world and the worldview I embrace is the norm for everyone else.
I will take that thought a step further. It is also incredibly naive. It is non-missional.
Christians should not be shocked when we witness one more example of the temporal world system that wars against the Christian faith. It would be humorous if it were not so tragic.
The world that lives apart from Christ does not see the truth of God. Like the parables of Jesus, they hear, but they do not understand. They are deaf and blind. Spiritual blindness is part of the state of lostness. Spiritual deafness is what it means to be lost.
This is at the core of the Apostle Paul’s message in Ephesians 2. We were once “dead in trespasses and sins,” and “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”
Before we submitted to God’s truth, we “conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”
Paul continued writing his letter with full awareness that the only difference between himself and the lost, confused world around him is God’s love, grace and mercy. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ ...  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
There we have it. We are very different. Our standards are different. We think in ways that are very different from the systems of this world.
Our God is timeless and unique. Those trapped in the short-sighted ways of this age are baffled by the eternal nature of God and His children.
They are surprised that there are many additional Billy Graham rules and Mike Pence rules that we have imposed on ourselves because we are keenly aware of our sin nature, hence our need for boundaries.
Personally, I wholeheartedly agree with Mike Pence. I have the same standard in my relationship with my wife.
National Public Radio (NPR) wrote a column that points to four important Billy Graham rules, or standards, that he set for himself early in his ministry. They point first to Graham’s financial accountability and second, to his safeguards from sexual immorality.
Third, Graham refrained from criticizing pastors and local churches. Fourth on the NPR list is the standard of accurate publicity, that is, not exaggerating attendance numbers and successes.
I would add another prominent Graham standard. Wisely, he did not defend himself. It is easy to create wars with our words. He admitted when he was wrong, but he did not engage in defensive battles when he believed he faithfully represented biblical truth.
The Christian faith is not a legalistic list of rules. But every believer needs personal standards – about finances, sexual purity, vocabulary, alcohol and all other areas of life – because our witness is important.

Thank you, Vice President Pence, for reminding us of this high value.

4/4/2017 1:41:58 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments