Thursday, August 21, 2014

Toward a "Kinder and Gentler" Blogosphere - An Observation

“Oh, my brethren!  Bold-hearted men are always called mean-spirited by cowards.” – C.H. Spurgeon

Much has been said in recent weeks, among evangelicals, about the tone and content of our discussions with one another, particularly on blogs and social media.*  While I agree with the overall sentiment for a “kinder, gentler" blogosphere, I do wish to make an observation regarding this matter that troubles me.

My observation (and my question) is this:  In our zeal to promote kindness and civility in our interactions with one another, are we silencing our prophetic voices?  I don’t mean prophecy in the sense of the biblical office, or foretelling the future, but in the sense of “telling forth” what is right and wrong.  Some may disagree with me but, in my view, we need brethren who are willing to call a spade a spade.

Many of us pastors are political by nature.  Our very survival in ministry has conditioned us to be this way.  We measure our words carefully.  We weigh the consequences before we speak.  We strive to make peace between sides.  When we do take a position, it’s often qualified in some way so as to soften its edges.  I know this is true, because it describes me to a tee.  I hate to make waves or think that I’ve offended someone.  I’m a people pleaser, and so are many of you.

This, of course, is not entirely a bad thing.  After-all, Scripture does say “as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  However, this kind of personality becomes a drawback when there are legitimate issues that need to be tackled head-on and we don’t have the spiritual backbone to confront them.  On a denominational level, this could be anything from unbiblical nonsense peddled by our publishing arm, to unethical behavior in our leadership.

This is where the prophets come in – bold-hearted men who have a passion for truth and a fire burning within them to speak that truth in no uncertain terms.  Do they sometimes cross the line?  Yes.  Just as the mild-mannered pastor is sometimes guilty of being too cowardly, the prophet is sometimes guilty of being over-zealous.  (This point has been well-documented.)  But, can we also acknowledge one reason prophets gain a following is because they have the guts to say some things that recognized leaders should be saying and aren’t?

I would caution my fellow Southern Baptists against automatically snubbing the prophets among us.  It’s too easy to label them as “haters,” “troublemakers,” and “bullies” and not listen to the substance of their arguments. John the Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers.” The apostle Paul called the Judaizers “dogs” and “enemies of the cross.”  If they lived today, John and Paul would probably be chastised for their lack of decorum and labeled as “mean-spirited.”

We also need to beware of those who would manipulate this discussion to protect themselves and their associates from criticism.  If we ever reach a place where fair and warranted criticism (done in an appropriate and godly manner) is condemned and summarily dismissed as an “attack,” all accountability goes right out the window.

Finally, it should be said to the prophets that we can hear you a lot better when you’re not screaming.  Tone it down.  Choose your battles carefully.  Some are worth fighting; some aren’t.  As you become more selective and measured in your response, your credibility and effectiveness will increase.

Long live the prophets.  We need them.

*My brother has been at the center of many of these discussions.  I love my brother, and am proud of him for repenting of his sin in this area.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Refraining From Complaining

I was a rookie school teacher, just a few weeks into my first job.  I loved it!  It was my first taste of having a career.  I was making "real money" (it seemed a lot at the time).  And I enjoyed being called "Mr. Hall" by my high school students.  I was living the dream!  But it didn't take long to figure out that my more experienced colleagues didn't feel the same way.  In fact, many of them seemed to hate their job.  Whether it was sitting around the lunch table or whispering during teachers meetings, it seemed all they did was complain - about their pay, about our principal, about the students, and so on.  I finally worked up the nerve to say something to my mentor one day, "Is it just me, or does everyone at our school hate their job?"  He just grumbled at me, "Give it a few years, kid.  You'll be right there with us."

Fortunately, I didn't teach long before God called me into full-time ministry.  So, I never reached the point where I hated my job!  But I did learn something from that experience.  I vowed to myself I would never become a "complainer."  I never wanted to be the person that became negative and bitter.  And I have tried to carry that same philosophy into ministry.  I will admit I have not always succeeded.  There have been times when I have felt sorry for myself and griped about this or that.  But I hope and pray that (for the most part) I have stayed thankful and positive.  I have given my wife permission to put me out of my misery if I ever become an old, curmudgeonly pastor that criticizes everything and everyone!

But this shouldn't only be a goal for pastors.  According to Scripture, all Christians should strive to avoid complaining.  The apostle Paul once told the Philippian believers to "do all things without complaining and disputing."  (Phil 2:14)  The Greek word translated as "complaining" in this verse specifically refers to criticism that takes place under the radar.  (That's why the word is also translated as "murmuring.")  The complainer usually doesn't have the guts to complain openly, so instead they go person-to-person and group-to-group making their displeasure known, sewing discord along the way.  (It should be noted that voicing a legitimate concern in an appropriate fashion is NOT the same as complaining!  Every organization, especially the church, should be open to hearing valid concerns.)

While complaining can make us temporarily feel better, and give us an outlet to vent our frustrations, Scripture tells us not to do it.  In fact, Paul tells the Philippians that refraining from complaining will cause them to stand out as "children of God" and "lights in the world."  In other words, NOT complaining is so unnatural to the world, that you will stand out when you DON'T do it! And when people ask why you don't join them in complaining about your job, or criticizing your boss, it may give you just the opportunity you've been looking for to share with them the joy and contentment of a relationship with Christ.

P.S.  Pastors, if this is true for our people, how much more should it apply to us with our churches?

To listen to my full sermon on this topic, please click here.