What’s the best way to make a statement—when it will be read/heard by different categories of people—so that it will be processed properly by everyone? I’m talking about things like Facebook comments, blog posts, articles, or sermons/lessons. How can we make sure the audience benefits and is drawn toward the Lord? Or at least, isn’t turned off/pushed away?
Specifically, let’s think about times we believers want to point out the failure of certain Christians … or spur Christians to a higher standard. That sort of thing.
In my work as an editor some years back, I noticed an unfortunate trend, first in writings from leaders associated with the emergent church. There would be a long description of the behavior of the worst Christian in the history of the world. Then it would finish up with something like, “We have got to stop behaving like this!” Wait. We? To make matters worse, the writers never (that’s right, never) followed up with accounts of Christians whose good examples we should imitate.
That approach seemed to unleash an increased level of what I called “hate the church” messages. When books talking that way became popular, some ministers followed suit, speaking like that from the pulpit. Any sincere Christian in the audience surely cringed upon hearing such—and hoped there were no seekers in attendance who would carry home that single ghastly image of who “we” were. (Find a few more thoughts along those lines in this post.)
That way of speaking seems to have cranked up. Online we often read sweeping statements that give the subject of the sentence as “the church” or imply “all Christians.” Like “Christians always …” or “The church never …” or “If you’ve been hurt by the church …”
We need to remember that “the church” is all believers in all countries for the past 2,000 years. The speaker can’t possibly know what those millions have done/not done. It’s also good to remember that—past and present—not everyone (or every entity) who flashes a cross, holds/quotes the Bible, or wears the label “church” actually is the church. There are casual, “cultural Christians,” and then there are cult groups and deliberate deceivers. That’s life in this world. So when we hear a statement about “the church,” it would pay to follow up and learn exactly who is being talked about before further adding to the conversation.
Let’s examine three audiences that might be reading/hearing our statements. And let’s consider how they would be affected, what would be accomplished.
1. CHRISTIANS WHO ARE REALLY TRYING often fail to be acknowledged and can be easy targets for dark agendas. (Especially these days.) If most of what’s out there implies that Christians are hateful and stupid, then sincere, hard-working, sacrificial Christians get beat down. We can’t afford to lose them! I once got caught in a “hate the church” Facebook thread that featured sweeping statements. I appealed to readers to be thankful for Christians who put themselves in danger in hostile countries in order to help people; and I specifically described some current heroes I know. My pushback did not get a single “like”—just the accusation that those heroes are “probably gaslighters.” Sheesh. I cried for three days, while also bristling about all the sacrificial believers I know who were being thrown under the bus.
2. CHRISTIANS WHO COULD TRY HARDER can be corrected directly, privately, individually. (We all need the occasional kick in the pants, right?) If they won’t listen, then we go to the culprit’s own church elders. Those leaders are to oversee and keep a finger on the pulse of the local church’s spiritual growth/maturity. This is how Scripture details things. (See Matthew 18:15-17; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Peter 5:1-3.)
It seems cowardly and dishonest to be upset with a person or two but attack an entire, uninvolved group. Do we do this in any other context? Imagine that you get cheated by clerk Joe at the MaxiMarket on Main Street. Do you go online and say, “I was cheated by the International Supermarket Association”? No, if you must make a public statement (must you?), you’d caution, “Watch out for Joe at that market. He’s a cheat.”
(Ever have a schoolteacher who kept the whole class in at recess even though only two of the kids had caused the trouble? That always offended my sense of justice.)
3. NON-CHRISTIANS surely aren’t drawn toward the Lord by hearing that “the church” is horrible. Besides falsely implying that the speaker personally knows every Christian in every single country in every single era of history—(yes, I’m purposefully repeating that thought from above)—such comments give the listeners a reason to say, “See, sure glad I’m not part of that bunch!” The way I look at it: If 1 out of 1,000 Christians did something awful, it’s still unfortunate. But wouldn’t it be fun, true, and motivational to highlight about 25 good examples? Even when I post something online that’s intended mostly for Christians, it’s on my mind that nonbelievers (as well as outright agents for the dark side) will be reading it. I need to be strong, kind, and true. That’s all out the window with sweeping statements.
It’s a bit sobering to recall Acts 9:4, 5. Saul of Tarsus, out to get the church, had been persecuting Christians. When Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, Jesus said, “Why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul’s misguided attack on believers seemed to be perceived by Jesus as if Saul were going after Jesus himself.
Let me confess that I myself have been guilty of sweeping statements. But I’m trying hard to pay closer attention. Won’t you join me?