How to Criticize the Church

I always find it interesting how different people talk about their spouses when they aren’t around.

My wife and I have an unspoken agreement that we don’t criticize each other to other people. If we have a problem, we work it out between the 2 of us. There is no one (not my parents, not my siblings, not my best friend) who has ever heard me say something negative about my wife.

On the other hand, I’ve had several coworkers who freely criticized their husbands at work. I never heard them praise their husbands, only criticize. They didn’t help out enough about the house, they didn’t take care of the kids as well as their wives did, etc. I might have met their husbands once or twice, but I didn’t really know them. This meant that the only things I knew was what I had heard from their wives, and none of that was good. If I was going to construct a view of them based on how their wives talked about them, it would have been completely negative. Whether a wife is doing it to her husband or a husband to his wife, this isn’t the respect and love we’re commanded to extend in Ephesians 5:22-33.

I’ve recently noticed a similar trend regarding the church. One of the favorite past-times of Christians my age (I’m almost 30) and younger is to criticize the church. I know I’ve done my fair share of it in the past. If you look around Facebook or Twitter long enough, you’ll start to see the same complaints. The leadership dresses too formally. The music is 10 years out-dated. The musicians aren’t skilled enough and make to many mistakes. The pastor’s sermons are boring. The church is falling behind technologically. Etc., etc. etc.

These criticisms might be dead on accurate, but that’s not what I want to consider here. Whether or not these criticisms are correct, ask yourself, “What are the unbelievers who read my tweets or status updates thinking when they read what I say about the church? Why do I only post and tweet the negative things about church instead of the positive things?”

I understand that the church needs to be involved in culture, but sometimes I think certain people want their church to be known for being cool more than they want it to be known for helping people meet Jesus. Does it really make any sense to tell the world they need Jesus, that the only place to worship him fully is in a church, but then to portray churches as the chess club in a world full of football teams and cheerleaders? It’s like we’re trying to give people excuses to stay away.

Think back to the women I worked with who criticized their husbands. I’m sure that they loved their husbands and had positive things they could say about them. The problem was, I never heard them. I’m sure the blogger critics of churches have things they like about their churches too (at least I hope they do). The problem is, we never hear them. And we can’t expect unbelievers to know that for every negative we post on Twitter, there is also a positive. All we’re doing is feeding into the negative impression they already have of the Church.

And I understand that some people aren’t criticizing their church, but rather the Church as a whole. But can we really expect unbelievers to understand enough to see the differentiation between the universal Church and the local church? Especially when the criticism is only 140 characters long? I don’t think so. We need to always assume that if we write about the overall Church, unbelievers reading our message will assume we are talking about the local church we attend, and if we’re writing criticisms, each one makes them less likely to ever walk through the doors.

See, it doesn’t matter whether the criticisms are true. I’m sure a good number of them are. The problem is that when something is posted on Facebook or Twitter, the audience is no longer limited to the church. It’s expanded to everybody, including those outside the church who won’t understand the criticism the way it’s intended. And really, all we’re succeeding at is convincing them as to why they shouldn’t go to church.

So please, keep criticizing the church when it needs to be criticized because without it, there will never be change or growth. But do it the right way by keeping these tips in mind:

1. Balance your criticism with praise. Don’t always tweet about how unprofessional the band is. Praise God that a group of dedicated volunteers who aren’t professionals can come together, produce a joyful noise, and lead the church in worship. Don’t just criticize your pastor for being old-fashioned and not using enough media clips in his sermon. Praise God for his decades of loyal, faithful service to God’s people. Don’t just broadcast the dysfunction in your church. Praise God that it functions as a second family, even if it is dysfunctional at times (as all families are). Ask yourself if your audience can figure out that you love (or even like) your church just from the things you tweet.

2. Confine your criticism to the right forum. Frankly, most criticism should be kept completely in house, confined to church business meetings or other appropriate settings within the church body. If you do think you have something negative to say about how the Church (or your church) functions that would be helpful to say publicly, do it in a blog or other setting where the primary audience will be Christian. Don’t do it on Twitter, where the primary audience will be unbelievers.

3. Write full, complete thoughts to make sure you are understood. You know what this means? No witty sarcastic tweets. You can say positive things in 140 characters. You can’t say negative ones. Negative things need to be elaborated and explained to make sure they are correctly understood (at least they do if you want them to be constructive rather than destructive). You can’t do that on Twitter.

I started out talking about wives criticizing their husbands publicly. In Ephesians 5, we learn that the Church is the bride of Christ. Before we criticize her publicly, maybe we need to ask ourselves how we would feel if our spouse said those things about us publicly instead of handling it in house. Paul said that

“…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Jesus’ method of perfecting the church was to sacrifice himself for her, not to openly criticize her before the world. Maybe we need to do less of the latter and more of the former. Which brings me to my last suggestion:

4. Be part of the solution. If you don’t want to be part of the solution, don’t complain about the problem. If the problem isn’t big enough for you to get personally involved, it’s not big enough for you to be so offended about it that you need to take to the internet to voice your opinion. So be constructive instead of destructive and set about fixing the things that you can fix, and do it in the most respectful, God-honoring way possible.

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