The reality is, I knew writing “I’m Sorry Joel Osteen (Part 1)” wouldn’t change anyone’s mind about the infamous Houston pastor. Those for him stood for him. Those against him remained against him. Of course, one person’s weekend visit to one church shouldn’t change your mind about the Osteen’s. In fact, I’m glad my recollected experience didn’t.
In all honesty, this two-part blog post isn’t about Joel Osteen or Lakewood church. Rather, it’s based on the church. My initial post served as more of a catalyst of what you’re now reading.
Every morning in the routine of a true millennial, I scroll through my social media feeds to filter through what’s new. While not in this order, I’m sure to see the following at least once.
- Cute baby picture and ‘month old’ update
- Picture of a recent meal
- Fitness post
- Advertisement post
- Congratulatory status
- #mcm or #wcw, depending on the day
- Link to article or blog calling out specific pastor, denomination, church, worship leader/team, etc.
The last mentioned is the only worth grieving over and the only worth not sharing.
When we call out others from a public platform – whether that be in a church or online – we show the world a false example of Christ. It’s pure gossip in the name of ‘calling out prophets’ or ‘weeding out the wolves.’ Whatever church term we throw at it, the long list of opposing comments online looks nothing but ugly to a world that needs answers. It makes sense why society no longer counts the church or Christians as a reliable source for their questions and dilemmas. We can’t even solve our own disunity.
During a recent missions trip, our team had the opportunity to visit a Muslim mosque in the area. We met with the community’s imam and talked through the different points of our faiths. The conversation wasn’t so much open for debate, but rather to understand what each other believes – an informative dialogue for the sole reason of education. With an ice cold, unmoving stare, the imam made sure to instill one point.
“I know we don’t and will never agree, but from an outside perspective us Muslims don’t understand you Christians. We have more Muslims who act like Christians than Christians do. Aside from the radicals, we are in unity with what we believe. Christians on the other hand can’t agree on anything.”
Looking at past situations, I will admit I’ve not only ruined my personal reputation and witness because of public comments against others, but also the overall connotations of Christians in general that are more than well known. As a whole, we’re seen as judgmental, naïve and opinionated. I think we can at least agree on outside opinions of us.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when my journey away from public reprimands and spiritual opinions began, but the totality of it has taken place over a couple of years. I offer the brief but hard lessons I’ve learned from fairly recent open mouth, insert foot moments.
1. There’s only one way to approach someone with a disagreement.
The Bible does talk about conflict. The Bible absolutely talks about disagreements in doctrine. The Bible covers the topic of differences in styles and preferences of people. The Bible also specifies only one correct way to handle it –- to have a conversation with them in person. It’s the only biblically correct first step we can take.
In matters of sin (Galatians 6:1), conflict (Matthew 8:15), hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-12), and doctrine (Acts 18:24-26) – we are always instructed in Scripture and by example to go to the person in a gentle manner and talk about it. I’m aware this isn’t always practically possible, but that doesn’t excuse sharing public opinions against others. Before following the urge to share an opposing article or name-drop in a conversation, I suggest these steps:
- Schedule a time to talk to the person or write/send them a message.
- If step ‘1’ is not logistically possible, visit the church or ministry in person and see if what is said is true.
- If steps ‘1’ and ‘2’ are not logistically possible, pray and see if this is a conversation worth pursuing. Chances are a leader will not take such dialogue to heart if a personal relationship or connection is not already in place.
(Book suggestion for this topic: The Peace Maker, by Ken Sande)
2. Jesus is perfect. Everyone else is not.
This mainly deals with larger churches or ministries in the media spotlight. I can publicly confess there are pastors and churches both locally and nationally that aren’t my favorites for various reasons (business practices, doctrine, etc.). Unfortunately, what no one wants to talk about is the fact that these ministries and sermons get run through with a fine toothcomb. While we sit thinking our practices and processes are absolute, we’re also not being held to the same society standards.
Anyone on planet Earth put under the same public examination will have recognized faults and receive the same extreme scrutiny.
We’re imperfect people serving a perfect God. He only uses our flawed lives because of undeserved grace. Our practices and thought processes will always fall short of His faultless standards, including the people we stand against. The perfection label needs to be thrown out the window. I’ve come to realize my faults are equal to theirs; mine just aren’t broadcasted on TV or recognized on a billboard – and Thank God for that.
Blast my sermons to millions of people? I know someone is going to find many flaws because I am in fact – flawed and imperfect. Please, don’t be shocked.
I’ve found that biblically we can make personal opinions of these people and ministries. The importance is remembering that the measure by what we do with these opinions will only determine the measure of conclusions made about us.
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5
3. Despite personal opinions, someone out there is still receiving Jesus.
Ouch. This one stings a little bit. In fact, I’m still working through this last lesson in my life.
I’ve disagreed with many a pastor in my short 24 years. I’ve went as far as to utter the words, “those people aren’t really saved, they’re just playing church” when referring to the congregants of a particular church or denomination. One day, I made the comment in front of the wrong person and received the correct rebuke.
Who am I to make such a statement? In the grand scheme of billions of people, I’m not anyone special that I can judge the hearts of others. How dare I side step the fruit of their life and say they aren’t true Christians just because of the ministry or covering they are under.
My husband started a relationship with Jesus at a mega church. Two years after that decision, the pastor of the church had a moral failure. Still, my husband’s salvation is my husband’s salvation; his identity is in Christ, and that pastor has no bearing on the condition of his soul.
It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that good things can come out of imperfect situations – that Christian people can be birthed out of ministries that look different from ours and seem wrong. Thankfully, it’s my experience that when we shift our focus to those with transformed lives, we can finally agree on one thing. If you can’t take it from me, maybe you can from the apostle Paul.
“It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.” – Philippians 1:15-18