Anyone who writes consistently has to be opinionated.
I’m no exception. Not too long ago, I was far more public about the things that drew my ire. Either online or in my sermons, I’d find ways to take jabs at those with whom I disagreed ‒ the pastor who taught anemic or heretical theology, the church that worshipped the god of pragmatism, the artist who didn’t fit my aesthetic sensibilities, or the family who had different priorities than mine.
I had not mastered the art of vague generalities, so I’d call out people by name, often quoting foolish things they said or did.
Certain people can do this without being jerks, or better, without caring if they come across a bit jerkish. I can’t. So I stopped. And, I’m glad I did.
Yes, it’s necessary to correct falsehood and confront idolatry. Christians can, and should, speak to issues that shape the thoughts, actions, and affections of others. Should we see a person, concept, or trend that is destined to destroy others, we’d be sinfully negligent to not speak to the issue. So the question is not “if” we should speak ‒ we should.
But there are four foundational questions I’m learning to ask before I do.
First, I must consider whether or not I am the right person to speak to the issue. Does anyone care what I think? Does my voice matter? Or, is there someone who is in a better position to speak to the issue?
My verbal hand grenade thrown at a church I’ve never attended and a pastor who I don’t know is an exercise in futility more often than not. There are people over whom I have been given some level of authority. For example, my voice is vital in the life of my family. I’m the God-appointed authority in shaping the minds and hearts of my kids, so I must speak to them about things that matter. I can’t sit passively by and allow them to be sucked into deceptive teaching or aberrant practice ‒ at least not if I can help it.
In the same way, I’ve been given a leadership role in my church. God has allotted a subset of His family to my care, and I’m responsible to lead them as a shepherd leads sheep, meaning that I must work to protect them from harm and lead them to safety. There are others who God has raised up to have a voice over his people throughout our world. It’s wise for me to know my place, let them speak, and take responsibility for those I’ve been called to lead.
Then the question becomes the most appropriate context for my voice. Today the default method of critique seems to be online. But, only a few people should have the voice to bring critique in this way ‒ those whom God has raised up to lead people on a national or international scale.
If I question whether or not my critique carries this weight, it’s better to use my online platform to build up those in the church rather than deconstruct others. If I do a sufficient job of edifying others, then, in time, God may give me a position to provide public critique. For now, I can learn to confront issues in private ‒ around my dining room table, in a one-on-one discipleship relationship, or in a passing conversation in private with a member of my church.
Quick reactions are rarely wise reactions. It is foolish and shameful to give an answer before I’ve listened well (Prov. 18:13). Every day I’m exposed to all sorts of things that rub me the wrong way ‒ some of which I have clear understanding and valid critique, but most I understand poorly because I have no firsthand knowledge.
I need to invest the time to understand the issue well if I’m going to provide critique. Either I give a nuanced, thoughtful answer or just admit that I’m not prepared to give an answer. Perhaps the godliest thing most of us can do is admit that we either don’t know or don’t care.
A final question I need to ask is the most effective, winsome way to speak to an issue. Tone always speaks louder than words. If I can’t pull off sarcasm without sounding like a punk, then it’s probably best not to try. If speaking to a certain issue causes me to lash out in anger, then it’s best to wait until I can get myself under control before I speak. It is possible to critique with wisdom, graciousness, and godly intent ‒ but it takes great maturity and personal restraint to do this well.
I know what you’re thinking: “But that’s jacked up. If I don’t call it out, then nothing’s going to change.” The opposite may actually be the case. If more people took responsibility for those they were called to lead, privately critiqued issues that matter, did so in a way that demonstrated genuine understanding, and spoke with a posture of love, we might see far more change over time than through the overstated, ill-informed, public venom that we’re often apt to spew.