We need to get better at criticism. Much better. That is my criticism of the church.
I agree with secular best-selling management consultant and author Patrick Lencioni when he offers this critique in his book The Advantage:
Nowhere does this tendency toward artificial harmony show itself more than in mission-driven nonprofit organizations, most notably churches. People who work in those organizations tend to have a misguided idea that they cannot be frustrated or disagreeable with one another. What they’re doing is confusing being nice with being kind.
Substitute the word “loving” for “kind” and I think he has it exactly right. Perhaps being loving is the church’s reaction to a culture of cynicism, but what Lencioni sees missing is direct constructive criticism.
Typically, we let our criticism swirl unchecked in our thoughts, brewing poison which often spills over into conversation with confidants and at some point boils into confrontation that can no longer be loving. That was not Paul’s intent when he told the Ephesians to be “speaking the truth in love,” resulting in a body of Christ that “builds itself up in love as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:15-16).
We are to love each other enough to tell each other the sorts of things everyone needs to hear so as not to go on hurting ourselves and others. We need to do this readily, directly and measured by the standard of truth we hold in common – God’s Word. To do that we must have previously established personal loving relationships with one another so the other person knows where we’re coming from and that we welcome the same sort of critique from them.
We need to constantly remind each other who we really are.
Scripture clearly tells us we have zero right or reason to deserve membership in God’s family. Underneath the façade, we are all sinners … failures at life. As we admit that, we gain God’s grace and the fellowship of other equally unworthy members worshiping together in our local churches. Is it not, then, absurd that we ever take offense when someone points to any of our shortcomings? How can we be so sensitive to criticism? Having gained entrance to this community of totally unworthy souls, we somehow feel the need to build a case for our own righteousness and worth to God and God’s people. It is as if we somehow decide we have no continuing, absolute need of God’s grace.
Yes, the church needs to get better at criticism – giving and receiving it – in love.