The internet changes everything.
In this age of information, we have access to more positive and negative resources than ever before.
It definitely changes the Church culture in America.
Where we once competed with the church down the street, we now compete with the church across the state or across the globe. Christians get into a public display of affection competition concerning their individual churches. While it gives us a chance to publicly celebrate (or possibly brag) what is happening in our specific congregation, it also gives us a chance to read the successes and failures of churches from all over.
The Church possesses a sense of rivalry, jealousy, and competition between each other that is unbiblical and quite sickening.
Churches possess a sense of rivalry between each other that is unbiblical and quite sickening.
I have to unplug from it often. I have often thought of de-friending anyone on social media that belongs to another church. Not because I don’t want to see what is going on in their lives, but I feel like I can’t celebrate what is happening in our church or invite the unchurched without joining into the middle of a shouting match.
I feel like I can’t celebrate our church without joining into the middle of a shouting match.
I share stuff for the benefit of our church and the unchurched – not to brag about why my church is better than yours. It’s a major dilemma for me. I don’t want to join in the ridiculous boast-fest that happens. I want to boast in the cross (Gal. 6:14) and not why my church is better than yours.
I want to boast in the cross (Gal. 6:14) and not why my church is better than yours.
When Another Church Struggles
Due to this conflict, I have noticed that many seem to enjoy when churches or ministers that we don’t like face opposition.
What do we do when a church or a pastor disgusts you from afar? I am unsure of really what we should do, but I have watched what we have done.
We love to repost, comment, and share away when someone or some group is in trouble. It’s almost like we want to prove to others: “Well, you may think your church was great, but what do you think about it now? Our church doesn’t look that bad anymore, does it?”
Make no mistake about it: I am burdened for the Church in America. My stomach is turned, my nerves are shot, and my fears have been increased when I think about current practices of churches. Whether it is across town or across the nation, I hear about certain practices and I am burdened that there exist many pastors and many churches that are giving people a false sense of security concerning their salvation. The level of holiness and purity is rapidly declining. Aligning ourselves around the preferences of the masses produces weak, consumeristic churches. And if history has anything to prove, when easy-believism exists, the culture of the Church suffers greatly. When everyone is Christian, what does that mean anymore? When anything can be considered a church, it’s hard to determine what one truly is.
And with my burdened state, I must learn how to address these situations in a biblical manner. I can’t imagine the Apostle Paul tweeting his disgust over a congregation that he did not address one-on-one. The Apostle Peter would not rub a church’s nose in their mistakes, and yet, we do.
I can hear the counter-argument, “But they did call out situations in churches – we know that he did that.” You are absolutely correct. Paul called out sexual immorality present in the Corinthian church – to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:1-2). He rebuked the heretical doctrine present in the Galatian church, and yet he rebuked them specifically (Gal. 1:6). He didn’t tell the Philippian church, “Did you hear about those heretical Galatians? I would say it to their face if they were here, but since they are not…” We get the privilege of reading these letters after they are gone, but when these church leaders had a problem with a church, they confronted the people in that church – they didn’t start a social media campaign.
If there is a problem in a church, we need to confront it and not start a social media campaign.
How Should We Disagree
I do understand that we live in a different time than they did. Paul didn’t have to try to protect churches from heretical podcasts, YouTube clips, and Tweets. So, in this public, global world, how do you address public, global thoughts and practices?
I don’t have this dynamic figured out. I wish I did. But I do know this:
- Shepherd the flock among me: I am called to shepherd the flock among me (1 Peter 5:2) and sometimes that means calling out names and telling the people in my flock not to buy their books, watch their shows, or subscribe to their content.
- Use my voice to teach the Bible: That means that I will blog about certain trends in the church and try to show how the Bible counteracts it. I will attempt to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) without haphazardly criticizing. I am afraid that many people in the name of truth have sounded like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal because love is nowhere near present in their scathing rebuke (1 Cor. 13:1).
- Be honest in my conversations: That means that while I am supportive of churches and pastors who claim to be biblical, that does not mean that I would encourage others to go to be a part of them. I have changed the way I view these conversations as of late. I ask myself, “Would I want my children sitting under that teaching, under that authority, and engaging in discipleship in that manner?” That’s how I answer those one-on-one conversations now. It’s cordial but honest.
- Determine the difference between truth, convictions, and preferences: There are issues in the church that are truth related – if it is unbiblical, it must be addressed. There are conviction issues that can divide but they aren’t necessarily deal breakers. If they are preference related, you need to learn to get over it.
- Rebuke those in whom I am in relationship with: I have friends who are ministers and who are in churches that I disagree with. Some of the issues are preference based and some are more serious. I overlook many of the disagreements because they are not important. When I see those serious issues, I rebuke them directly (Prov. 27:5). I don’t try to smear anyone’s name. I have had some hard conversations over the years. Sometimes, I have helped someone see the error of their ways (James 5:19-20), and sometimes I have lost a friend (Prov. 27:6). I am responsible for doing what I can to live at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18), but I cannot dictate how they will respond.
Repentance vs. Humiliation
The growing divisions in the Church are seen in social media. While the actions may of the offended may be similar, the motivation can be very different. This is where I have had to check the motivations of my heart.
Here’s the heart test: when I disagree with a pastor or a church, do I desire repentance or humiliation?
Heart test: when I disagree with a pastor or a church, do I desire repentance or humiliation?
And the answer of that shows more about me than about the situation. In fact, sometimes I have needed to move the log out of my own eye before I could address the speck in my brother’s eye (Matt. 7:5).
If I honestly see a friend or a pastor from afar doing something I believe to be wrong, my heart should desire repentance and change and not public humiliation and defamation.
Whether it is improper doctrine or unhealthy practices, my heart’s desire should be that change takes place. For the sake of that person and the congregation that person leads, I should truly desire repentance. I don’t want the Church as a whole to get another black eye. I don’t relish when someone is criticized – rightly or wrongly.
So my challenge is this: check your heart. Remove the logs from your own eyes. Pray that heretics repent. Pray that dangerous leaders see the error of their ways. Get over preference-based disagreements. Rebuke those that you know and rebuke them in private.
Is there a time for a larger platform to challenge? Yes, after these first steps have been taken. Matthew 18:15-17 gives us a process that doesn’t equate here perfectly, but it is a healthy direction. If a brother is in sin, show him his sin in private. If that doesn’t work, take a friend along. Then, it gets more public. How does that look in our social media world? We don’t have precise directions, but I am sure that love and humility should be a part of it.
Pray for repentance and do not hope for humiliation.
Pray for repentance and do not hope for humiliation.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
1 thought on “When a Church or a Pastor Disgusts You (From Afar)”
Oh Travis, that we begin to pray for repentance and not humiliation! Your blog always makes me think!
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