A few days ago I received something interesting in the mail (other than a wonderful newsy letter and cool photos from my mom!). It was a yellow envelope with a few writings from someone who felt we needed to hear his perspective on what has gone wrong with the particular flavour of church that we are part of. I am never quite sure how to respond to criticism of this sort (from strangers whom I have no relationship with). Sometimes it merits no response at all, but in this case I think it does. No doubt the man is sincere and has obviously been through some less than pleasant experiences and seen some less than perfect people and situations in church (haven't we all? welcome to humanity!) but I wonder what he hopes his action will accomplish? Change, obviously, but I can tell you from experience that criticism seldom brings about the desired change.
Some thoughts on responding to criticism in general: Should I fall on my face and repent for my shortcomings and errors? Of course. I need to do this every day. Should I desire to be more loving and know more truth? Yes and yes! Should I search my heart to see if I am being the leader God wants me to be? I do this often, believe me. Should I take criticism with an openness to God's loving correction and conviction? I believe I try to do this.
I can tend to be too susceptible to owning mistakes and accepting correction and doubting myself, so let me avoid that path and pursue truth instead. While our church community is not perfect, we strive to make it a place of safety and love and growth. We are not pursuing building a successful church by any man's standards, but committed to doing what we see Jesus doing in our midst and loving all those that God brings our way and helping them discover who God made them to be by teaching them to discern His voice and presence in their lives. In fact, this is not a church thing; this is an "every day of my life" thing.
In the past, I have been corrected by critical people and I have been corrected by God - the two feel vastly different. One is done with a certain manipulation to get me to conform to their ideals in order to gain acceptance; the latter begins with an overwhelming sense of love while I am still in my inadequate state, a firm hand guiding me to a way out of my mess, and the sweet taste of freedom upon changing my ways.
Let my words and actions also leave a sweet taste in the souls of those pursuing freedom.
This is another one of Jeff's photos from beautiful Manitoba.