Critical

Critics The word “critical” has several differing meanings. On the positive side, it can mean, “involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.” In this sense, all people should strive to be critical thinkers, critical theologians. However, it is the primary meaning or sense of critical that must be avoided: “inclined to find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily.” There is nothing virtuous about this second sense.

Second-sense criticism is rooted in arrogance or fear (often both) and goes against the spirit of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. It repels others inside and outside the church. My experience has been that those who are second-sense critical, ironically, speak first and think second. While they hold themselves to be first-sense critical, as those who “just speak the truth” or see the situation more clearly than all others, their opinions are shaped less by facts and rationality than what somewhere deep inside they want to be the case. This is to say, they want others to be deserving of their criticism. So, rather than explore situations thoroughly and examine the facts as they are—they are content to attribute motives, project their insecurities, and make people out to be what they are not…so they can criticize in the second sense while holding themselves to be critical in the first sense. Such people do great injury to churches and those who have the courage to take God risks.

Just yesterday, I heard another story of many I’ve heard over the years of someone who wanted to take a courageous step in ministry, but because of the type-2 criticism he had and would receive, decided not to proceed. Perhaps if he couldn’t handle the type-2 criticism that would go with such a move he shouldn’t make it. However, I hated to hear again that someone had a great idea that will not be pursued because of the type-2 critical.

Such sad news upsets me.

Quick personal story: When I was serving at Highland Oaks and God led us to launch the Plano campus—it was the first such move of it’s kind in Churches of Christ. There was no forerunner or pattern for us to look at within Churches of Christ. We simply believed there were unreached people in that area and God had opened a door miraculously for us to be able to reach them using a fresh approach. After much prayer, analysis, and "gut-checking," we proceeded. We had many neighboring churches that offered prayer and support. It meant so much to us to have the love and support of our sister congregations.

However, others went type-2 critical.

I read from those I did not know who had no contact with leadership at Highland Oaks that we were beginning a new denomination. I was called the Pope, the elders were called The Vatican. I was referred to in one “Brotherhood” paper as a “rank apostate.” It was my grand eye-opening to the fact that there were type-2s not just in the congregation—but “out there” too. They had few facts (if any), they had no conversations with us, they had no rational reason to believe what they believed, they had no spirit of unity and hope that undergirds true type-1 criticism. All they had was a forum through which to bloviate, a firm belief they were type-1 critical, and a cause against which they could be type-2 critical. They were in fact, a spiritual joke and a disgrace to the Kingdom.

For the life of me, I cannot understand the benefits of such a way of being—at least that benefit the Kingdom rather than oneself. Such a “ready-fire-aim” way of relating to people and circumstances that nearly always long on projection and short on fact. Such a critical spirit can do great, great harm and choke off the innovation and forward-thinking that can bring much needed renewal to Churches of Christ.

This critical spirit is suffocating the Churches of Christ subtly as those with new ideas, fresh perspectives, and the courage to try them are flogged publicly and privately until they stop pursuing them. Biblical texts are ripped from their contexts and used to supply a false veneer of biblical rationale and type-1 criticism, while the absence of Spirit Fruit in both tone and content, as well as the absence of sound biblical interpretation flashes “type-2” above it.

I’m thankful for the tradition of perseverance and resilience among some leaders in Churches of Christ as well. You know who they are—the ministers that continue to love and serve a fellowship from which some have beaten they and their families soundly year after year. They have pressed on. They have continued to follow God’s call amidst the constant screech of type-2 criticism. They are the Rocky Balboas and Gladiators of the Church. They are some of my spiritual heroes.

We as a fellowship of churches need a heart change. Not everyone. Not all churches. But, certainly some of us. We have to stop beating each other up unnecessarily. Pause and think for just a moment how different things could be if we redirect the staggering amount of energy burned type-2ing one another into encouragement, support, and willingness to join one another in taking Kingdom risks.

Brothers and Sisters, let’s resolve to create a gracious spirit and tone in our churches. Let’s choose to be supportive to those who are taking steps of faith and trying to reach people for Christ. Let's stop allowing the scarcity mentality to drive our decisions and treatment of one another.

To the spiritual entrepreneurs and risk-takers out there I say…press on. Test the spirits. Listen humbly to the voice of the type-1 critical, and let the voice of the type-2 critical be silenced in your mind and heart. May they be but poodles barking at freight trains. May the Lord God himself supply you with the courage and resilience to obey His call, regardless of type-2 criticism. And, may you remember that God did not give you, “a Spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Walk on.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Critical

  1. Tim,
    Good post. You make a good point. There is a certain kind of criticism that does not edify, encourage, or improve. Again and again, I have seen it destroy men and women. It is deadly.
    Years ago, a young man was teaching his very first adult class. Most of these good people tried to help and encourage him as he struggled through that experience. However, there was a man present who asked him questions that were way beyond his knowledge. As the young man explained that he knew nothing about the answer to this man’s question, the man laughed and looked at others, poking fun at the guy. Later, he talked to others about how poorly this guy did teaching the class.
    Were most of these people like him? No. Most of these people would have done nothing to discourage him. Yet this man and a couple of other critics completely demoralized this guy.
    When I returned from vacation, the young man handed me the commentary that I had loaned him. He looked whipped and defeated. He said, “I guess I won’t be teaching the class anymore. Some of this said that it wasn’t any good.”
    This kind of criticism is deadly and in this case completely destroyed what little confidence he had.
    So unnecessary and so wrong.

  2. Tim, in reference to Ben’s comment, you were much kinder in your treatment of the critics than was Paul in the Galatian letter.
    Thanks for your courage and clarity. I listened again this week to your presentation with Jon on “snake handling”. I need to hear it often.

  3. Hi Tim –
    Thanks for your response, however, I must admit that the reasoning you employ still seems to violate the very advice you’re offering and in the end does more harm than good to your argument. Here’s why:
    I agree that it is ridiculous, unbiblical and incoherent for churches to condemn, disfellowship and throw vitriol at other churches. Especially within a perceived autonomous faith structure. I get that. I agree with you whole-heartedly. You state that your desire is to warn others against these wolves in sheep clothing. My question is: Who are we being warned against? Some abstract group of people? You choose not to provide the names of the individuals or congregations who said these things – which I fully support – but in what ways are you warning us? We know that that crap is out there and we especially can name it for what it is when we see it. We know there is a much bigger picture than those you mention. We get it. However, without specific names (again, which I do not think you should put on the blog), I don’t see this is as a warning, I see it as name-calling. Name-calling that is not constructive for your argument. Name-calling that makes you look as if you’ve stooped to their level. Name-calling that will only serve to vindicate their ridiculous claims.
    Secondly, you site their refusal to join CofC unity/racial reconciliation events along with their spirit of rancor as support to say these things. So, do we speak kindly about only those people who agree with us or those people who earnestly seek goodwill, common ground, etc.? Are we to only love those who love us back? Are we no longer supposed to love our enemies and bless/pray for those who persecute us?
    Tim, my issue is not with the fact that you mention their judgment and condemnation on you and the Highland Oaks community. I also don’t mind that you point out their vitriol or even “warn” us against the divisive and toxic realities of their behavior. My issue is not with these things because these things need to be discussed. My issue is with how quickly you hurt your argument (or perhaps your voice in this greater discussion) by choosing to get a last punch in with the “joke” and “spiritual disgrace” taunts. Your argument is just as solid without these statements.
    Perhaps this highlights how thin the line is between the two types of criticism you define.

  4. Ben,
    Certainly a fair and thoughtful question. The motives, etc. of those I mention were articulated in the said correspondence and in some that followed that I don’t mention above. Perhaps my comments will fuel their fire. I certainly hope not. However, people have allowed them to bully people for far too long. Declaring their behavior a spiritual joke and disgrace to the Kingdom is, from my perspective, accurate on all counts. Here’s why:
    The same people I mention in the anecdote condemned us to hell and disfellowshipped us–all without dialogue. They refused to join CofC unity events and CofC racial reconciliation events if they found out we would be there. There was only a spirit of rancor, not a spirit of unity or even biblical concern. It was just vitriol. They are, plain and simple, wolved in sheeps clothing to a sizeable chunk of Churches of Christ. As such, I view them as those to be warned against biblically, not as my fellow Brothers earnestly seeking goodwill, common ground, etc. I haven’t mentioned them by name, condemned them, etc. I just think they are a joke, a disgrace and toxic to those they influence.
    I guess what I’m saying is…there is a much bigger body of work for those I mention in the anecdote that make the statement valid. However, the warning against doing what I am speaking against in the post is one I plan to heed.

  5. Hi Tim,
    While I sympathize with the trajectory of your thoughts, labeling the people who unfairly and inappropriately condemned Highland Oaks’ decision as “a spiritual joke and a disgrace to the Kingdom” seems to convey the very spirit you’re arguing against. To use your definition of type-2 criticism, doesn’t this statement display an inclination to “find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily”?
    I know how vitriol those letters are. I understand both the disappointment and frustration they create. However, calling them a spiritual joke and disgrace to the Kingdom only serves to fuel their toxic fire and does not, in my opinion, follow the very sound and wise advice you give that we should “resolve to create a gracious spirit and tone in our churches.”

  6. Great question, Robin.
    I guess it makes a slight difference whether they are member or someone looking in from the outside. From where I sit, people in the area owe it to sister congregations to give them the benefit of the doubt until they communicate with leadership somehow…and even then, to recognize appropriate boundaries that respect the autonomy of each local congregation. I also think those “conscience” concerns should be few and far between. Churches in our fellowship are autonomous, and thus some degree of trust and freedom should be granted for local leadership to make decisions based on their first-hand knowledge of the situation, congregational vision, and biblical teaching. If someone from the “outside” has a concern, it’s a simple matter of asking some leadership–over coffee or lunch optimally–as the setting will help keep the conversation civil and grounded in the issues at hand.
    A member has already heard an explanation of the situation from leadership, and if unsatisfied, can engage them as they would in any situation–respectfully, making sure they are actually making a biblical case. My experience has been that in 90% or cases or better…leadership is in no violation of Scripture when the decision is made…they are simply in violation of the preferences of members. However, that is not always the case. If a member feels like leadership is truly acting unbiblically but cannot convince them of that, they should either trust the wisdom of that leadership, agree to disagree, or worship at another congregation where they believe leadership is following the Scriptures.
    If that didn’t answer your question…let me know. I hope I hope I understood the question.

  7. In the context of your personal story, what would type-1 criticism have looked like? If an interested person (HOCC member, elder in another Metroplex congregation, etc.) had a heartfelt, Scripture-based concern, what would you consider to be an acceptable way of conveying that criticism? Knowing the right way to do type-1 criticism strikes me as important, along with avoiding type-2 criticism.