What do you see when you look at your church? What thoughts run through your mind when you ponder your experiences with church in general? If you would have asked me this question as a teen, I would replied with an eye roll and a list of grievances that may sound familiar if you also attended a highly traditional congregation. Service was too long, the music was too boring and if Jesus said come as you are, then why did I have to get dressed up?
Not only did I feel this way, but most of the other teens and kids felt the same. I know because we constantly talked about it, and even told our parents and leaders every chance we got. After all, we just wanted to make church better and it would be, if they made some changes … right?
My list of complaints, was nothing more than that: a list of complaints. Although I may have presented them as though I wanted to make church more enjoyable or relatable for others, my only concern was my own comfort. Beyond this my complaints were rooted only in my opinion and were voiced to everyone who would listen, but never spoken to God.
Like me, you may have at one time or another found yourself looking at the state of the church, either local or at large and expressing some level of discontentment with your perceptions. In these moments, as we are faced with the choice of whether to release the narratives we have built to others or to simply forget them, there is one question that we must ask ourselves: Am I complaining or am I critiquing? Here are two ways to tell and how to proceed once you know the answer.
Our local churches, congregations and fellowships are not mere gatherings. Nor should they be considered customizable experiences. When we come together in worship we are walking in line with Scripture (Hebrews 10:25). We are also living out a tangible representation of the spiritual truth: We are many members of one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). Our churches are microcosms of The Church, the universal collective of believers in Jesus, who make up the Body of Christ. When we talk about her, we should approach the conversation with that in mind. To complain about The Church is to complain about our Lord’s body.
That said, we must be ever so careful that the flaws and discontentment that we draw attention to within the Body are grounded in something more secure than our own perceptions. In order to properly evaluate anything, there must be a standard against which it is being measured. When it comes to critiquing the Church, the only appropriate measure for evaluating her is what the Word of God says, and not what we think should be. If the grievance is not rooted in Scripture than it is simply a complaint.
Growing up, when I complained that church was too long and that the music was too boring, I was only concerned with my own ability to enjoy the Sunday morning experience. I was not at all interested in how changing these things would impact the spiritual effectiveness of our congregation or how much glory God would or would not get out of us cutting something from our service schedule. Essentially, my motive was me.
My complaints were faultfinding, and not at all rooted in love. Love is not self-seeking. It takes every opportunity to serve and that means placing aside our preferences in support of what is best for the group (1 Corinthians 13).
When we voice grievances that are not rooted in scripture, and that only serve ourselves, we are a clanging symbol as we choose to operate without the love that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. It is in these moments, that we should challenge our hearts to careful examination, looking carefully for motives like selfishness, jealousy and resentment. Each of these can cause us to be more critical than normal and often manifest as false critique in the form of “Church would be better if …” The problem with better is that it is too subjective to be a helpful aspiration in this context.
When we complain about the Church, her leaders and her members we are demonstrating not only a misunderstanding of what a church is, but also a disrespect for Who the Church is.
With prayer and quietness of spirit, we must sincerely present our perceptions of the Church to God. As we seek Him for clarity and solutions concerning perceived problems, then and only then should we begin to voice our concerns to others. Critique by nature is meant to offer evaluation. When dealing in spiritual matters our temporal observations cannot even scratch the surface of measuring effectiveness. The Church is a spiritual force so only the Spirit of God can reveal to us how effective she actually is at accomplishing His purposes.
Once we are certain that our critiques are valid according to scripture, and pure according to motive, prayer still remains the best course of action. It is God and His Wisdom that will enlighten us on how to rectify issues within the Body of Christ.