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criticism eldership hypercriticism leaders leadership Uncategorized

Armchair Elders

Neal Pollard

He shouts at his TV with a mouthful of Cheetos. “I can’t believe you! Four receivers downfield and you throw it behind the line of scrimmage to a man who’s double covered! You’re pathetic. Must be nice to get millions of dollars to make awful decisions. Where do I sign?” After several additional one-sided conversations with the TV, Mr. Potato (first name: “Couch,” aka “Armchair Arnie”) dusts crumbs off his potbelly with those trademark orange fingertips and limps into the kitchen, stiff from sitting three hours, to get another snack before the second half of the NFL doubleheader.

Water cooler wide receivers. La-Z boy linebackers. The game’s true experts do not prowl the sidelines with headsets, nor do they actually suit up, strap on, and sweat it out. The guys with all the answers are the ones who would crumble with fear if placed on the same field with the athletes they so roundly criticize for bungling with the ball.

I have observed that the same temptation can occasionally strike some with regard to elders. Whether it be their judgment or painstaking decisions, their handling of a member’s problems or needs, or their overall “job performance,” elders get taken to task more often than they realize by pew chair presbyters. They may criticize elders for what they did or for their failure to act, for being too strict or too lenient, for showing favoritism or trying to please everyone, for being too conservative or too liberal–all with the regard to a single action taken or decision made.

There is a striking similarity to the “armchair quarterbacking” done by unfit, unqualified spectators at sporting events. Those who can’t are apt to criticize those that can and do. It is far easier to question and condemn the actions taken by elders without the benefit (and angst) of wrangling with problems and decisions oneself. How we can eloquently outline the plan of action we would take absent the pressure and responsibility of being in the position.

Let’s pray more for our elders and pass judgment less! Let’s support them with might, not scrutinize them under a microscope. They need our cooperation and submission (Heb. 13:17). They could do with less backbiting and murmuring (cf. 1 Co. 10:10).

That’s not to say that elders are beyond reproach and rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20). Occasionally, an elder or eldership may be deserving of question–particularly in the area of doctrine or their personal qualification. As a longtime Falcons fan, I had to endure the likes of Scott Hunter, Pat Sullivan, and June Jones! They were terrible quarterbacks, though much better than I could ever have been. Elders will answer directly to Christ for their shepherding of the local flock. We, as embers, will also answer for how we cooperated with and supported them. Let’s all resolve to get out of the chair and join them on the field (cf. John 4:35)!

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Categories
church church (nature) church function church growth church of Christ church organization Uncategorized

Is The Church Broken?

Neal Pollard

You hear comments in Bible classes that amount to what’s wrong with the church, what we’re doing wrong, what we’re not doing, and what it’s doing to us, our children, and the world. You read people’s minds through their social media rants, raves, and ramblings, and the bottom line message is that the church is inept, irrelevant, irresponsible, or, worse, insidious. To hear some tell it, the church is not only unhelpful, but actually hurtful.  I know that we can be prone to say things out of hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness, but the words themselves are no less potent even if influenced by such emotions.

Is the contention, as one Christian sister put it, that “the church is broken,” true? Another way to put that is, “Are elders, preachers, deacons, Bible class teachers, and every other Christian broken?” Perhaps we impersonalize it and overly-institutionalize it with a nameless, faceless designation of “church.” But the church is, as we were taught as children, “the people.” People who are prone to say the right thing at the wrong time, the wrong thing at the right time, and, sadly, the wrong thing at the wrong time. We disappoint, we mishandle, we poorly execute, we unfairly judge and criticize, and we simply blow it. That is definitely not an excuse or a permission slip for bad behavior. Yet, it is not likely to ever change.

Because the church is made up of sinners saved by grace, the church is broken. We who are quick to condemn the church as broken need to face that we ourselves, as those placed by Christ into that church when we were saved, are broken, too. Show me the perfect person who never mishandles a situation, never sins with tongue, attitude, or deed, and I’ll show you someone who will stand before Christ at the Judgment saved on the basis of their own merit and goodness. That won’t happen.

Let’s be reminded of what the church is.  It is the precious, beloved bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-25; Rev. 19:7; 21:2). It is that institution purchased by His very life’s blood (Acts 20:28). It is that which was thought up by God from the eternity before time as is the expression of His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:9-11). It is the place where Christ is glorified (Eph. 3:21; 5:27). It is the present the Son will present to His Father when time is no more (1 Cor. 15:24). It is that and truly so much more.

God designed the church. Reckless criticism of it is reckless criticism of Him. All of us should be determined to improve in every area of our spiritual lives, to be for others what we need to be, to conquer faults and sins in our lives. We should also extend to others the grace we intensely desire to receive when we stand before the King at the last day! Yes, the church is broken, but not in the sense that it cannot help, serve, minister, love, and encourage. Let each of us strive to be the church we want the church to be. Model and exemplify it. Emit the fragrance of Christ. That way, the broken church can help mend the broken lives that make it up.

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Categories
authority criticism hypercriticism hypocrisy inconsistency standards Uncategorized

WISDOM IS VINDICATED BY ALL HER CHILDREN

Neal Pollard

There was an old joke or riddle that went, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” How would a man respond? If he said “no,” it was tantamount to confessing to being a wife beater. If he said “yes,” it suggested that he was a former wife-beater. Either way, the conundrum had him struck.  Have you ever had someone try to place you into such a bind?

It has been said that the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. If you are striving to serve Christ and fulfill your purpose as a Christian, there is at least some likelihood that you will be opposed and even accused in some way. Jesus discusses that very matter in Luke seven. He’s teaching His disciples and compares His generation to children who criticize no matter what a person does—some criticizing people for being too somber, others criticizing people for being too festive. Jesus uses that illustration to speak of how God’s enemies criticized John the Baptist and then Himself. The criticism revealed that if John had acted like Jesus and Jesus had acted like John, the critics would still have been dissatisfied.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus did not give us a manual for handling labeling, libelous critics? He does not say to write books or articles, preach sermons, get on TV or the radio, and the like, spending the precious resources of time, money, and influence countering the charges of those who are seemingly not content unless they can bully or intimidate their prey into conforming to the gospel according to them—the arbitrary standard for others they have created and uphold.

Here is Jesus’ summation: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”  What does that mean? Look at the offspring of the teaching. What is the result of Jesus’ ministry? People are taught the truth, led to live the way God wants, and are pointed to the narrow way. Criticisms notwithstanding, that’s the fruit.  Speaking of which, Jesus also uses that analogy in the sermon on the mount. He begins and ends the analogy with the idea that “you will know them by their fruits” (Mat. 7:16,20).  But, this is a fair test for everyone.

What is the fruit of the hypercritical attacker? Not only ask if what they teach is technically true, but do they meet the tests of honesty, consistency, kindness, fairness, and love. Do they demonstrate the spirit of Christ, bear the fruit of the Spirit, demonstrate the Christian graces, fulfill the inspired definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, act like the new man, and the like? So often, we do not stop to inspect the inspector. Whether we do or not, the Lord will inspect the work of us all at the end.

Each of us must focus on pleasing God and being absolutely sure that we are submitting to His authority and obeying His will. The standard of judgment at the last day will not be the man-made rules of even the potshot-takers, but instead the words of Christ (John 12:48). Let us be careful to grow in our knowledge of His will each day so we can discern between divine expectations and human regulations. At the end, what we should desire is heavenly vindication. The rest will ultimately take care of itself.

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Categories
correction discipline rebuke Uncategorized

Rebuke Requires Relationship

Neal Pollard

  • A child scolded by an austere stranger may get frightened or bullied, but not persuaded or “reached.” A parent, grandparent, a sibling, or good friend will be much more effective.
  • A church member reprimanded by an aloof elder with none of the skill and instincts of a shepherd will get offended, hurt, and angered, but will likely ignore the admonition. A caring, involved elder, even if what he says is difficult and narrow, will prove much more effective. Jesus makes this clear in John 10:5.
  • A preacher who isolates himself from the members, though golden-tongued and 100% right, will cause rankling and roiling rather than remorse and repentance when dealing with sensitive, “hard” subjects. Yet, a man people know cares about them will be given a hearing on even “hot button” matters delivered in loving conviction. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 makes this clear.
  • A brother or sister bringing a criticism or dispensing blunt advice, who has done nothing to establish rapport and relationship with the object of their censure, will have zero impact for good and most likely widen the distance already existent between them. Galatians 6:1-2 implies one who has worn the yoke with the one approached about the trespass.
  • A “Facebook friend” or social media connection, who does a drive-by, verbal “shooting,” devoid of real life connection and bond, is seen as an obnoxious oaf at best and more likely as an impertinent intruder. That forum is not typically going to work for effective exhortation, especially if the dressing-down comes from one who has established no meaningful link. Remember, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). That’s a real friend; not a virtual one.
  • A neighbor who has taken no time to be a friend or neighborly delivers hollow requests, suggestions, or demands. Without benefit of time and shared experience, this is received as bad manners and bad form. One who takes the time to demonstrate care will be much better heard (cf. Prov. 11:12).
  • A co-worker or schoolmate will be unpersuaded by someone who makes no time for them or takes no time to get to know them but who gets in their business is wasting their time. But, one who proves genuine concern will much more likely get a thoughtful hearing.

It’s just the way we are. We bristle at cold, heartless interference from the seemingly disinterested party. But we are open and receptive to people who take the time to get to know, understand, and care about us. The same thing said the same way will make a big difference, depending on the presence or absence of a relationship. We would do well to strive to build more and better relationships, especially if we desire to help people grow closer to Christ and go to heaven. May we first work on the connection before we attempt the correction.

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