Children are often told “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” This piece of advice is good to follow most of the time, but there are occasions where saying something not nice (i.e. negative) is not only appropriate but maybe even a little necessary. This includes conversation about the church.
It seems that Facebook has become the go-to place to talk about everything, including the church. There have been a few occasions this year that I’ve watched Christian friends write personally, or share articles about how the church could be doing this or that better. These posts are often accompanied by fair number of “amens” and a lot of “oh no’s”.
For some, publically talking about the actions, or lack there-of, of other Christians is absolutely inappropriate. The most common reasoning for it being inappropriate? Something having to do with why the church airing its dirty laundry online will result in us pushing people away from Christ.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit torn over this whole thing. On one hand I don’t think we ought to go around highlighting the flaws of others, or the bride of Christ to the internet. On the other hand, honesty and transparency are extremely important, especially in the church.
I’m not saying we should hang our dirty laundry out for the entire world to see, but we need to realize that it’s not just okay, but necessary to talk about our flaws.
Why We Need to Admit Our Flaws
For whatever reason we tend to think that Christians ought never speak about the wrongdoings of other Christians. It’s almost as if we believe that the church is exempt from examination. This is very wrong. It’s religious examination that led to both the Reformation and Restoration movements, movements that we owe a lot to. For those movements to happen, people had to critically evaluate the churches they were in. They looked for flaws and sought ways to correct them.
Whenever I hear the defense that we’re not supposed to air our dirty laundry because it pushes people away I think about Paul, you know, the guy who regularly told people about his horrible past (1 Tim. 1:13; Acts 8:1). Paul constantly talked about flaws, both of his own and of others. The letters of the New Testament were sent to a church, read aloud, copied, and then passed on to other churches. This gets a little interesting when you consider the fact that Peter is called out for being a racist in Galatians (see Gal. 2:11-14), Euodia and Synthyche are shamed for their arguing in Philippians (see Phil. 4:1-2), and the Corinthians are rebuked for suing each other, sexual promiscuity, selfishness, hatred, faithlessness, etc. (see all of 1 Corinthians).
The flaws of these Christians were laid bare for any and all to read, and yet the church grew throughout the New Testament. If it’s true that discussing our flaws hurts the growth of the church than why did the church grow exponentially when they faced both persecution from without and severe correction from within? They grew because honesty, openness, and transparency create relatability and relatability creates growth.
Why is it necessary to admit that the church is made up of flawed people who do bad things sometimes? Because we can’t rightly claim to be saved from sin if we never tell people about our sin problem. It’s necessary to admit we make mistakes because the world believes we think we’re “better than everyone else”. You know why they think that? They think that way because we haven’t exposed our human frailties to them. We’re not fooling the world when we project only our good side to them. They know we are sinners as bad as they are, they just want us to admit it. We don’t. Instead we keep our flaws silent and act surprised when we (the people who portray a flawless persona) are rejected by those we talk to about their horrible sin. People need a connection, a relationship, before they’ll change and we shut the door on that relationship by refusing to be open and honest about our flaws.
Church, we need to talk about our mistakes. Our mistakes are what make Christ so grand! God saw all the twisted things that men do and decided to send His Son to remedy that. It’s one thing to say “Jesus saves”, it’s another to show people in the world how He is daily saving you from your anger, your addiction, and your temptations.
When we are open about our brokenness it allows us to form relationships with the other broken people on this planet, and it shows those people the incredible saving power of God. We need to talk about our flaws because it makes us relatable and it makes Jesus important.
What Needs to Accompany Our Negative Discussion
Talking about our flaws may make us relatable but we shouldn’t be negative for negativity’s sake. At the beginning of this article I mentioned that there have been several people I’m friends with on Facebook that have shared or written personally about flaws they see in the church. Oftentimes, those flaws aren’t accompanied with anything other than a rant; this is NOT how we ought to approach problems.
Bad elders, dishonest ministers, and horrible Christians exist, we know it and the world knows it. The first step to fixing these things is by admitting that they exist, the second step is offering ways to improve the situation.
Think back to my comments about the Reformation and Restoration movements. The men who kick started these movements didn’t just say “here’s everything wrong with such-and-such church” and go home. These men said “here’s what’s wrong and here’s what we can do to fix it”. The same is true of the writings of Paul. In nearly every letter Paul writes he publically lists the sins and mistakes of the congregation he’s writing to, but he does so with the purpose of showing them (and the reader) how Christ is the solution to all of those things.
It’s easy to complain about what we think is wrong, but it’s harder to think of ways to fix those things that are wrong. It’s not wrong to say that the church could be more loving, but you better provide some ideas as to how we can get better at loving others. It’s not wrong to suggest that certain programs or ministries within our congregations aren’t very effective, but you better present some ideas for better programs or ministries.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with critically evaluating the church, the people that make up the church, the doctrines we believe, or the ministries we are involved in. I do believe however that there is something wrong with criticizing those things (i.e. exposing our flaws) and never suggesting things that are better or offering solutions to fix our problem.
I don’t think I’ve taken the popular position by saying that we need to talk about where we’re wrong or where we make mistakes. That being said, I appreciate all of you who have read to this point (whether you agree with me or not) and encourage you to post your thoughts in the comments below. Church, we need to be okay with admitting that we have flaws (everyone does) and always be looking for ways to fix those flaws. Flaws make us relatable, and talking about them ultimately makes us better as long as we discuss them while looking for solutions.