Constructive Criticism

May 19th, 2011

The six years I spent as an urban youth worker really helped shape some of my views on how to do ministry. One thing I’ve become increasingly aware of is the fact that lots of churches in America have simply become “too safe”. Many congregations try to offer everything, demand nothing, and go out of their way to avoid offending anyone. And some of those congregations are successful at bringing in new members. But from my experience, feel-good Christianity is a major turn-off in the long run, especially for men.

Probably 95% of my own ministry has been to males. When I’m teaching faith principles, I use a lot of war and sports analogies and metaphors because I’ve found these to be especially effective when explaining spiritual concepts to guys. Most of the guys from my youth ministry in Austin were not impressed with pie-in-the-sky, “touchy-feely” Christianity. They responded better to real Christianity, warts and all. Church is family, but it looks more like Roseanne to them than Leave It to Beaver. And if we’re honest, we know that’s the way it is for us too.

When I’ve counseled or mentored others, I’ve discovered that one of the things people value most is honesty, even when it hurts. Life is full of critics and “yes men”, but very few people will give someone a balanced picture. For years, my spirit was troubled by all of the “trash talk” I encountered in urban youth culture. Even the Christian kids would say nasty stuff and put each other down. I tried everything I could to stop it, and mostly failed, even with my core group. Then I realized that this “confrontational boldness” could be redirected toward something more positive. After that, I encouraged the guys to be real with each other and share truth in love, and to use the thick skin they had developed from years of trading insults to gladly receive correction and instruction from other Christians. Most of us, frankly, are too easily offended when it comes to matters of faith. And we wonder why so many have become disillusioned with the Christian life.

The Bible makes clear that we shouldn’t be judging those outside the church. Other Christians, however, are a different matter altogether. But from my experience, people don’t receive correction well unless we’ve somehow earned the right to give it to them. (And even those encounters aren’t always without drama.) Unfortunately, some Christians avoid confrontation entirely because they don’t “have everything together” themselves. The key, however, isn’t to wait until we’re perfect, but to have our own accountability relationships where we can receive constructive criticism.


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