Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Call to Seek Understanding in 2010

I have been overwhelmed over the last few years by certain hateful outbursts from Christians - normally aimed toward other Christians. I had been toying with the idea of responding to all of my "hate mail" publicly in 2010 on this blog. I have decided not to, assuming it wouldn't really help what seems to be the primary problem with all of us - an instinct to react before trying to understand the position of the other person.

Today is my first day in the office since Christmas and I was greeted with a rather self-righteous letter regarding three words that were spoken during the Vineyard Christmas Show. In the letter I was told to "quit being so controversial." (You'd never guess the three offensive words, so don't even try - They weren't even said by me.) My response to that is that I have indeed quit trying to be controversial to the best of my ability and maturity. When I was younger I did things for the sake of controversy. Young people do that. They overreact. Now that I am less young, I do things for specific reasons. It seems to me a dialogue about the reasons why someone did something offensive to you would be more beneficial than shooting a stranger a letter, email, or far worse - a publicly viewed comment on a social media site. It is bad when Christians argue without seeking understanding in private. It is anti-missional and self-destructive when it happens in a public forum. We come off as arrogant and ignorant. And most people know enough about Jesus to know that we are being hypocritical when we do so.

A month back I was publicly criticized on Facebook for taking a vacation. The argument went that as a pastor I should not make enough money to take the sort of vacation I took. This may be a fair argument, but it is not fair to do it publicly. Had the person personally contacted me I would have offered my W-2 statements, receipts for my vacation expenses and the reasons why Debbie and I take a trip like this every five years without the kids. After seeing the numbers, that person could (still rather subjectively) decide if I am overpaid. If after that dialogue the person convinced me that I was in truth being overpaid as a pastor, I would take a pay cut. I have done this before for the sake of the mission of organizations I believe in. I'd do it again. Alas, none of this could be discussed because there was no attempt to understand. The reaction was to publicly malign.

I have advocated Facebook and Twitter for the church. They can be useful tools to promote community. Our problem comes when we begin to believe that the person we are relating with online is some avatar living within our computer. Life is not a game. People matter. Matthew 18 and Paul's one another commands apply on Facebook as much as in "real life."

I'm going to commit to seek to understand before seeking to be understood in 2010. I'd love for you to join me.


Jonathan said...

Joe, I couldn't agree more. Thanks for the insight... JB

Steve Fuller said...

Critics are boring.

Jon said...

Ignorance is the root of all evil.

I'd bet the person was from Iceland and they don't really have a trampoline. I knew that Brad was a liar.

Thomas said...

Thanks for the note Joe it helps me to discard romantic notions about what it would be like to have your job. I promise not to try to talk you out of any vacations if you promise not to try to talk me into a publicly visible ministry job.

LuvIsAllUneed said...

Controversial, is entirely relative to an individual's opinion or view. In these situations all you can do is acknowledge someone's difference in opinion and pray about it.
As Christians, we struggle with how to react, or not react, in certain situations because we are concerned with how our reaction will be perceived by the World. We do not want to dishonor our FATHER in any way or be the reason for leading someone down the wrong path. All we can do is pray about it and ask God for guideance and insight.
Your reaction is Bible based, and a great teaching opportunity.
Thanks for the lesson.

Sandy Maudlin said...

Someone once told me that in a short time, people forget about the critic and what was said but WILL remember the art - whether the art is storytelling, music, painting, etc. In 50 years, NO ONE will remember the critic but the art will remain!

You are wise way beyond your years.

Daniel Kalbach said...

Negativity is an enticing place to settle in. I'm trying to drive past that neighborhood in 2010.

Robb said...

joe, love your words. keep using that "balaam's ass" line. i know that was the root of the controversy.
happy new year.


photogr said...

When one is in a public or open position of leadership, one tends to be put in a glass house for all to view their actions.

Should it not be of a particular persons ideaology, that person feels justified in their criticism no matter how unjust the criticism was, is, or pure folly for the sake of criticising.

One should not offer a critique until one walks in in that persons shoes.

Doing a good job Joe.Not everone is a critic or so judgemental.

Didn't the scriptures say judging others is a sin?

photogr said...

Ok I am back!

I was pondering the issue about your vacation time and salary where one openly critisized you on face book.

Most major corporations and Churches I imagine award the employees with substanital vacation time. Usually it is in the time frame of 2 to 6 weeks a year for the long term employees "with pay". Most major corporations or Churches also award employees with salary increases over the years who meet productivity goals. That makes sense doesn't it?

So if you choose to take a lengthy vacation it should not be any other persons business nor should they have the right to critisize the one taking vacations no matter what one's salary is.

Many people I know save up for vacations over a year or so and are quite frugal. Sorry I am not one of those types ( frugal). My brother in law and his wife who is a minister in Florida saves up for yearly cruises to the tropics for relaxation. Nothing wrong with that is it?

What one makes is a private and personal issue not to be open records for others to evaluate or to be a critic about it. Perhaps they have too much non productive time on their hands. Perhaps they are not a true Christian being judgemental as they are. I can't judge them as it is not my postion to do so but I think I just did any way. My bad.

Quite frankly Joe I don't think you should have even recognized their comments. What will happen is you will start to spend too much wasted time defending your self against such attacks and not doing the work God has led you to do.

And that is you being you leading souls to Christ.

Mo said...

Ha - Robb, love it, will never ever forget that either.

Joe, boy do I get it all too well. Did you know I should never take any sort of vacation? What, go to the movies? Eat out? Who's paying for that? Well, it's all God's money. Doesn't matter who is writing the check, it's all His. But I'm not writing to get up on that soap box again. Instead, I wanted to say that I'm in. I am going to seek to understand before seeking to be understood in 2010. Man do I miss you!

Denise said...

Great insights, Joe!
It's a shame to think that people feel they have the "right" to judge a pastor for being....well, a person--what God created him to be. Would the person who felt you shouldn't take a vacation with your wife, like it one iota if someone told him the same thing? I doubt it.
Thanks for all you do for our church. LOVE your sermons! Your candor and sense of humor speak to me. Keep up the good work!
Oh....and it's quite commendable that you wish to attempt to understand where others are coming from. But don't "expect" to be understood in return. Not too many artistic people are, you know!

Anonymity said...

I love that you have brought this "dirty little secret" within the Christian community out into the open. The church is full of misinformed, unkind, judgmental people.

Without getting into specifics, I was a leader in my home church and once had other Christians praying for my soul because I have tattoos and earrings. One of them finally said, "Well as long as you had those before you were save then they are ok."

I have found that Christians forget their roots. They forget that the day before the met Jesus they were sinners, sinners like the people they tend to judge and hate.

If we really believe this, really believe that Jesus died to give us this gift of life, that we can do absolutely nothing to receive it, that it is the ONLY way to have a relationship with our creator, then we will live different. We will get off our high horse and LOVE others.

And to all those that think your pastors should not get paid enough to vacation, what about the sabbath? God wants, even commands us to rest.

Rest Joe, rest.