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Why Members Have No Business Criticizing Their Church

Why Members Have No Business Criticizing Their Church

Punk guy looking at himself in a shattered mirror in the city streets

“I didn’t like that sermon on Sunday.  Seems like I’m not being fed much these days.”

“So many of our friends are no longer attending.  It doesn’t feel the same here anymore.”

“I wish they would play more of the old hymns.  Have you noticed the music is a little louder now?”

“Did you hear they’re talking about moving service times up a ½ hour?  Not sure that’s going to work for us.”

“I’m not sure I’m a big fan of the new associate pastor.  He hardly said a word to me when I met him last week.”

“Seems like we’re going a new direction with all these changes.  I like how it used to be.”

We’ve all heard comments like those from fellow church members.  Most of us have even said a couple of them at some point in our years at church.

We talked last week about the danger of criticizing those outside the church.  Casting verbal stones at the world reflects a misunderstanding of our role as the living, breathing church.  The Great Commission calls us to help rescue “sinners”, pursuing rather than distancing ourselves from those who don’t know the Lord.  Likewise, criticizing our own church also makes little sense.  It reflects a similar misunderstanding.  Read those quotes again.  Clearly, they mistakenly define church as an institution – the pastors, staff and buildings.  Yet members ARE the church, so complaining about church is an oxymoron.

Customers have every right to criticize a company.  The company is defined as the executives, employees, buildings and other assets.  Customers are “outsiders”, expecting quality products and customer service – anything short of that warrants complaints.  However, every pastor knows that members shouldn’t be customers of the church – they are “insiders”.  When members make those comments above, they’re providing further evidence of our core contention in this blog series – that churchgoers have come to see themselves as “consumers” of church and not the embodiment of it.

In short, members can’t judge the “church” without accusing themselves… 

Look in the Mirror

Ending criticism at your church requires a wholesale shift to the proper definition of the church’s “customer”.  When church members truly see themselves as the “church”, they instantly stop evaluating church in terms of what “it” does for them.  The “it” is them.  The question instead becomes what they (as the church) can do for the Lord.  Rather than evaluating the pastors, staff, services and facilities, members should be evaluating themselves.  Are they living up to the standard set for those commissioned to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ with their true “customer” – the lost in Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth?

“Do not judge others lest you be judged” and “remove the log from your own eye” take on new meaning when applied to our personal responsibilities as church members.  Criticizing “sinners” (outside the church) when we’re living in a glass house is not much different than criticizing our church when WE are the church.  Churchgoers wouldn’t feel at liberty to criticize those inside or outside the church if they better understood the role they’re intended to play between Sundays – as the only connection to “church” those “sinners” are going to have.  How well are we doing at that? 

We should each take a close look in the mirror first.  We won’t be looking for things to criticize if our minds are on our own responsibilities as the “church” rather the responsibilities of others.  For example, we expect to be “fed” during church services and if we’re not fed well, then we complain.  However, maybe viewing pastors as “church” (rather than ourselves) has shifted an undue amount of responsibility onto them to “feed” us.  If we better understood that we’re the church, we would take greater responsibility for feeding ourselves.  Have members largely abdicated their intended roles as “church” to pastors because it’s easier to sit back and enjoy the service – and then criticize church leaders if we don’t.  Powerful Christians aren’t built by sermons and small groups alone – it takes a great deal of personal Bible Study, prayer and discipleship.  Church “consumers” never become Powerful Christians – they remain Passive, Pensive or Private.

How Church Leaders (Unwittingly) Invite Criticism

Ironically, it’s church leaders who made churchgoers feel they have the right to criticize them.  Pastors and staff have conditioned members and attenders to evaluate how well the pastor is preaching, how the music sounds, how the political landscape of the church has shifted, and why leadership doesn’t recognize all they’ve done for the church by…

  • Rather than treating them as“insiders” (like employees of a company) charged with living out the Great Commission, they treat members like “outsiders”, hoping they will keep coming back
  • Failing to shift the mindsets of members outward toward their true “customer” – allowing them to continue to focus on their own needs versus those of the hurting and hopeless
  • Saying “you are all ministers” yet not adequately challenging, equipping or providing opportunities for them to minister to those around them
  • Not modeling compassion, service and relentless pursuit of the lost in the community

Sometimes pastors find it easier to take the criticism and try to make changes to appease than to shift the conversation back onto the intended role and responsibilities of the complainer.  It’s particularly scary to tell someone from an influential family or a patriarch of the church who brings up a minor issue to be more concerned with important matters like using that influence to reach more people for Christ.

How to End the Criticism

Implement these 7 strategies:

  1. Discipleship – Change the hearts and minds of your congregation about their role and responsibilities through personal discipleship. Once discipleship convinces them that they ARE church, they’ll stop looking for things to criticize.
  2. Replacement Strategy – Telling someone to stop thinking about a pink polka dotted elephant doesn’t work. Instead, we have to replace thoughts with something else.  To stop churchgoers from evaluating the church, get them to start evaluating their own effectiveness as the church personified.
  3. Redefine the “Customer” – Redirect the congregation’s attention to the dire need to reach the lost with the gospel, taking their focus off of how their needs are being met.
  4. Mobilize the “Troops” – Show churchgoers opportunities to serve as Jesus did, fighting a “ground war” with love and compassion as His first-strike artillery. Consider using Meet The Need to connect with local charities and empower local missions teams.
  5. Boldly Challenge Members – Churches are primarily gatherings of believers so don’t lose sight of the need to challenge believers in order to accommodate non-believers.  Instead, equip believers to reach non-believers on their own turf, which is primarily outside the “4 walls” of a church building.
  6. Model External Focus – Pastors can’t force anyone’s thinking to shift but they can certainly model behaviors they want members to imitate.  Begin spending more time and budget on activities to serve “outsiders” and “insiders” may follow suit.
  7. Speak Honestly about What’s OK to Criticize – Church leaders should be held accountable for how they conduct themselves and their ministry (e.g. humility, doctrines they teach, not showing favoritism, and staying true to the vision God gave them).

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that most criticisms of churches are clear signs that members don’t see themselves as the church?  Why or why not?


5 Responses

  1. Jim, starting with discipleship is wise. It sets the Word of God as our common foundation and focuse us (disciple-maker and disciplee) on being transformed into the image of Christ. The traditions and systems of a congregation, denomination or association are wine skins that can be changed … and as culture changes, must be changed.
    Disciplemaking is about guiding and guarding Christ-followers deeper and wiser into Jesus not the formulaic outlines of a fill-in-the-blank curriculum.
    That is what the Discipjeshio.Network learning community is exploring .

  2. I enjoyed reading the many fine points you made here. I would add that part of understanding the consumeristic mindset is to understand the ecclesiology of the local body and the history of its parent organization. Some denominations are set up in a way that sets a very high bar in determining who is “qualified” to minister. Additionally, governance structures can date back 100-150 years or more. Certainly the individual must take responsibility for their own ministry but their understanding of that responsibility is shaped, in part, by what they have been taught and experienced.

    Second, local churches are often viewed as an institutions because in many cases they are structured and act that way. On average the greatest portion of a church’s budget goes to building and to staff costs. Some of this directly impacts ministry and some of it is indirect at best.

    Perhaps the question we need to ask in addition to what you wrote is, “how do we need to reshape our ecclesiology in order to help people to see themselves as the church?”


  3. I wince when I read articles that suggest that members should never complain or criticize. Surely you are not suggesting that there is never a reason to think critically about one’s own church. Having served on a church staff as well as been a faithful member I’ve been criticized and been critical myself. Churches can’t help but be imperfect since they are, in essence, just flawed imperfect people who are seeking to follow Jesus the best they can. But being mutually accountable is part of the deal – it is our “business” to use the term in the article.
    I believe that there are issues within one’s own church that sometimes warrant criticism. When we start to notice ongoing Biblical errors in the teaching and preaching, we’d better speak up. When we become aware of moral failures among those in leadership, we’d better speak up. I could go on, but certainly you get what I’m saying. The examples cited in the article seem minor and even petty – but please do not suggest that we should turn a blind eye and never criticize what’s happening in our own church. I guess what I’m saying is that the article makes excellent points on many levels, but I really do not like the title.

  4. awsome intro… goosbumps.. then BAM!!!! “some guy pipes in with 2 cents”killed the goosbumps and away goes the impact of the intro…. : (should’v known. good &#r826;walkth2ough᾵. thnx for uploading.

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