Recently the church where I serve as Lead Pastor, CoastLife Church, was embroiled in somewhat of a controversy. What seemed to be a pretty solid marketing approach for our Easter Outreach Campaign became the topic of a local Facebook Page with over 20,000 followers. The controversy was over our Cross Equals Love signs that began to appear all over the city of Venice and the surrounding areas. We printed them and made them available for people to display in their yards or businesses. Those signs went everywhere. I swear that we received a multiplication miracle because I don’t remember having that many printed. When the Facebook Page posted about the signs twice, a few hundred people decided to weigh in. Some comments were very supportive, some were neutral, and some were highly critical. Some comments were direct to our church and were an attempt to outright bully us. The critical comments ranged from legitimate criticism about signs that were placed in prohibited areas to very hateful comments about our church and christians in general. I posted one official comment on behalf of our church and felt that it was informative and professional. As the conversation continued I wanted to post more comments. Comments that would refute insane accusations, comments to defend our church, and comments to defend the message of christianity. I resisted the urge and let the conversation eventually fizzle out. Finally, a brilliant idea hit me. Something that I loved and knew others would love as well. It would have been a popular post with my friends on social media, and it would have rallied our team that has been a vital part of this Easter campaign. With the brilliant post on my screen and ready to be sent to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram I hit the delete button. Why would I delete something that would have been popular and even would have been a morale boost for our team? Because I realized that the result of criticism had caused me to become what I never want to be, an issue oriented christian. When we posted signs, hung door hangers, and passed out Easter invite cards it came from the very pure heart of our church to remind people of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and invite them to celebrate with us at our Easter services. The deleted post, although brilliant even if I do say so myself, was not pure hearted. It wasn’t based on a desire to reach the unchurched or the dechurched. It wasn’t to invite people to a life giving, life changing church. It was to win an argument. It was divisive between christians and non christians, and it was out of my need to be right. So I hit the delete button. Here’s my prayer in response to criticism and my desire to never be an issue oriented christian arguing politics, doctrine, and just arguing for arguments sake.
1. I want to be pure hearted
I don’t mind criticism. If you do anything of significance it will be accompanied with criticism. However, whatever I do in my life and ministry I want it to come from a very pure place. My prayer is that all actions from my life and ministry would be out of a love for Jesus Christ and a love for the people that he died for. Motives matter.
2. I want to be loving and forgiving
If Jesus could love and forgive the very people that nailed him to a cross, surely I can hold my tongue on social media.
3. I don’t want to circle the wagons
When we circle our wagons, we close our doors. It’s tempting as believers to circle our wagons and become very defensive about our beliefs and way of life. It’s almost understandable to do so. However, the problem is that when we circle our wagons we close our doors to the very people who need our message the most. Jesus Christ is the stumbling block and the cross is the offense. If people are offending by the cross or stumble over Jesus being the only way of salvation, it is their decision to do so. My prayer is that I would never cause someone to stumble over me and my arguments before they ever have the chance to wrestle with the decision of whether or not to follow Jesus Christ. Sometimes when we are overly defensive we circle our wagons so tightly over small issues, we don’t allow people the chance to get to the real issue and that is Jesus died on a cross for their sins, and they can either receive or reject that act of mercy and grace.