The Church has more than its share of critics these days.
Sometimes the criticism is unwarranted. People project their issues onto a congregation or onto the Church, which is never healthy.
And, of course, the Church will inevitably run into criticism.
What we’re doing is counter-cultural and will never be met with universal applause.
The Gospel, even when powerfully shared, resulted in the deaths of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, Jesus, and the prophets, just to name a few.
While it seems strange to say it, even love, when seen fully and magnificently, gets rejected.
But other times we absolutely deserve the criticism that comes our way.
Often these days, it seems, we’re not ridiculed or persecuted because we’re fighting nobly. Nope, sometimes we just shoot ourselves in the foot.
Here are 5 things that churches do that are not in the Bible that would help the church reach more people if we could just stop doing them.
Note: This article was updated and republished on March 11, 2023.
1. Being So Weird Online
Of course, the internet wasn’t around when the Bible was being written.
However, that doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t have any advice on how Christians should behave in public. And social media, in particular, is a new “public venue.”
Too many Christians come across online as:
- Toxic (Hello angry ranters, trolls, and haters), or
- Cynical (Yes, we know you’re disappointed with everyone all the time and no one gets it as right as you), or
- Syrupy (So sweet we can’t stand the taste and are not really sure you live in the real world)
Why do so many Christians think their social media feed is a place to show the world their weirdness?
It gives the impression that if you’re going to follow Jesus, you also need to become socially awkward.
I know people might say, “No, I’m just being authentic.” But being authentic does not mean being weird. (I shared my personal criteria for what I share online in the name of authenticity in this post).
I think a general rule of thumb is that if you can’t imagine saying it in real life to a person, you shouldn’t say it online.
If you go to post something and you think, “Well, that would be braggy if I said that to someone in person,” that’s a healthy check. It means you’d be bragging. So don’t post it.
Similarly, if you think, “Well, people would just walk out of the room if I said that in real life,” then maybe don’t say it.
If you’re always angry, cynical, or all you do is complain online and you think, “Well, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that in real life,” then that’s a clue that maybe you shouldn’t say it (or be like that).
And if you think, “Well, then I’ll have nothing to post,” then you’ve likely put your finger on a deeper issue.
Christians, let’s just stop being so weird online, okay?
Part of the weirdness is political.
The Jesus we meet in Scripture inhabited a real place in a real time. Between the governing Roman authorities, the religious institutions, and the zealot revolutionaries, Jesus deftly navigated a lot of fraught political situations steeped in tradition, power, and culture.
However, Jesus also refused to become a pawn in the political power plays of his day. He escaped easy categorization and challenged everyone’s partisan beliefs.
God is not a Republican or a Democrat, or (in the case of my home country, Canada), a Conservative, Liberal, or New Democrat. Nor is God an Independent.
God is God.
When your church becomes a mouthpiece for a political party, you cease to be the Church.
Your job is to share the Gospel, not to change the government.
As I shared in more detail here, Jesus and Paul spend surprisingly little time trying to influence the government. Jesus completely rejected the idea of becoming the government when people asked him to become their political leader.
I know some will say, “Well, God has opinions about things happening today.”
I’m sure He does.
But when authentic Christians sincerely hold different views on divisive topics, we should be very careful about speaking for God.
After all, when God happens to have all the same opinions you do, you’re probably not even worshipping God anymore.
You might be worshipping yourself.
3. Handling Conflict So Poorly
The Church should be the best in the world at handling conflict. We were taught by Jesus exactly how to do it (and a bulk of Paul’s letters to the early church explicitly deal with their poor conflict management skills).
Yet we often sidestep. We gossip. We talk about other people rather than to people.
We avoid conflict. Or we run into it like a bulldozer claiming we’re all about truth.
If we handled conflict humbly, gently, introspectively, and bravely, then we’d be so much better.
If we approached conflict with a more healthy perspective, our churches would be so much healthier (and attractive to outsiders).
And, perhaps best of all, a healthy church is a church that can help other people get healthier.
4. Ranking Sin Selectively
Christians have become fairly good at focusing on the moral failings of others while ignoring their own.
We pretend that the worst sin you can commit is sexual. And—don’t get me wrong—sexual sin has serious implications.
But so does gossip. And divisiveness. And quarreling—sins Christians routinely ignore. Mostly because we commit them.
I’d suggest that just as many congregations and reputations have been ruined by gossip, divisiveness, and quarreling as have been stained by sexual sin. But you’d never know it given the way we talk about sin.
I’m all for surrendering our sexuality to Christ. But I’m also all for submitting our propensity to gossip, our divisiveness, and our quarreling to Jesus and dealing with that seriously.
Imagine what the church might look like if that happened.
And we haven’t even touched gluttony or envy yet, all things with which Christians routinely self-medicate their pain.
Maybe if Christians humbly confessed their sins first, the world would be more likely to come to terms with their sins.
So, here’s an idea. Instead of pretending someone else’s sin is worse than your sin, confess your sin. And then deal with it.
You’ll be in such a better place if you do that. And so will they.
You might actually be able to help them through their own sin struggles.
5. Judging Outsiders
This is a pet peeve of mine.
As I outlined here, we in the modern church have largely ignored Paul’s injunction to stop judging non-Christians. Even Jesus said he didn’t come into the world to judge it, but to save it.
I completely get the urge to judge our neighbors and even the world. Things bother me too.
But I have to refrain. Our faith in Christ demands it.
Before ministry, I was a lawyer. In my first year of law, I remember having a crisis because I couldn’t imagine representing a client I believed might be guilty.
I stayed after class one day to talk to my criminal law professor about it. He assured me of a few things. First, if your client tells you he’s guilty, you can’t ethically enter a non-guilty plea.
That made me feel better.
But then he told me that almost every client says they’re not guilty.
I got nervous again.
“Well, what if you think he’s guilty, but he says he’s not? Doesn’t that put you in a horrible bind?”
I’ll never forget his answer.
“You’re confusing your role, Carey. You’re not the judge. You’re his lawyer. Your job is —ethically, morally, and legally—to give him the best day he can possibly have in court. The judge will decide whether he’s guilty or not.”
I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.
So…Christians, the world has a judge. And it’s not you.
He’s fairer than you. More just than you. More perfect than you. And far more accurate.
In the meantime, do your best to help reconcile your brothers and sister in the world to their heavenly father through Christ. That’s your job.
Take some comfort in that. And for all these reasons and more, stop judging.