By Mark Kelly
One of the first lessons a leader learns is that you can’t please everybody. The next lesson is that some people can’t be pleased at all. Unfortunately, that’s as true in churches as it is anywhere.
Even Jesus – the perfect leader – had critics who couldn’t be satisfied. He said they were like children who wanted to tell everyone else how to play. They criticized John the Baptist for not eating and drinking, then turned around and criticized Jesus because he ate and drank! (Matthew 11:16-19 NLT)
If the Son of God himself had critics who couldn’t be satisfied, what can any of us expect? And when a pastor like Rick Warren finds himself in an international spotlight, it’s inevitable some will criticize.
Our general policy about criticism is that God has given us more important things to do than worrying about what others are saying. We believe our time is better invested fulfilling God’s purposes for our lives than trying to persuade people who already have made up their minds to not like us. We are firmly convinced that our lives should reflect the grace of God, even when someone else is being less than gracious toward us.
Once in a while, however, we hear a criticism that is hard to ignore because it is so outrageous.
A rumor like that is circulating now, accusing Pastor Rick of lying about membership numbers at Saddleback Church. It seems one fellow thought he saw a discrepancy between reports about the church’s membership and Pastor Rick’s testimony about how God used Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ to bring about 3,000 new people into our weekend services.
Had he bothered to contact us, we could have cleared up the misunderstanding before he published an untrue accusation.
When Pastor Rick said 3,000 new people started attending Saddleback because of the Passion outreach, he was talking about the period of time in which the outreach was being conducted. He was not claiming average attendance for the year increased by 3,000. If a Christian journalist thinks he sees a discrepancy between the numbers, why does he leap to the conclusion that we are lying, rather than bring the discrepancy to us and ask for clarification? Even an unsaved secular reporter would do that much.
He also accused Pastor Rick of misstating numbers regarding how many Gen-Xers are on the church rolls. What he didn’t understand is that Rick was talking about how many young adults are at least occasional attenders, not how many are official members. While Saddleback has about 22,800 active members, it has more than 112,000 names in the category of “unchurched occasional attenders.”
It’s easy to see how someone could come to the wrong conclusion if he doesn’t know us, doesn’t realize he is comparing apples to oranges, and doesn’t contact us to see if he has misunderstood. You have to wonder about the professional standards of a journalist who doesn’t bother to contact the subject of a critical story before publishing the article.
We won’t even go into his misrepresentations about the church’s doctrine and approach to ministry ... or the irrelevance of his anecdote about the pastor who thought his Passion outreach was a failure ... or the fact that his “facts” don’t begin to support the cosmic conclusion to which he leaps.
Jesus’ reply to his implacable critics was that “wisdom is shown to be right by what results from it.” (Matthew 11:19 NLT) Paul added that you can tell a lot about someone’s spirit by looking at what his life produces. He said God’s spirit produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” On the other hand, he said, the sinful nature produces “hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, [and] the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group.” (Galatians 5:19-23 NLT)
For our part, we will never criticize what God is blessing, regardless of whether we are comfortable with the style of someone else’s ministry. Pastor Rick reminds us that we are all trophies of God’s grace – and that it’s amazing how often God blesses people we disagree with!
An excellent commentary:
Do Pastors Exaggerate Attendance Figures?
Notice: This article was revised on Feb. 26, 2007. Two sentences in paragraph 8 were removed because they were in error. They were replaced with the two sentences that now end the paragraph.