During my years as a pastor I once found myself in a situation in which I had to ask someone to leave the church. I can still remember that conversation in which I suggested that it would be best for all involved if the person simply found a new church to attend. He didn’t take it well which left me in the position of wondering if I had made the right decision in asking him to leave. Looking back I believe that the decision was the correct one but at the time I replayed it over and over again in my mind wondering if I was doing the right thing.
I later found out the he had talked with other people and that my reputation in the town had taken a fairly serious hit. In some circles I was known as the person who kicked people out of their church. It gave me a strange feeling to walk down the street knowing that some people were looking at me in less than a friendly way.
The larger the church; the greater the risk
During the recent hurricane in Houston, Pastor Joel Osteen was criticized because during the first few days of the flooding the church doors were closed. Up until the events in Houston I didn’t know anything about Pastor Osteen. Looking on the internet I discovered that his church meets in what was the Compaq Center, the old home of the Houston Rockets basketball team. The church seats more than 15,000 people and is 606,000 square feet in size. More than 50,000 people attend the church with some regularity. When they took over the building they did a $75 million dollar renovation.
I share all of those statistics to say that the church is large. Actually to call it large is probably inaccurate. It calls for words like “huge” or “gigantic” if we are going to give it its due. It is one large church.
I really don’t know if the criticism was justified. Osteen explained their reason for not opening their doors earlier and my feeling is that those reasons were probably valid. The sad part is that many people didn’t wait to hear the reasons. They simply went on social media and criticized.
It is easy to look at a large church with a little envy. They have the people, the finances, the leaders to do pretty much whatever they would like to do but with the size comes some risk.
There were probably hundreds of small churches across the city of Houston that didn’t open their doors. They probably had valid reasons why they weren’t able to do so as well but the fact remains that their doors remained shut. No one is criticizing them. They are flying under the radar and going unnoticed.
In situations like this the larger the church the greater the chance that it will be criticized. I don’t imagine that anyone attending that church has enjoyed hearing about their church failures in the media or seeing scores of people attacking them on social media but one of the sad realities of life is that the larger the church, the greater the risk.
I want to close with two thoughts. The first is that if you are a leader in a small church take a few minutes to thank God that you don’t face the scrutiny that large church leaders face. There are not people hanging on your every word for the purpose of criticizing what you say and do. It had to be difficult enough for Joel Osteen to provide leadership in such a disastrous time without having scores of people critiquing his every move.
I was amazed at how fast the criticism went viral so that people all over the world were expressing themselves for and against what he was doing. I do not have to live with that kind of public focus and for that I am thankful.
Second, James in his letter to Jewish Christians gives the direction that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. I think that that piece of wisdom is needed more today than ever. With the ability to respond instantly to criticism of leaders, it is important that we all take a deep breath and tell ourselves that we are going to wait until we have all the facts before we respond.
A simple guideline might be that if what we read on line is negative, we will wait at least a couple of days before we respond. Ideally we will do some research during those couple of days so that we are sure that what we read is true. God will ultimately hold us responsible not only for what we say but for what we send electronically as well.