I was on a high. I had just returned from a week of speaking engagements where God had really used me. I had prayed with women, and they had experienced some major breakthroughs. People had recommitted their lives to God. They had confessed sin in their lives. Several had come to Christ. And marriages had been turned around.
Then I came home and there was an email from a “concerned reader”. He had been reading through my blog posts, and felt that I wasn’t presenting Christ in a good light. His email was very thought out. It was even gracious. He was simply worried about my witness. He wanted to warn me.
It threw me through a loop. Do I present Christ in a bad light? Am I a bad ambassador for marriage?
After feeling rather depressed, and wondering again if I even have a right to speak, God spoke to me, and said, “Did you do what I asked you to do last week?” Yes. “Did I move?” Yes. “Then don’t allow someone else to derail what I have called you to do.” So I looked for any element of truth in his email and deleted it.
I see similar things on Facebook all the time. Someone asks for Christian encouragement, and a virtual stranger will give a pat “you’re not praying enough” answer. Or they will say, “I need to warn you, in Christian love, that you are guilty of pride here” or, “I need to warn you that you are going off track.”
That’s how discouragement is often couched: “I need to warn you…” “I’m just concerned…” “I’m worried about you….”
And how does this “concern”, or this “worry”, affect the person?
It usually makes them feel lousy.
So let me ask you: Does God usually make you feel lousy? If not, then likely that “concern” wasn’t from God either.
Don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe that we should be holding others to account. I firmly believe that when we see someone that we know and love going off track, that we are to warn that person. But the key is that we should warn SOMEONE WE KNOW AND LOVE, not just someone we THINK we know because we know them online, or because we know them a little bit in church.
Think about it this way: if someone is being used by God, or if God is doing a major work on a person’s heart, what is the best way to derail them? It’s to have a fellow Christian come up beside them and say, “I think you are going off track.” It’s not to have a non-Christian say something snarky (though that hurts, too), or to have bad circumstances in your life (though those often can derail us, too). No, the most damaging thing is to have someone come and cause us to doubt what we have heard from God, or to doubt our ministry.
That’s why I firmly believe that if you are concerned for someone, you need to ask yourself these questions before you say anything and potentially (or probably) discourage them:
1. Do I know this person PERSONALLY? Do I have an accountability relationship with them?
If the answer is no, you likely should say nothing. I, for instance, am surrounded by people who know me, who know my kids, who know my husband. I’m accountable to my church leadership. I’m accountable to those at FamilyLife Canada that I work under. I’m accountable to my family members, who know what I am doing and pray for me. I’m accountable to the group of parents at my church that I serve with as we minister to our youth. I’m accountable to my husband. I have a ton of people who know the complete picture, and if I’m erring, they are there to help me. Because they see the whole picture, they are the ones whom God has called to hold me accountable.
And this is true for virtually all writers and bloggers. I’m using myself as an example, but I’m actually not primarily thinking of myself. I know a very well-known author on a personal level who has been very hurt by many emails this year from “concerned readers” who are worried about her walk with Christ. I don’t think people realize how much such emails cause people discouragement–people who already doubt their calling, because writing and speaking are difficult things.
If you are worried about someone’s walk with Christ, pray for them. But if you are not in an accountability relationship with them–where they are accountable to you, but you are also accountable to them–then it is likely not your role to correct them. Trust that since God has put so many people around them, that if the person needs correction God will tell someone who IS in a position of accountability with them to help them see that.
Or to put it another way: examine your relationship with the person you want to correct, and then ask yourself, “is it possible that God would put all kinds of people around this person, but not a single one of them would hear God asking them to correct him or her? Is it possible that God needs to ask me to do it because all of the people who actually are in the right position to do it aren’t hearing from Him?” If you still really believe that’s the case, then fine, say something. But I highly doubt it. When someone is in ministry, and they need correction, there are always people alongside them whom God can use. It is very, very unlikely that He would choose to use a complete stranger to that person.
He uses strangers to encourage us all the time (thank you so much for those emails!), but I can’t think of a single time of anybody that I know where God has deliberately chosen to use a stranger rather than someone who is actually in an accountability relationship with that person to send a message of correction. Yet I can think of so many times that words from strangers have been used to derail and demoralize and degrade.
In the Bible, when God sends prophets to correct kings, it’s because there was no one surrounding the king who really did know God. Before you reach out to that politician or writer or speaker, then, ask yourself–are there REALLY no Christians around this person?
2. Do I Know All of the Facts?
Occasionally I’ll post something that I think is funny in a column, or in a Facebook post. It’s just a throwaway line that 99% of the population would consider a joke. But then you’ll get someone commenting, “I need to tell you in Christian love that you are presenting Christ in a negative light.”
Ask yourself before you say something like that, “By posting this publicly, is it possible that I am the one presenting Christ in a negative light?” When people overreact to what is obviously a joke, then seekers get the impression that Christians really are killjoys. You may not appreciate it, but ask yourself: by bringing negative attention to it, am I making it worse, or better?
I’ve been an instrument of discouragement in someone’s life, too, because I didn’t know all the facts, to my everlasting shame. I was involved in a church where people meant well, but too many things were being done in counterproductive ways, and people were getting hurt or sidelined. And I stepped into the middle of it, writing a big letter explaining why we had decided to leave. I felt justified; I felt relieved to get it off of my chest. But I didn’t know the pressure the pastor was under from the board. I didn’t know what was going on behind closed doors. So I put this pastor in an even more difficult position, and he had been a friend of mine.
I still believe that everything I wrote in that letter was right, but it was completely unnecessary to send it. And by sending it, I discouraged a couple who were dedicated to serving God. Now we’ve rebuilt that relationship, and our kids are still friends, but I try not to get in the middle of things anymore, because the truth is you often don’t know what’s really going on.
3. Have I Examined My Own Heart?
In my case, I should have examined my heart and seen the pride there. It wasn’t about being right; it was about whether or not saying this would advance God’s purposes or not.
When we’re talking about criticizing online, we also need to look at our hearts. Why is it important to you to reach out to this person that you don’t really know? Why is it important that you correct him or her?
I read tons on the internet that I disagree with, and when I do, I either leave a polite comment giving my perspective, or I move on. I don’t feel the need to correct everyone that I think is wrong.
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing in the comments; on this blog, I leave the comments open for just that reason (although I do reserve the right to delete comments that I fear will put Christ in a negative light, or that will encourage behavior that I feel is sinful). But honest disagreement is fine.
What I don’t like is when commenters start to question each other’s faith, or start to question mine. That is simply not our role online. And I’ve been concerned lately about how some commenters on this blog are treating other commenters. You don’t know anyone’s full story, so please, let’s not assume things about each other. Let’s give each other grace and not make pronouncements on either their faith or their job as a wife/husband.
Yes, we have an online community for discussion. Yes, that community can become a place of accountability if we get to know each other well (as I hope people will in my 6-week course). But on the whole, accountability is for people who know our complete life, not just our online persona.
And so let me caution you before you leave a “I’m just concerned about you…” comment on Facebook for someone, or “In Christian love, I must tell you that you’re wrong…” It is very easy to be used as an instrument of discouragement. And many, many people, who believe they are acting “in Christian love”, are doing exactly the opposite. They are becoming instruments of discouragement to people who are serving God, and to people whom God is doing a major work in their heart. When God is moving, the enemy gets scared, and he looks around for ways to derail someone. And the easiest way to do it is to use a Christian. Do not be that person!
This is one of the main reasons for discouragement in ministry. I have seen pastors quit the pulpit over this. I have seen bloggers stop blogging. I have seen speakers stop speaking and writers stop writing. We discourage each other all the time, thinking that we are doing it “in Christian love”, when we do not know all the facts, we do not see the complete picture, and we aren’t in an accountability relationship with the person.
The online world makes it even easier to do this, and it needs to stop.
Please, don’t give pat “you just need to pray more and have faith!” answers to people who are really hurting. Don’t give “you aren’t reflecting Christ well” to people who are standing up there everyday and taking a stand for Him, even if it’s not the way you would do it. Just don’t.
Let’s examine our own selves, and then grow in closer accountability with those around us in real life. That’s a far healthier way to correct each other and encourage each other, and it’s far harder for us then to become instruments of Christian discouragement in someone’s life.
Have you ever been an instrument of discouragement? Or has someone ever discouraged you? Tell me about it in the comments!