“Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason when he has done you no harm.” (Proverbs 3:29-30)
I genuinely, seriously wish that ever pastor, leader, evangelist and minister would read these verses and take them to heart. They are essential to the life of the church and the health of the soul of every believer, especially those in positions of leadership and influence.
Out of hidden insecurity, we plot harm and accuse our own brothers and sisters when we should be extending trust and goodwill to them. We easily turn into critics, like the judges on a reality show, without even noticing the subtle shift that takes place in our own souls.
Winston Churchill is credited with originating the popular phrase, "It is easy to criticize. It is much more difficult to create." He absorbed his fair share of criticism as the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. This is a truth that I find myself returning to over and over again, especially the longer I serve in ministry, alongside other men and women who are in the same calling and career as me.
I began a life of ministry at the tender age of 14. By God's grace (and based on no merit of my own), opportunities began to fall in my lap as early as the eighth-grade. As I began traveling and preaching in local and regional churches, my closest friends became pastors and youth pastors. I stayed in their homes, I ate with them and I became friends with them and their families. They invested in me and I grew to love and appreciate them and the diversity of their perspectives.
It quickly became evident to me that there were two distinct "mindsets" that existed among leaders. This may sound like an over-simplification. Perhaps it was due in part to the theological landscape of religion in America during the late 1980s and 1990s. But there were two camps that emerged in the church world. There were critics. And there were creators.
The critics were the ones who let me know immediately what they were for, and what they were against. This also included whom they were for and whom they were against. They were against liberals and the NIV translation, abortionists and communists, secular music and movies, Democrats and Calvinists...you get the picture. And the longer I spent listening to them and getting to know them, I realized I actually had no idea what they were for! Neither did they. All they did was criticize...other churches, other denominations, and other leaders.
The creators were the ones who were always talking about interesting things. They had just read a book and couldn't shut up about it. They had just attended a conference and were still fleshing out all they had heard and experienced. They had just returned from a mission trip to Latin America and were brainstorming about ways to get every one of they church members involved in missions. They never criticized. Their perspective was more helpful and healthy. They wanted to create. They wanted to innovate. The difference was subtle, but it was impossible to miss.
The critics had a mental perspective of sniffing out the bad and attacking it. The creators had a mental perspective of seeing spiritual need and meeting it.
In spending the past 26 years serving alongside other leaders in ministry, I've discovered that the way we live and preach and talk and serve all flows from a mindset. It's a mental perspective that dictates whether or not we become critics or creators.
Critics can make a living, but they never make a difference. They can collect a weekly paycheck, but they never create anything of value that blesses the church or helps people know Jesus better. They will attract other critics, but they will fail to attract lost people to the love of God and the grace of Jesus. Creators make a difference. They don’t waste time and energy attacking what they don't like. They get busy making something better.
Is there a time to be critical? I believe there is a time to be corrective. Parents and teachers, pastors and leaders are all given the responsibility to correct those under our care. We should do this with love and grace. We should gently and firmly guide those in our care towards truth and towards Jesus. The goal, then, is not simply to criticize the behavior or actions of those we love, but to create a better destiny for them by correcting the wrong and leading towards the right.
And this is where the difference lies. The mindset of a critic is trained to find fault and see the error. The mindset of a creator is trained to find need and see the possibilities.
This is why criticism never creates anything of value. It always stops short of blessing others with something they need. Correction, on the other hand, carries with it the possibility of creating a better outcome for the one in its care. If I am eating food that causes diabetes, the doctor's job is not to criticize my obesity. A good doctor will look to correct my lifestyle and dietary habits, and in doing so will help me create a better future, not only for myself but for my family and those I love.
I decided years ago that I wanted to create, not criticize. I watched men like Billy Graham (who created a mindset of harnessing media for the gospel) and Bill Hybels (who created a mindset of making church innovative) strike out in new directions, blazing trails that the next generation would turn into interstates for the Kingdom. So I created a summer camp. I created a missions organization. I created a student conference. I created a music festival. I created a band. I didn't invent them, I just saw a need and the possibility of doing something that would bless people, make their lives better, and help them know Jesus.
The verses above issue a warning; don't plot harm against your neighbor. Don't accuse someone who has never done you harm. This is essentially important to all Christians, especially leaders. If you have time to criticize someone, do something better with that time. Create a sermon, a book, a blog, or a relationship with someone that will advance the gospel and bring value to the lives of others.
It's easy to criticize. It's better to create.