If you are a leader of any sort, you may be looking at a list of emails or text messages seeking your opinion. In the last few days, a well known author is at the center of some controversy. Her fans are sticking by her side. Her friends are comfortable to agree to disagree. Her critics finally received the ammunition they needed to label her a heretic.
The people whom you lead may be asking you…
“What does this mean?”
“Do I have to stop reading her books?”
“Is she right, or is she wrong?”
“What is your opinion?”
You may find yourself struggling as well. Are you the die hard fan that thinks she can do no wrong, the one who can see so much value in what she has offered that you are comfortable disagreeing with her on this controversy, or are you the critic who has been waiting in the wings for the shoe to drop?
This situation is not unique. I have heard plenty of criticism about certain Bible teachers, famous Pastors, and specific authors for a very long time. Video clips, quotes from their books, etc. which have helped their critics drive home points about the person being a false teacher, heretic, and sometimes far more drastic terms.
How, as a leader do I respond to these questions and criticisms? How am I responding to emails, texts, and posts about this newest controversy? By not giving my own opinion, but instead by suggesting to each person how they can go about figuring out the answer for themselves. It is the same litmus I suggest to women in my small groups and women’s ministry leaders to use when selecting Bible study materials.
First, I establish the reminder that we are all humans and prone to err. Additionally the amount of knowledge I have to day is vastly greater than what I knew 5 years, 10 years, 30 years ago. As well, my opinions and interpretations have changed over the years with the accumulation of knowledge, wisdom, and experience. I need to remind myself (or whomever I am giving this counsel to) that I can’t hold anyone to a higher standard than I would hold myself. If I need grace, they need grace too.
Second, I ask a few questions about the author:
? – What is his/her background? Seminary student? Lay leader? Seasoned speaker on the scene, or a new face?
? – Who is in his/her circle of influence? Who does s/he read, quote, look up to, etc. Is there any controversy regarding that leader?
? – Who endorses him/her? What publishing companies are printing their material, and what standards does that company hold to? What do leaders whom I respect say/write about him or her? What conferences or organizations have supported him/her?
Third, I look at the criticisms of the author (body of work, personal life, etc). If there is an accusation regarding an interview clip or quote from a book, I look into the full context. I want to eliminate any criticism that is based on partial information. If it is taken out of context, or there is no way for me to verify the context, it is disregarded. If I can read it within the full context of the interview or book, then I feel more equipped to make an educated decision by testing it against the scripture.
I also want to look at when this interview or book was written. It may be a legitimate criticism over a piece that is 10 or more years old. Lord knows I am not the same person, same Christian, I was 10 years ago. I’ve learned somethings. If the criticism is that old, I look for more current works and interviews to determine if the author/speaker/Pastor still maintains these beliefs or not.
Fourth, I want to consider who is making the accusation and responsible for the criticism. Is this a person who generally has a critical spirit over anyone who doesn’t fall in line with his/her beliefs? Is this a person who is credible, or not? What is being criticized, the author’s interpretation of a Biblical truth or a personal conviction? What does this person get out of criticizing the author/speaker/Pastor? Is there a pride issue here, of wanting to be right or a sincerity of wanting to expose truth?
Finally, if I am still uncertain, I MAY purchase the material and test it to the Word. Now you could argue that this would be better suited for the first step. I disagree. Usually, a false teacher or heretic is going to be exposed in these first four steps. I would rather not spend money on materials from a false teacher, adding to their coffers and raising their book up the best sellers list another notch. I would rather not put into my mind materials that are false teachings. I would hate for something to take hold and stick there, and later quote it in error. So, if I can discount material before reading it… I would prefer to do so. I also wouldn’t want anyone to assume that because it is in my possession I endorse it. Trust me, when you invite me into your home… I am casing your bookshelf for reading suggestions.
That said, new authors and speakers may not have enough history to address those first four steps appropriately. If it comes down to it, I have to make a stand. I can purchase the material, test it against the Scripture, and then make an informed decision. OR, I can choose to skip the material altogether or at least until I can learn more about the author and their beliefs. It is okay to not jump right on the band wagon of the newest popular speaker, author, or Pastor. To take your time, observing and testing what you can. When in doubt and you can’t find clarity, it is better to pass it up than regret your decision to engage.
So, does this mean I disregard everything this person has ever said? No, not necessarily. A friend of mine once said, ” a broken clock is right twice per day “. There are authors who I do read, that claim to be Christian authors, and I do question some of their theological statements and interpretations. However, because I am testing it against the scriptures… I know what to disregard. I often read some of these authors as if they are secular authors versus Christians. There are speakers who are great motivators and have some challenging words on social justice, and I can value the words they speak without affirming the rest of their beliefs are doctrinally sound. There are some books I have completed avoided, because I don’t want to even entertain the thoughts and ideas shared in the material.
I would suggest to anyone before you jump on the bandwagon of criticism, do your due diligence. Don’t rely on the opinions of others. Pray that the Lord will give you clarity and discernment. When it doubt, pass it up. Be okay with giving time to build your own opinion. Look at the big picture… who is the person, their life, their beliefs, their body of work. Then make an educated informed decision.