My friend unfollowed me on Twitter. Not the sort of thing a friend does, I thought to myself, but apparently she had a good reason.
You see, I was hurting her heart.
All my talk about the Church and the Christians that make it up, all the pointless questioning and vitriol, it was causing others to stumble.
I had become what Paul called a stumbling block, what Jesus described as a Millstone.
I emailed her and when she told me what I had done, my heart was crushed by the weight of it.
My friend is savvy enough to know when to get out, to stop listening so the words didn’t have their unintended effect on her. Others might not have been so wise. This one thought was enough to make me stop writing. How many people could I hurt with just my words?
After praying with my wife, I knew I needed to recant and repent. Much of what I wrote about Christianity and the Church is fueled by my hurt and bitterness, my own wounds from grievances long unaddressed. The general ideas were not necessarily wrong, some of the heart was in the right place, but how I expressed those ideas was descructive.
I focused on tearing down the Church, instead of convicting Christians. I went for shock value and controversy instead of love and the power of truth. I went negative when I should have gone positive.
As a writer, I realized that I have the responsibility to lead other people. My words can have an effect and without the Holy Spirit, I can’t imagine that the effect will be that good. It certainly hasn’t been the case for me.
There are a few things I have learned from this experience:
1. Talk about yourself first
Part of the problem is that I rarely spoke about myself, which is really where the struggles take place. I kept every post at arms length, a safe distance from the truth and from my own hurts, my struggles, and my failings.
Too often I was quick to rattle the sabers and call out Christian leaders for doing things the wrong way. Or I was railing against the whole institution of church as it’s practiced, as if I was some revolutionary.
What I didn’t write about was that I make every mistake they do, and that I’m not a very good Christian in the sense that I’m not following Jesus everyday.
I think if the goal is to instruct, others can learn far more from your failings and challenges than from a public rally or outcry.
2. Speak to your hurt, don’t speak from your hurt
When your heart is broken, you say mean and hurtful things. At best you simply say very silly things, which, I think, is being a little generous in this case.
I spoke from my hurt, from that place of bitterness that resides in all of us when we don’t get what we want. I lashed out and tried to bring down. I’m not proud of this, but it happened.
Instead, I should have spoken to my hurt. I could have written about the pains in a positive way, how they have changed me and how I have chosen to deal with some of them. Or how the situation could have been satisfied, perhaps an object lesson. But I decided to snipe and make fun, which is the last resort of a coward.
3. Leaders inspire, they don’t tear down
If someone writes for the public, they are a practicing leader. I lost sight of this. Leaders are responsible for inspiring people to move and choose a different direction.
This implies that the leader chooses a direction and way of leading. In retrospect, both mine were flawed.
I attempted to lead in controversy, hoping that my views would be shocking enough to get attention but the power of my ideas would turn people around to see the truth of my position. I was wrong on both counts.
Jesus didn’t tear others down (with the exception of certain religious leaders), he spoke truth through stories, healed the sick, and tried to set people free. Any Christian leader, or follower of Christ, should strive to do the same.
So, What’s Next?
I’ll continue to write, but probably not about matters relating to Christ’s Church.
I still believe that Churches should not market themselves like big businesses do, but instead should choose a more relational, biblical method. I still believe that many Christians should re-evaluate how they spend their money and start to give more out of their abundance. I still think that some Christians use church as a crutch for their identity, focusing on using church and activities to define them rather than using Christ to define who they are.
I think these things because I have done them all.
But to those of you who I hurt through my words, I am sorry. To anyone I helped increase their doubt without hope, I am sorry. If I caused anyone to move farther away from Christ, please accept my sincerest apologies. It won’t happen again. I’m asking forgiveness.
From now on, I choose to emulate Jesus, how He led and how He moved others. I choose to write, not to tear down, but to build up. I promise to do a better job.