It seems like every time a well-known pastor does a major news interview, or other visible Christian discusses their faith, appears in the secular press, or releases a controversial book, the Internet lights up with critics from the Christian community. We’re remarkably quick to “defend the faith” and point out why other believers have got it wrong or don’t see things as well as we do. (I especially like the online critics who do it behind a fake name.)
I’m all for in-house discussions and debates – and even calling each other to account – but thanks to the Internet, the volume has risen so high, it wouldn’t be surprising if the secular world assumed we were splintering and falling apart. I honestly think our stand for Biblical truth would ring far louder if we showed more grace to those out there sharing their faith in difficult places.
Over the years, I’ve advised and counseled hundreds of Christian leaders who live and work in the public eye. Based on that experience, I’d encourage you to remember these important things the next time you feel like publicly correcting someone:
1. The media highly edits interviews. A critic recently blasted another Christian who in a newspaper interview apparently left out a key section of a Bible passage related to salvation. But before we tear someone like that apart, know that all media interviews are highly edited. I did a 30 minute interview with “Inside Edition” recently and only a single line made it into the finished program. That happens all the time. So we don’t know exactly what anyone originally said when we see it played back on TV.
2. Controversy helps the media’s ratings. While many media interviews are very cordial, ultimately they want to attract viewers or readers. So it’s not unusual for them to re-arrange clips, put scenes out of order, or literally make word-for-word edits to create controversy. Once again – we don’t know exactly what that Christian leader told the interviewer, so let’s show a little grace.
3. Often, Christians working in legal, political, entertainment, professional sports, or other high-profile places are making a difference in ways we never see. It’s often a strategy of “win some, lose some,” but what we see in public may be the loss. Before we criticize, remember that these believers are also working behind the scenes, sometimes in hostile environments, sharing their faith in places we don’t know. Many times, that’s where the most progress for the Kingdom happens.
4. The highest level engagement is often private and discreet. I know a highly respected Christian leader who has spent his career sharing the gospel with men and women at the highest levels of the entertainment and media industries. But if he went public with it, those doors would all close. He’s prayed with the top executives of media companies, and led major celebrities to Christ. He struggles to find financial support because to share these incredible stories – even with potential donors – would shut off that access for the gospel.
5. Finally – and perhaps most important – let’s not view the world only through our favorite Bible passage or subject. I know well meaning Christians who see everything through the lens of Bible prophecy, and they gripe about everything else. Others view everything through the lens of apologetics and “Biblical Truth,” so they view everything skeptically if it’s not all about “defending the faith.” All Bible doctrines are important, but when we become obsessed by a single topic, it skews our thinking and our witness.
Theologian Abraham Kyuper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” God is doing remarkable things through people we’d never expect and in places we can’t even imagine. God has allowed some Christians to be placed in the spotlight – not out of ego – but for the opportunity to share Christ to a non-believing (and sometimes hostile) culture. Before we go public to “remind” them of their shortcomings, doctrinal errors, or something else we disagree with, let’s pray for them. As Paul said, “…whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
Showing grace isn’t about compromising our faith, it’s about extending our faith, so that through love, the world will marvel at our unity and be compelled to respond to our message.
Looking for more inspiration by Phil Cooke? Check out Christians: Is It Time To Cut Artists Some Slack?
For more than 30 years, Phil Cooke has helped nonprofits find their purpose and is now applying this experience to individuals: “During a long career in the media business I’ve talked to hundreds of writers, producers, directors, designers, executives, and other professionals and discovered that in most cases, one thing is all it takes to launch a project or dream.”
Learn more about the writer Phil Cooke