Ed Stetzer wrote a helpful post called “Missional Angst and Western Church Norms” about the shift in the church away from consumer-driven models of ministry. He noted that some are being called out of existing churches to live their faith in more organic ways (the Radicals), others are choosing to stay put and tweak from within the organization (the Conservatives), and a third group are the Critics.He describes the latter group this way: “…church consultants, authors, professors, etc.—can be professional church ‘angsters.’ Their blanket criticism against Western cultural norms in established churches can prohibit pastors from loving the people to whom Jesus has called them in the style consistent with their social context. Furthermore, many critics want to still operate within the Western culture norm, but constantly complain about it. They are vocal in criticism, but light on action. They condemn the norm, but won’t actually quit their jobs to live out their proclaimed principles.”
Stetzer is right in calling out these folks. I read blogs written by some of these armchair analysts. I have friends who’ve carried their wounded souls out of the church after getting caught in the crossfire of bad politics, abuse, or lousy teaching. Heck, I’ve been told on occasion that I complain too much about the church. Sometimes I have. But…
Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist. – George Carlin
Of the group who’d fall into Stetzer’s category of Professional Angsters, there is a subset who might better be classified as Professional Complainers. These microphone-holders traffic in heat and fire, and sculpt their carping, demoralization and division like a sculptor might work in clay or bronze. Their insider’s critique might be as accurate as a two-edged sword, but they’re swinging it as though they’re hacking through Everglades-like undergrowth. The sword clear-cuts both healthy plant and noxious weed.
I believe a larger proportion of Angsters are not speaking and writing to burn the church, but because they love what they know she could be. They’re sad. Some have been hurt. Some have been ignored or marginalized. When they speak the truth about bad politics or spiritual abuse or false teaching, they are doing so because they care about what happens to her. I believe most of the angsty outliers are a gift to the church, not a curse. Winston Churchill once said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
A couple of decades ago, someone in Stetzer’s position may have dismissed the complainers as problem children or shamed them for not toeing the party line in their church, but there’s far too many of us to marginalize now. Many who express dismay are serving the body of Christ by speaking up about dysfunction and abuse of power in the church. I’ve done those things in this space. And I’ve also tried to celebrate when I see the church looking like just like the beautiful bride she is becoming. I recognize the temptation to become an armchair critic. But I think the greater sin is to paste on a happy face, sprout the party line, and remain silent when dysfunction is happening.
I appreciated Stetzer’s encouragement to all of us to not allow kvetching to become a cheap version of a spiritual gift. Complaining is not a prophetic act. We must be willing to move on our convictions, rather than insulated by our pain and frustration with the Institution. “We can learn from the example of Jesus,” he wrote. “He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. We all should afflict the comfortable, no matter the context, so that our people would live as radically on mission as possible in a sustainable way for their congregation.”
Today, I am reading the words of Jesus below with the Angsters in mind. He values the outliers, the prophets, and kvetches, even as he calls the Angsters to speak and act in self-sacrificial love toward those who dismiss them as nuisances or treat them as enemies of the church.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-11)
Are Angsters a gift or a distraction to the mission of the Church? Why do you say so?
Image, Turnvater Janosch, via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0 search