Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.—Ephesians 4:29
Do everything without grumbling or arguing…—Philippians 2:14
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.—Philippians 4:8
The people who make up holidays have decided that October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I don’t know how long this has been the case, and it’s probably no more or less real than National Daughter Day or Flood-the-Internet-With-Pictures-of-Your-Cat Week, but it’s nice that someone thought of us. This week I’ve found a couple of encouraging notes on my desk, and people have told me that they pray for me, or said nice things like “I don’t know how you do it,” or “we’re glad you’re here,” etc.
By and large, God’s people are very kind and encouraging, or at least I’ve had the privilege of serving in churches where that was the case. Community Church is a great place to serve. Most people are appreciative and gracious. Our staff work well together and are very supportive of each other. Our elders enjoy a high degree of unity. This past Sunday we had our longest meeting of the year, wrestling over next year’s budget. We had to make difficult decisions and there were varying opinions in the room, but even when we disagree with each other we’re able to find a way forward and affirm our love for each other in the process.
Good relationships make life sweet, and learning to encourage one another makes for good relationships. In the above Bible verses, God’s Word tells us to build each other up with our speech, resist the temptation to argue and grumble, and focus on what is good and positive, because He knows that if we don’t do these things, relationships turn sour and the environments of our homes, our workplaces, and our churches become unpleasant.
It’s not easy to choose positivity and kindness. If we’re honest, we all find it easy to be critical. Once I was in a Bible study with a group of guys, and we were going through a book on Christian character. When we came to the chapter on having a critical spirit, there were some challenging questions for discussion, and I remember a friend of mine saying this: “I’ve realized that I can go to a movie that’s absolutely brilliant in almost every way, and when I leave the theater I’ll be talking about the one thing I think they did wrong. I will find the one small negative thing and focus on that. Why do I do that?” We all had to acknowledge that we have the same tendency. Our sinful flesh naturally gravitates toward pointing out the flaws in the people and things all around us, because this feeds our pride. It takes a work of God’s Holy Spirit to make us people who dwell on what is good, and who choose to think the best of others.
I was once a part of a church where there was a fair amount of conflict about music. A certain contingent of people didn’t like newer worship songs, and only wanted to hear their favorite old hymns on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, they didn’t express this desire in the most gracious way, so there were frowning faces and crossed arms on Sunday mornings, people coming in late and then marching out of the service before the last song was played, the occasional nasty note in the offering plate—you know, Christian maturity at its finest.
After a while of observing this, I had to admit that I had created an unfair stereotype in my mind. I had been assuming that the issue was related to age. I entertained unfair thoughts about “those old people” who were so demanding about their musical tastes. But then I looked around, and I realized this wasn’t true. The truth was that our church was full of older people who were sweet, faithful, gracious, flexible, kind, mature, and encouraging. Those people never uttered a word of complaint about the music, or about anything else. The conflict wasn’t an issue of age, it was an issue of attitude.
Then I noticed something else: Almost all of those people who wore smiles, spoke words of encouragement, and never complained had something in common: they were serving somewhere in the church. They were greeters or Sunday School teachers. They led small groups or were serving on the Building Committee. They came into the office in the middle of the week to help fold bulletins, or they organized meals for people who were ill. Then I looked around a little more and saw that the frowning protestors weren’t doing any of those things. They weren’t serving, they were just complaining.
It’s not always the case, but generally speaking this is true: the servants aren’t the critics, and the critics aren’t the servants. Some people are consumed with keeping track of what’s wrong, while others use their time and energy to make the church a better place. Some people say “you guys need to do better,” and others say “This is great! Let’s make it even better!”
I’m grateful for that second group. I’m grateful for the many people in the church who bless others with their words, with their smiles, and with their service. I’m grateful for the grace that is extended to me and the other leaders in the church, for the people who give us room to be human and love us better than we deserve. I know that God is honored when we obey His word by building each other up and choosing to think well of each other.
Are you a critic or an encourager? What would the people closest to you say? What effect do you have on the environment of your home, your workplace, and your church? This week, pay attention to the times you are tempted to grumble and be critical, and ask God to help make you a blessing to those around you.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause…”—Theodore Roosevelt
For Sunday: Read John 17:6-26