I have made a significant shift in the way I think and talk over the last few years about the church. But to frame this conversation, I must first give you a little background into me as a human being.

I am possibly one of the most optimistic people you will meet. I count it as one of my favourite characteristics. I have a certain ability to smile at the drama and difficulty of life and see the best in every situation.

There’s a certain ignorance that often comes with optimism (think about the captain of the Titanic for example) but largely speaking it’s a great quality.

Of course the reader may be tempted to assume that my optimism is a product of a sheltered or easy life. I must stress that this is not the case. Whilst there were many wonderful things about my childhood, I also grew up in an environment of violence and abuse. I emerged into my teenage years with a lot of emotional baggage.

I suspect my propensity for optimism comes from having had to work hard to develop it. Perhaps it was a necessary tool to deal with the difficulties of my childhood.

I find it interesting that society has a way of disregarding those who succeed in some way.

We assume the person with wealth inherited it.
We assume the person with a great physique has better genetics.
We assign time and chance to those who make it big

And perhaps we’re right some of the time. But almost certainly wrong some of the time as well.

The reason we jump so quickly to those assumptions is because it’s less painful to believe.
When we’re unhappy with where we are in life, we assume everyone else must have cheated in some way to get there.

Their success shines a light upon our failure. So whilst we love the idea of others succeeding, it’s not so simple when it actually happens.

I’m not telling you all these things in order to rabbit on about my wondrous qualities. I am simply attempting to paint a backdrop for the much more serious point I am about to make.

You see when it comes to dealing with criticism, it’s all too easy to paint people who raise such issues as overly negative, insufferable complainers. We smile politely but we don’t take it seriously.

And undoubtedly some of them are. And course not all criticism is fair, good or constructive.

But like me, just as undoubtedly some of them are NOT.

It’s easy to put all complaints in the same category of unreasonable because then we don’t have to really address them.

And many church leaders have made that mistake in recent years.

But consider this…

Criticism can certainly originate from a bad spirited person who hates the thing he critiques.

But criticism can also originate from a good spirited person who loves the thing he critiques.

The outcome can look similar and be distasteful to us (because who in their right mind likes complaints?). But the heart behind can be completely different.

I critique the church because I love the church.
Because the church is the bride of Christ.
The church is being perfected and made holy by him, eventually without spot or blemish in any way.

For if there is one thing worse than constantly criticising the church, it is never criticising it at all.

The parent that never corrects their child is not more loving but unloving.
The boss that never gives feedback is not kind but unkind.
The therapist that never challenges but always affirms the delusions of the patient is the worst sort of monstrosity.

Our lack of criticism actually leads to something much worse.

When church leaders themselves do not hold the church to proper account or criticise it fairly, we often inadvertently leave judgement up to the world.

And the world’s justice tends to be very heavy handed.

When we cover over extramarital affairs, bullying, emotional abuse and every other sort of evil because ‘they did a lot of good stuff too’ are we not falling into great error?

Just as God would hand over the people of Israel (in their sin) over to the neighbouring nations to be oppressed so God will let his church be torn apart in the media when we also sin.

Genuine persecution is a thing and I am not implying that getting smashed by the media is necessarily a sign of guilt.

But so much of what we call persecution is not really persecution. It’s the exact opposite – it’s actually judgement.

Consider this:

Did Paul only write nice things in his letters to the churches?
Remember how Jesus cleaned out the temple from extortion?
What about the massive amounts of doom and gloom of the prophets?

It seems obvious to me that to truly love, you must be willing to criticise.
And we need church leaders (such as myself) to move out of boundless optimism.

To become spiritually mature is to be able to feel and understand the full depths of positive AND negative emotion.

Not all anger is hate.
And not all angry people are haters.
In fact love and hate have an unusual relationship.

To love God is to hate sin.
To love the church is to hate its failings.
To love the church is to hold it to account.
To love the church is to dream of better.
To love the church is to build it up.