When I Knew Everything
I had been a Christian for two years. I was sitting in a service at a church I’d recently started attending. As I listened to the pastor preach his sermon I found myself asking hosts of critical and, I thought, righteous questions.
“What is this guy even talking about? Why doesn’t he preach expository sermons? Why doesn’t he emphasize this or that doctrine more? Why does he use that method to invite people to trust in the gospel? Is this series ever going to end? Why doesn’t he just hire someone else to take his spot and move into a subordinate role? Why can’t he come up with a vision and mission I can get on board with? Does our church even have a mission and vision?” Blah, blah, blah.
The funny thing (perhaps sad thing) is that when I was in my season of offering church leaders my hardest and most continuous criticisms over these kinds of issues thinking I was all-knowing about everything to do with church/ministry, I was totally inexperienced. I’d never spent a single day in the shoes of a pastor, delivered or prepared a single sermon, led a Bible study, crafted any kind of mission or vision statement, trained teams, planted a church, or anything else. And yet, I thought I had all the answers about how to solve everything those above me were doing wrong.
I describe myself during those days as suffering from what I now call “New-believer syndrome.” This isn’t to be a knock on new followers of Jesus at all! Not all new Christians go through what I did. But the truth is that its very common for new Christians to go through a season after only being saved for a short time in which they get really critical and arrogant. That was me. My mindset was like, “Well of course I know everything about Christianity and the church! I’ve been a Christian for six months, haven’t I! “
Fast forward. Now I’ve been in vocational ministry for over seven years. And what God has slowly showed me through granting the education of actual street-level experience beyond the education of books I’d read and messages I’d heard early on about ministry is that I really knew far less than I thought I did! I think back to those days of criticizing and challenging my leaders with embarrassment and shame. I praise God that He was gracious and didn’t give me the cosmic knee-capping I deserved in my arrogance and ignorance. As I got opportunities to lead I began to discover why leaders do things at times that I used to scoff at. I learned that there are many things about ministry that you just can’t understand unless you actually are in the positions and go through the experiences.
Meeting Others Who Know Everything
Now that I’ve been in vocational ministry, served as a pastor and planted churches, and have done lots of leadership training I’ve had the wonderful experience of meeting people who currently have the critical mentality from which I used to suffer. The saddest and most heart-breaking thing I sometimes see is when people are stuck in this mentality five, ten, or even twenty or more years after meeting Jesus. As I look back at my own experience and journey and observe others who are stuck in a spirit of criticism there seem to be some common contributing factors to developing this mindset:
1. Pride has always been a struggle
If you have a history of being arrogant, self-important, and a know-it-all in general before becoming a Christian, pride becomes an area of temptation the enemy really hammers you on in your new relationship with Jesus. Much of those critical thoughts come from your own sinful flesh, and the rest of them come from demonic temptation at work in your mind.
2. They read far more books about the Bible than the Bible itself
For about the first two years of my relationship with Jesus the only times I’d actually crack my Bible open was when I was looking for a proof text to support a doctrine I’d learned from another book, or when I was at church. What this led to was me using other books as my lens through which I filtered the Bible rather than me using the Bible as the lens through which I filtered the other books I read. Because of this, when I got into debates about the criticisms I was voicing I would inevitably quote human authors instead of God’s word to prove my point. That’s a dangerous place to dwell.
3. They do most of their studying in isolation
Many people who come to Jesus today don’t get involved in local churches. There is a huge disconnect here. In the book of Acts no one who got saved refrained from getting involved in the life of the local church. That isn’t to say you’re not saved if you aren’t in consistent community with other believers who make up a local church. Its simply to point out that your willful practice of not being in community with a local church is way out of step with the biblical example. God isn’t merely saving disconnected individuals scattered throughout the world; He is saving a people, a called-out assembly, and an interconnected, interdependent body.
The biblical example shows us that studying is to be done in community under experienced and equipped, spiritually gifted leaders. Personal Bible study is so valuable and necessary. But so is study in community. Without others who are more spiritually mature and biblically educated challenging our conclusions and criticisms we develop unhealthy perspectives and unhelpful attitudes.
If pride has always been an issue for you, you read more books about the Bible than the Bible itself, and you do most of your study in isolation, you are a prime candidate to become today’s Inexperienced and All-knowing!
Maybe you are one of today’s Inexperienced and All-knowing in the church. Or maybe you’re dealing with one of them right now. If you’re dealing with one, chances are that you played the part of the Inexperienced and All-knowing of yesteryear. But let me wrap this post up with encouragement for you both.
To today’s Inexperienced and All-knowing, please stop! You don’t know as much as you think. You’re hurting your leaders, not helping them. And Jesus really is quite able to take care of His people without your arrogance and methods. He’s chosen the leaders who are over you and you need to submit to Him by submitting to them, even though they are weak. Have you considered that their weaknesses might be the precise reasons God chose them? Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and ask God for illumination.
To yesterday’s Inexperienced and All-knowing the message is simple- Don’t kill anyone! Humble yourself and remember your own journey. First, repent to God for your former attitudes. Next you may need to repent to the person you used to criticize. After being a lead pastor for two months that is exactly what I had to do and it was healthy for me and the other pastor. Lastly, deal with this mentality in those who come your way with grace and boldness.
“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient…” 2 Timothy 2:24 NKJV
“Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV