There are many changes at work in the broader culture relating to how we communicate with one another. As we adapt to these massive changes, it is helpful to keep in mind the factors that can threaten a community.
The first is a Culture of Criticism. Individuals will not step forward to complete the tasks at hand, or initiate a new program in a culture where others are waiting around to criticize. Criticism though is calmed by Charity. Charity is the old translation of the Greek word agape, or love. When I was a student studying philosophy, we would speak about what we called “the principle of charity” a principle we would keep in mind when we criticized the work of others. According to the principle of Charity, criticism is done best, when the person wanting to offer a criticism, tries to understand as best they can the position they intend to criticize. So you wonder why was this done this way? And how is the other person thinking about this?
You try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, walk down their pathway for a while.
Then the principle of Charity takes things a step further and asks, How can I improve, or can I improve the position I am criticizing?
Now what happens? If you are able to prove to the other person that you completely understand them, you earn respect. And with that respect comes an openness to receive the criticism with Charity. And this is because the Criticism was given in Charity.
So if you feel the urge to criticize, whether in person or in secret, take a moment to walk in the other person’s shoes, wonder why they did what they did and offer your thoughts with Charity.
Number 2. A culture of criticism, if allowed to linger too long, spawns a cancer of complacency. If I know that my ideas and my labour for the church will be criticized, I will eventually close my mouth and stop my labor. I become complacent. I stop offering my time and talents to the community. Why should I help again, after I was criticized before? Unlike most cancers, this cancer is contagious. As different individuals step back from full involvement in the community, others follow suit. Soon, it becomes difficult to find volunteers. And those who do volunteer find themselves overwhelmed by the work.
But take heart, there is Chemotherapy for complacency. And that comes through connection and invitation. Start small, seek out someone you don’t normally speak to and start a conversation. Encourage someone who is down. Support the weak. Compliment rather than criticize. Now, Chemotherapy, many people have told me is an uncomfortable process. Chemotherapy for complacency is no different. It involves changing one’s priorities and putting the needs of the Church community ahead of other considerations.
Number 3. If left unchecked, the culture of criticism and resulting cancer of complacency creates a crisis of commitment. Everyone else has something else that they need to do. As result, the lonely are not visited, those interested in the faith are not given opportunities to learn, the young are not properly instructed, and the spiritual needs of those around us go unattended. This crisis of commitment is catastrophic for Christian community.
So what do we do?
We begin with a renewed Commitment to Christ and to the Church Community. I put it this way because our first commitment is always to Christ and secondly to his body as it is found in the local church. So I encourage you over this Christmas season, to renew your commitment to Christ, to remind yourselves of the promises you made at profession of faith. A promise first and foremost to “Love the Lord.” And secondly to review your commitment to the local church. Where is God calling you to serve? How is God calling you to serve?
For I remain convinced that God’s will for his Church to be salt and light, remains God’s will for his church. God is pouring out his blessings on us, he is filling us with his wisdom, and he is opening our hearts to people from all over the world. God is forming us into a community here, a community where Jesus is the center, and where grace and mercy flows. Do not be discouraged, the task to be faithful is being made more difficult in these trying times. Do not be discouraged. Remember that Jesus has overcome the world. Rest in that comforting hope.
For where there is charity in the face of criticism
And Chemotherapy of connection to treat the cancer of complacency
And renewed Commitment to Christ in the midst of challenges to community
There we find the elusive Christian community we seek.