The church of Christ invented cancel culture

Of all the wonderful things the internet has given us, there have been a few that make me wonder if it’s all worth it. One of those negatives is what has come to be known as “cancel culture.” Cancel culture is that thing you hear of in the news where the internet mob gets a hold of some wrong action or social media post and does everything in their power to ruin that person’s life.

When they find one such person, they want blood. They work to get people fired from their jobs. They try to get the person’s friends and family to shun them. They want their target buried to the point where they can never come back. No amount of apologizing can ever save a person once they’ve been canceled.

The first instance I can remember involved a woman named Justine Sacco. She posted a couple of admittedly offensive, racist tweets while getting on a plane to Africa. By the time the plane landed, hundreds of thousands of people had banded together to get Sacco fired from her job. This all occurred in 2015, and since that time canceling has entered our vernacular and become a regular part of internet life.

Unfortunately, the church had a cancel culture long before the Twitter rage mob ever got a hold of Sacco.

For decades faithful Christians have been canceled over all kinds of things. The online mob stands ready to leap to action any time someone takes the wrong side on the Holy Spirit, heaven vs. renewed creation, whether drinking alcohol is a sin, or what holidays a person celebrates, or any other number of issues. Ironically, I’ll probably have some people canceling me over this article.

I’ve had people try to contact my congregation and demand I be fired over an article I wrote. I’ve had people pay for Facebook advertising to warn people that I’m a false teacher. My experiences pale in comparison to what others have dealt with, though. Some have been fired from ministry jobs, losing their ability to provide for their family over a slight difference of opinion. Some have had longtime friends turn on them seemingly overnight. Some have had it made clear to them that they are no longer welcome in buildings and events they use to frequent.

How can this be so when unity is one of the most emphasized attributes of the New Testament church? How is it remotely Christlike to cancel people without discussing your differences and giving them a chance to explain themselves? Where is grace when the slightest misstep is enough to instantly cut ties with each other?

Two considerations should be made:

First, when the time comes to take a firm, unwavering stand, it must still be done in love. And, despite what some claim, just because you’ve told the truth it doesn’t make you inherently loving (as 1 Corinthians 13:1 teaches us). Canceling someone is anything but loving.

Second, we have to be careful where we draw the line. Every Christian makes a distinction between non-negotiables and secondary matters. If we make everything (or 99.9% of everything) a non-negotiable, our standard is that there is no room to be wrong about anything. Matthew 7:2 must be kept in mind – our standard is the standard that will be used against us. If you’ve ever changed your mind on even the slightest thing, that “holding a single wrong belief makes one a false teacher” standard should be a chilling thought. We must always have the humility to be able to say “I could be wrong.”

Yes, there is such a thing as a false teacher, but we should use the term with extreme caution. Someone who disagrees with me is not automatically a false teacher. Someone who is wrong about something is not automatically a false teacher (see Apollos in Acts 18). The New Testament saves the term for those who teach foundational errors like works based salvation or denial of Christ’s deity. Additionally, we’re told that a false teacher will be known by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). Their character will show that they are not obedient, Spirit-led people.

That distinction in Matthew 7 is key. Jesus starts by teaching us to be very careful in our judging. However, He then tells us how to judge. So, if you’re reading this and asking, “how do we distinguish between a brother who is sincere but wrong and someone who is actually a false teacher?” just read Matthew 7. The first section teaches us to give grace to those who are mistaken. The later section teaches us to beware of those who are clearly false teachers by their fruits. The problem with cancel culture is there is never room for the grace that gives us time to determine the difference.

So, the next time somebody writes or says something that seems wrong to you, hit the brakes before throwing out the “false teacher” term. Before you cut someone out of your life, ask if they are truly in the wrong, or if you simply have a difference of opinion. If you’re one of those people who actively tries to harm those who disagree with you in any way, repent of your pride and spirit of division. Leave the canceling to our corrupt, graceless, Godless culture.

3 words you should never say to your preacher

Three little words that might seem harmless to you but are so damaging to your preacher:

“People are saying…”

Sentences that start this way (or similar ways, like “I’ve been hearing some talk around the congregation that…”) are often used to introduce some criticism of the preacher or a desire for a change.

  • “People are saying your sermons are too long.”
  • “Some folks have a problem with your wife and/or kids.”
  • “People are saying you don’t do enough visiting.”
  • “People are really upset with you over what you said about…”

But regardless of the specific message, the general message of “People are saying…” is always one of two things. Either: 

  1. There is criticism and complaining about the preacher going on in the church, and nobody who feels that way is willing to step up and address it with him lovingly, or
  2. The person bringing the complaint is using “people” as a cover for him/herself. Beyond that, they’re making the dishonest implication that the problem is more widespread than it actually is in an attempt to give validity to their criticism.

While I’m sure there are plenty of occurrences of #1, it’s pretty well established in preacher circles that 90% of the time when somebody says “People are saying,” it’s the latter. That kind of dishonesty, especially toward each other, has no place in the church.

Here are 4 reasons why I hope you’ll never use a “People are saying” criticism: 

First and foremost, it’s unbiblical. The Bible offers plenty of advice for dealing with interpersonal conflicts (Matthew 5, 18), disagreements, and differences of opinion (Romans 14). At no point does it say, “Talk behind somebody’s back and hope it gets back to them through a third party” or “Share a criticism that you have by blaming it on other people.” Above all, the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” simply prohibits this kind of veiled criticism. 

It’s controlling and manipulative. What can a preacher do when he receives this kind of criticism? He can’t go talk to the anonymous “people” and explain his side of the story, so he’s left with only two options: comply, or ignore it. But if he ignores it, he has no idea how many “people” are behind the complaint. He doesn’t know if it’s one malcontent or an issue big enough that it could cost him his job. So, he feels enormous pressure to comply.

Whether intentional or not, that’s the position the person who brings the criticism is putting him in, and it’s not fair. The most stressful, painful times of my ministry have been the long, sleepless nights kept up wondering how many of my brothers and sisters truly were unhappy with me as much as I had been led to believe by a “people are saying…” critic. Don’t do this to your preacher. 

It’s discouraging. It lets the preacher know that some of his fellow Christians (or at least one of them) have a problem with him, and they didn’t love him enough to talk to him about it. The core message is “You have to listen to the problems I have with you, and I don’t have to give any reasoning, listen to your side of the story, or answer any of your objections.”It’s already hard enough on preachers that we often feel like employed outsiders, and faceless criticism just exacerbates that problem. Remember your preacher is a person, too. Customers leave anonymous reviews. Brothers confront one another in love.

It facilitates gossip. What the critic is telling the preacher is, “There’s gossip going on about you, I was party to it, and I’m a pipeline for it.” If a brother or sister comes to you with a complaint about another brother or sister, it’s your job to shut it down and let the grumbler know that they can either go talk to the person they’re criticizing or keep it to themselves. Listening to them and passing on their complaints anonymously simply legitimizes their gossip and helps it keep spreading. 

If you feel the criticism is legitimate, offer to go with them and share the concerns. If they won’t talk to the preacher but want to keep undermining him by talking about him behind his back, their sin needs to be confronted and exposed. It should be unthinkable to us that a church be torn asunder by gossip circles and back door politicking. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that the unity of the church is critically important to our Lord, and it should be just as important to us. 

That’s really what this comes down to, and why it’s so important. The unity of the church and the minister’s ability to be effective are at stake. I don’t think anyone wants to sacrifice either of those things to get their point across.

Naturally, the preacher isn’t above criticism and needs gentle correction from time to time just as anyone else. But how that is accomplished makes a huge difference. When the time comes to offer constructive criticism, please remember to offer it with love. Keep in mind how much of a tough spot it puts the preacher in to hear “people are saying” rather than hearing it directly. And, above all, don’t let gossip have its way in the church. 

10 Key Quotes from “Letters to the Church” by Francis Chan

Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself repeatedly coming back to a single question: “Shouldn’t church be more?” In his recently released Letters to the Church, Francis Chan answers definitively – yes, yes it should.

In Letters, Chan asks challenging questions of churches that are worthy of serious reflection and consideration. At the heart of it all is a plea to put God back in His proper place in the church, where our only concern is pleasing Him rather than pleasing people or getting our own way. Because of this high view of God and the driving belief that church can be so much more if we submit to the Lord’s guidance, I’m of the opinion that every church leader (or member, for that matter) can benefit from reading Letters. Grab a copy and dig in for a thoughtful, challenging, heartening read.

Here are 10 of the quotes from the book that have weighed heavily on my mind since reading it.

  1. “The older I get, the more aware I am that the end is near. There is no time to care about what I want in the Church. There’s no time to worry about what others are looking for in a church. I will be facing Him soon, so I have to stay focused on His desires.” (p.28)
  2. “For decades church leaders like myself have lost sight of the powerful mystery inherent in the Church and have instead run to other methods to keep people interested. In all honesty, we have trained you to become addicted to lesser things. We have cheapened something sacred, and we must repent.” (p.44)
  3. “We’re not doing people any favors by pretending they are the center of the universe. Either people will be awed by the sacred or they will not. If the sacred is not enough, then it is clear that the Spirit has not done a work in their lives. If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your own voice.” (p.53)
  4. “We have come up with countless strategies to reach the lost when God promises that unity is the method that will work.” (p.80)
  5. “Do our actions show that we expect supernatural contributions from every member of the body?” (p.90) and “If we give up on the goal of having all members exercise their spiritual gifts, we are destined for perpetual immaturity.” (p.92)
  6. “No team puts up with players who refuse to contribute. No army puts up with soldiers who don’t carry their own weight. Why do churches continue to put up with Christians who refuse to serve? Why don’t we treat selfishness as a sin that needs to be confronted?” (p.97)
  7. “Prayer is not merely a task of ministry; it is a gauge that exposes our hearts’ condition. It unveils our pride, showing us whether or not we believe we are powerless apart from God.” (p.113)
  8. “We need to return to a God-centered theology rather than a human-centered theology, and we need to be willing to flip some tables and suffer for it along the way.” (p.140)
  9. “Should we consider that placing people in comfortable classrooms and auditoriums for years may not be the best way to train fearless leaders?” (p.165)
  10. “It should not feel out of the ordinary, harsh, or inappropriate to call the Church to change. Nor should we imagine that our unique expression of Church is the only one God sanctions. Instead, we should be constantly seeking renewal, being ready at any moment to discard the elements of Church that lead us away from God’s heart rather than toward it.” (p.190)

For my book review of “Letters to the Church,” check out episode 1 of the “Too Many Books” podcast, a book review show I co-host on Strong Church.

Francis Chan, Letters to the Church, Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2018.

What I’m reading: 8 discipleship books

Maybe it’s that thing where you buy a new car and suddenly you notice how many other people suddenly have the same car, but in the last year or so since I first read a book on discipleship and started shifting my ministry focus toward disciple-making and community building, I’ve noticed that a number of my fellow ministers are on the same track. It’s an exciting thing to see, because as we all work towards pursuing this Great Commission mindset and emulating the love of the Acts 2 church, we can all share insights along the way.

I am very much a beginner when it comes to making disciples who make disciples. I’m still figuring out what that looks like in my context, but the information in these books has helped me move in that direction and given me a place to start.

So, here’s a quick rundown on the books I’ve read. Each of them has benefited me in different ways. Hopefully you find them helpful in your journey toward creating a disciple-making church, too.

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community” by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

This book took everything I know about church and flipped it on its head. I truly think every church leader should read it. The authors start by dissecting the two forms churches typically take – Bible-based, or community-based. More traditional churches that are strong on teaching and preaching the word often lack when it comes to daily, family-like communal connections, and out of that flaw grew churches that emphasized community but diminished the Bible. Chester and Timmis show how a church can’t thrive until both are present. Everything I thought I knew about Sundays, discipleship, evangelism, and apologetics has been changed by this book.

3 key quotes:
“Truth cannot be taught effectively outside of close relationships.”
“My growth as a Christian is in some sense linked to your growth. Only together do we attain maturity.”
“People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter.”

Buy it Paperback or Kindle

The Disciple-Maker’s Handbook by Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick

A very useful book that takes some time to define disciple-making and discuss its importance before diving into what the authors call the 7 elements of a disciple-making lifestyle. The book lives up to its title as a handbook to keep nearby as you learn how to make disciples, as it succinctly lays out what needs to be accomplished in a disciple-making relationship.

3 key quotes:
“Discipleship and disciple making are simply forming our lives around Jesus and helping others to do the same.”
“We need to recover a New Testament understanding of church, where we stop seeing the church as a building or an institution and recognize that the essence of the church is our relational connectedness.”
“I do, you watch, we talk. I do, you help, we talk. You do, I watch, we talk. You do, someone else watches, I do, someone else watches.”

Buy it Paperback or Kindle

Everyday Church: Gospel Communities On Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

The follow-up to the top book on this list, Everyday Church brings it down to a more practical level. In this book the authors focused on the post-Christian nature of Western culture and work through 1 Peter to show how our churches can be lights in a society that doesn’t know Jesus. If you decide to read Total Church, make sure to pick this one up, too.

3 key quotes:
“It is not a question of ‘improving the product’ of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events.”
“Trying to match the world begs the question, if the church is like the world then why bother with the church? The more we become like the world, the less we have to offer.”
“You cannot organize people to do everyday church through structures and programs. People need to catch a vision and learn how to live that out day by day.”

Buy it Paperback or Kindle

The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman

What makes this book so great is that it takes the reader through the style of ministry that Jesus employed and why it works. Reading this made me realize that the definition of ministry generally understood in today’s church is nothing like Jesus’ ministry. Coleman shows how we get back to that.

3 key quotes:
“It is good to tell people what we mean, but it is infinitely better to show them. People are looking for a demonstration, not an explanation.”
“Preaching to the masses, although necessary, will never suffice in the work of preparing leaders for evangelism. Nor can occasional prayer meetings and training classes for Christian workers do this job. Building men and women is not that easy. It requires constant personal attention, much like a father gives to his children. This is something that no organization or class can ever do. Children are not raised by proxy. The example of Jesus would teach us that it can be done only by persons staying close to those whom they seek to lead.”
“Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we are called to be and do. It is the commission of the church that gives meaning to all else that is undertaken in the name of Christ.”

Buy it Paperback or Kindle

With: A Practical Guide to Informal Mentoring and Intentional Disciple Making by Alvin L. Reid and George G. Robinson

Easy, relatively brief read that discusses in very practical terms what it means to mentor and disciple someone. Rather than focusing on big, fancy presentations or gatherings, the authors contend that simply by inviting people into your life and being intentional in how we use that time can make all the difference in the world.

3 key quotes
“But over the years both of us have come to realize that the greatest impact a leader can make is not in the masses to whom he speaks but in the few he mentors.”
“‘Along the way, I’ve come to learn that following Jesus alone is not what it really means to be a disciple.’ We need each other. We need those who invest in us, and we need to invest in others.”
“In a day when CEO-driven, self-promoting pastoral models that imply one must be a Type A, ADHD overly aggressive type who has mastered all the leadership principles of the gurus of our time, we need more men of God who walk and lead in humility and who open their lives to others.”

Buy it Paperback or Kindle

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Though not directly about discipleship, Bonhoeffer’s classic on Christian community is well worth your time as he breaks down the individual disciplines and the shared communal practices that bring God’s people together. The section on confession toward the end of the book is worth the entire cost on its own.

3 key quotes:
“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”
“So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.”
“In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.”

Buy it Paperback or Kindle

Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith by Preston Sprinkle

Go is the book that started me down this rabbit hole of books. It’s an informative read in which Sprinkle combines Barna Group research with his own analysis of how churches can do better when it comes to things like Bible literacy, mission, community, etc. Also, for some free material check out Sprinkle’s podcast where he’s going through the values of the church plant he’s working on.

3 key quotes
“If someone moved to a desert island and lived a perfect moral life, he or she would still be unable to obey many of Jesus’s commandments. In some ways, though morally upright, he or she would be a terrible Christian.”
“We’ve got to move beyond thinking of discipleship in terms of how many hours we spend doing church activities and engaging in spiritual alone time. Discipleship is a way of life – all of life.”
“The fact is, many (perhaps most) believers never experience th depth of community envisioned in the New Testament.”

Buy it Paperback or Kindle

Radical Together by David Platt

Nothing wrong with it, I just felt it covered a lot of concepts that the other books in this list covered better.

3 key quotes:
“If we are not careful, our activities in the church can hinder the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.”
“If you and I want our lives to count for God’s purpose in the world, we need to begin with a commitment to God’s people in the church.”
“The goal of the church is never for one person to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ. The goal is always for all of God’s people to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ.”

Buy it Paperback or Kindle

Free eBooks

“Born to Reproduce” by Dawson Trotman

Discipleship.org library of free eBooks