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A Hidden Enemy of Sound Judgment

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During one of my first staff meetings at Inter-City, Pastor Doran challenged us that if we were truly going to help each other grow and lead the church well, we had to be able to debate ideas without taking things personally or letting emotion cloud our judgment. It was fairly simple advice, but in the years since I have thought back to his admonition many times as I have fought my own mental battles and watched others miserably fail similar ones.

I’m sure you can identify with this struggle. I think I have a brilliant idea, but when I present it to others, they aren’t nearly as impressed with it as I am. They begin to poke holes in the idea, and rather than trying to engage their arguments, I attack their motives and bunker down. Or I serve some role at church. I poor my heart into it, and I think I did a great job. When someone critiques my work, I don’t even consider if they have a point; rather I am appalled that this person doesn’t appreciate my hard work. Or someone challenges a conviction or a parenting practice, and I immediately condemn him as judgmental and legalistic. Again, I refuse to even consider if he has a point because I assume such a judgmental person couldn’t possibly have one.

Social media is littered with example after example of people demonstrating similar responses. Read the comments section of a controversial post sometime, and you will quickly meet people who take everything personally or who consider any critique of an institution or thought system they hold dear to be a personal attack.

It’s unfortunate when we have these kinds of reactions because one of the great blessings of community is how it can provoke us to be better. Hebrews 10:24 says that we are responsible to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” This stimulation is not always pleasant, but it is a grace of God. Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Resisting these loving wounds, we may feel more comfortable in the moment, but in the long run we are only hurting ourselves.

Why does emotion so frequently cloud our ability to debate ideas? Typically our insecurities play a major role in emotional responses. We want people to perceive us as intelligent, gifted, and godly. We want them to think we have everything figured out, and that we are the best parents, teachers, or ministry directors the world has ever seen. Therefore, when someone challenges us in one of these sensitive areas, we are more concerned to protect our perception than to learn and grow. This is pride, and it is the enemy of progress. Proverbs 26:12 states, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Therefore, I’d like to offer four practical challenges.

1. Discipline yourself to examine people’s ideas without letting emotion cloud your judgment.

When someone criticizes you, challenges your beliefs, or questions a conviction, choose to put aside defensive, embarrassed, angry, or judgmental attitudes and to objectively consider what has been said. For example, every person who challenges your convictions is not a legalist. He or she may actually have a good point that you should consider. It’s a sign of good health in the church when people have differing views and can debate them while maintaining a spirit of humility and unity. Don’t run from that kind of engagement. Run toward it because your thinking will grow and because you might have blind spots that you have never considered.

2. Discipline yourself not to take it personally when someone challenges your thinking or practice.

Just because someone thinks you have a bad idea doesn’t mean they think you are stupid. Someone can recognize an area where you can grow as a parent or a minister and still think that you are doing a good job. Therefore, every challenge to your thinking or practice is not a challenge to your intelligence or godliness. In fact most of the time the opposite is true. Most of the people around you in the church and in your family care about you, and they want you to succeed. Don’t let your insecurities keep you from benefitting from their correction.

3. Learn not to dismiss the value of a criticism simply because it is presented poorly.

Some people are clumsy in how they give critique, and sometimes their hearts aren’t in the right place. They really are annoyed, angry, or arrogant, but this doesn’t mean they can’t have a point. There very well may be a seed of truth in the most ungodly confrontation. Again, learn to set emotion aside and to humbly consider how you can benefit from what was said regardless of how it was said.

4. Give thanks for God’s grace as demonstrated in brothers and sisters in Christ pushing each other to think and live better.

There’s no doubt that life is easier when you surround yourself with people who are just like you and who will never question you. But if you really want to grow your theology, Christian practice, and ministry gifts, then learn to value people with differing perspectives who are willing to push back, and learn to see pushback as a blessing from God.

One of the core values that I want to see us build at Life Point is grace-centered unity. There are certain truths and ethical obligations that we must all see the same way. But there are a host of lesser issues where we should be comfortable having disagreement. I pray that we will have a clear sense of where various issues fall on the spectrum of importance. And I pray that on lesser matters we will all be secure enough in our own convictions and confident enough in each other’s love that we will not feel threatened by disagreement or shy away from productive engagement.