We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ… (Eph. 4:14a, 15)
Consider this online exchange from the past week (names have been changed for privacy’s sake).
Timothy: Here’s my newest hymn, written this afternoon and sung to the tune of [a familiar hymn]!
Reggie: This will certainly not be timeless; it is destined to pass away and look very dated. Those who will be singing hymns in 100 years will not largely be [of your theological/political persuasion]. Experimental religion or radically political flashes like this create almost nothing permanent, even though we can marvel at it for a few seconds, like a firework, before it disappears from sight and from mind.
Sheila: There is nothing wrong with writing hymns/songs/psalms for the moment and for a specific community. Reggie, please consider being more constructive rather than condescending. Also, only God knows what will be happening in 100 years!
Reggie: The fact is, critique is not condescending. I never said that writing for the moment is wrong. I said that it’s bound to be forgotten.
Thomas: Reggie, brother, critique can be constructive or condescending. It is possible to say what you said in a constructive way and perhaps have it “land” in a more helpful way than it did. I think you missed the mark.
What a real-world example of speaking—or not speaking—the truth in love and of the potential to build up or tear down. It may be that what the critic said was legitimately true; he certainly thought it was. However, it came across as condescending AND an attack.
If we believe we have truth to speak, what a tragedy if the way in which we convey it drives people from that truth instead! We have done the opposite of what we intended. But if our words can “land” respectfully, truth has a soil in which to grow. In this exchange, Thomas could have piled onto the negativity with “Reggie, you’re a real jerk; leave Timothy alone!” Instead, he spoke truth to Reggie about missing the mark, and Reggie was able to hear it. It was delivered with love and therefore landed in a way in which it could be received with acceptance.
Reggie: “Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.” That’s from a prayer that I sometimes return to. In thinking about my comments, I think I’ve not acted in the spirit of this prayer. Asking Timothy to forgive me the offense I’ve caused.
Timothy: It is forgiven. Thank you for your apology!
The Rev. Dr. Robert Austell has served as pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, since 2002. He is an avid musician, husband to Heather, and father of three daughters. He blogs at robertaustell.blogspot.com on church, culture, and God’s mission, and at robertaustell.com on technology and music.