When I was boy, I was stopped by a convenience store employee outside of the doors of the store, and then accused of shoplifting.
“Hey, you, stop right there!”
Startled, I did.
“Show me what is in your pockets.”
Without even thinking, I turned my empty pockets inside out.
He then said, “Okay, get out of here.”
Apparently I had been walking through the store with my hands in my pockets, and left without buying anything.
I cannot begin to tell you how devastating those few seconds actually were. For years, I was paranoid whenever I went into a store, thinking I was being watched, suspected, ready to be accused at any moment.
Ever felt that way?
Maybe not when entering a store, but what about when you think about entering a church?
By now you may have seen the viral video of the Oklahoma pastor who went on a rant and began calling out people – and I do mean calling them out – in regard to his perception of sin in their life.
I do not know whether what he said about the people was true.
I only know it was spiritual malpractice.
You can watch it here.
This is precisely what so many people fear will happen when they come to a church, whether through past experience or simply perception. Sadly, as this video showed, it can happen.
Yes, we can say “it’s in love.” But if it looks like condemnation, feels like condemnation and sounds like condemnation, it’s…probably condemnation. No amount of dressing it up with other intentions redirects the blow.
You may not be surprised to learn from subsequent news reports that the man in the video who was hoping to be married has since left the church. I think it’s safe to assume the young man filming the entire affair, and undoubtedly behind the video’s release, has also left.
Jesus led with grace, not condemnation. He didn’t fail to confront the sin in people’s lives, but he did it in a way that left them following Him – not gunned down in His wake.
One of the more important pastoral words I find myself passing on, time and again, is the difference between conviction and accusation. The Holy Spirit convicts; only the evil one accuses.
One accusation outside a convenience store by a misguided employee marked a young boy for years.
Imagine how scarred people must be when they feel it comes from God’s representatives.
And how important it is to tell them that while it may come from some of God’s people,
…it doesn’t come from God.
James Emery White
Viral video of Oklahoma pastor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSJt-LHMNRY&feature=player_embedded
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.