Sunday, March 15, 2009

Compassion for the Critics

Did you ever hear a sermon that went straight to a question you had posed, or an issue that had befuddled you?

I did this morning, at my church in Lexington, Kentucky -- Quest Community Church.

My pastor, Pete Hise, has been doing a series called, "Loaded Questions." It has focused on tough questions that Jesus asked people. Today we looked at the discussion he had with Nicodemus, who was one of the spiritual rulers in Israel at the time of Jesus's ministry.

Pete said that when people seek out truth, they fall into one of three categories of "questioners."

The first is the Critic. This isn't a person who "thinks critically." Rather, a critic "hears the question of faith and thinks it's funny that you believe. They throw a stone ... because they don't want to grapple. The scoffer wants to make other people believe less. When they throw rocks, they don't consider the truth. They don't really want answers," Pete said.

The second is the Seeker. This person says, "I can't believe the impossible can happen." Some seekers come very near to God, but they learn the cost of following is so high that they get scared and walk away. Others finally give way and are more compelled than ever to accept what they have heard. Pete explained that in this story in John 3, Nicodemus fell under the "seeker" category.

And the third is the Follower. They graduate from the seeker state and enter into a full relationship with Jesus.

As I listened to Pete, my mind wandered to the types of people I have encountered online recently. Most of them are Critics, or scoffers. I have wrestled with an uncomfortable question ... When you encounter a Critic, do you abandon them? Do you leave them to their way of thinking and concentrate your efforts on the Seekers instead?

This is what I have been told by other Christians reading this blog. They mean well. For the most part, these are people who know me well and know my personal tendency to get caught up in the drama of the dialogue. They are afraid I will become immersed in debates that can't be won. They argue that I should "shake the dust" and move on to people whose hearts are ready to hear truth.

I agree up to a point. But as I sat in Quest this morning, I started thinking ... what if Tolkein had given up on C.S. Lewis?

Or what if I had given up on my friend Joy?

I have other friends who write and email me ... what if I said to myself, "They are happy in their misery. Leave them alone. Don't be bothered with them anymore."

And to the other extreme, I have encountered strangers on the Internet who scared me a little with their threatening comments. Shouldn't I go scurrying for cover?

Here's the thing, though ...

Pete read a letter from a Critic who had become a Christian on Easter 2007. This person came to Quest because his wife was a Christian, but all the time he hurled stones at the message. But people didn't give up on him.

I don't think that everyone has to engage the Critical personality. Some people really are better suited to reach the hearts that are ready. But there is still need for others -- people like me -- to be willing to sow the seeds, even if the ground they are striking is hard.

I have gone a full circle on this train of thought ... first with zeal to reach atheists, then with fear that I had pushed too many buttons, then with discouragement that they were impossible converts, then with resignation that I should focus on "seekers" instead ... and then to this morning, when I realized that it's okay to feel compassion for the critics.

Afterall ... Someone else feels compassion for them. He died for people who were critics.

If He has put it into my heart to aggressively engage them, debate them and ultimately, to love them, then I will follow His lead and pray for Him to reach the hearts of those placed into my life.

How about you?

Are you trying to reach "impossible" people? Is there someone for whom you would like me to pray?

How can I pray for you?


  1. Hiya
    I have just found your blog through the Alpha Inventions cycle and it immediately caught my attention. As a believer of a different faith I have to say that I admire your strength and your obvious faith! The Lord will always prepare the way for you to do His work through prayer!
    So dont let anyone discourage your wonderful works. You obviously understand how the people work as well as the gospel, you are so many strides ahead of so many people. I believe there is a time for all things, and just by us sewing our seed in the best way we can, through diligent prayer all of Gods work will be done. It may not be in this life, we may not even see it, but it will be done!!
    So good look with your endeavours, I have really enjoyed reading this post!!

  2. With God, ALL things are possible. As He "works to win" the critic, He has a messenger (you) standing ready on the internet to exchange ideas and arguments and thoughts with ALL kinds of people. You are a servant with whom He is well pleaased.