A young organic church planter asked me how I deal with people who complain about my words and at the same time, manage to tactfully address sensitive issues in the church. Here is my response...
We live in a day where we publish thoughts instantly and permanently to thousands of people in little sound bites of 140 characters or less. And we do this several times in a single day! The potential for sin is enormous. The book of James talked of controlling the tongue, but today it is the thumb that gets us in trouble!
Actually, I have always tried to walk the fine line of attacking the system that subjugates, not the people caught in it. I have unfortunately said some stupid things with twitter that I wish I could get back. As of yet, I haven't violated my own belief, but have said things that are not really going to be helpful but merely inflammatory...those are the tweets I regret. I have also lived to see people cold toward me and I'm pretty sure it was something I said. This closes off a potential area of influence and relationship in the future. That is the cost of saying inflammatory things that are not truly helpful.
The truth is Christianity is a sub-culture that is accustomed to and values harsh statements but also is easily offended. Finding the balance is more art than science. Those who are bold in their course statements are heralded as heroes who stand up for what they believe without compromise.
At the same time, churches are full of people with the spiritual gift of offense. These people live out their religion as though it is their calling from God to police others and let them know how wrong they are, and in so doing are even more obnoxious than the people they criticize (sorry if I just offended you...not!). It is this reason more than all others that I am glad I no longer preach a sermon every week in church. I DO NOT miss that! I actually do hope I didn't offend my dear friends at the church I used to pastor...I wasn't thinking of you. Those who claim to follow the silent Lamb of God should be the slowest to offense, but are often the quickest to find it.
The church is a strange sub-culture that must be wildly confusing to those who are not within...I'm confused by it and I am a part of the church (though many would disagree with that last thought). Perhaps the worst part of this sub-culture is the idea that we do everything we can to avoid all offense because "that's what Jesus would do"...Oh Skubala (that's the ancient Greek word for Sh#@)! Jesus was an outspoken, even sarcastic, leader who was not afraid to step on the toes of those who were keeping others in bondage to an old system. He spoke boldly, clearly, publicly, even mockingly, at the Pharisees for their self-righteous world view.
Paul did as well. To those who felt everyone needed circumcision to convert to Christ he said in Galatians 5:12: "Hey if you want to get real religious, why stop at the foreskin...cut the whole thing off and be even more spiritual!" (my own paraphrase...but the point is there, no pun intended). Have I offended some of you yet?
If we work so hard to honor the status quo to keep the boat steady we will never turn it around and we will be destined to drift off course in our "happy" little boat. The truth is these people will find reason to get upset no matter what we say or do not say. The result is that we are still offensive and no closer to being 'happy" but also way off course. So speak the truth in love...in fact, shout it from the roof tops. Here are some thoughts to help shout the right things and deal with those who strike back...
The first thing to consider is the Scriptures. If the folks we know in the system are bible believers and the Scriptures are clear you can speak with authoritynot your authority but the Bible's authority. Let the Scriptures speak for themselves...they are far better at it than we are (Heb 4:12). If the Bible is silent than we should be silent. That is actually where many Christian leaders blow it. If the people are claiming biblical authority for something that is not in the Bible than speak boldly and unapologetically against that. That said, claiming something as "biblical" or "unbiblical"can sometimes be overdone. It is perhaps better to simply ask..."Where is that found in the Bible?" I find it better to question the weight people put on things that are not in the Bible than the actual practice itself. Often a practice was born in relevance for a moment but after many years it became sacred even though it is not in the Bible. Honor the past usefulness, but raise awareness of the fact that it no longer has as much relevance and is not a biblical command. Emphasize freedom in the truth. Jesus said the truth would set us free, not make us religious slaves.
Second is to always move to relationship when a conflict (or potential one) comes up. Don't camp in the conceptual areas you disagree on...move to relational touch points and make the relationship more important than the issue, after all, we're supposed to be the most loving relational people...right? Ha!
Third, don't defend yourself when you are being attacked...it only hurts your stance and empowers the one attacking you. Your friends may step up for you...that always feels good. If not, your Father in heaven will be your advocate...though perhaps not for a long time. That said, you can clarify things when someone rises up against you to make sure that they are understanding what you meant. But once that doesn't work (and often it doesn't) don't slide into self-defense. Ed Stetzer likens it to wrestling with a pig in the mud, you both get dirty but the pig likes it.
The remarkable thing is that in all my experience of receiving hate mail it is always addressed publicly without actually addressing me in private first. It is amazing how people can police others on their view of the Bible and totally disregard the Bible in doing so. The point is that they are not truly interested in what is true or spiritual...it is usually motivated by hurt, jealousy, envy or a divisive spirit in their own lives. Some people find empowerment by attacking others. You can't win that argument, so leave it be. There are far more important things to be about, get on with those things.
Hope that helps some.