Having just spent a week with Christian leaders I came home with a raw heart.
Surely, I came home tired.
But I also came home perplexed by our unique ability to discourage one another.
When I went to my first convention in 2002– the whole thing was weird for me. It all seemed larger than life. The speakers, bands, seminar leaders, and myriad of volunteers all seemed bulletproof. I’d never seen anything like it and…
They are not. They are no different than you or I.
Now that I sit in different rooms during NYWC I see the event through their eyes as much as the eyes of those who have driven from all over the country to attend.
Imagine their perspective. For most, coming to convention is the highlight of their year. They are eager to present. But they are also eager to reconnect with lifelong compatriots, catch a friends seminar, or even to just be with people who remind them that they aren’t crazy. For many first-time speakers and artists it is actually an affirmation of years of hard work to be invited to speak. It’s a really big deal.
And so they do their thing. (Teach, lead worship, or even perform their talent) They are all the way into it. Their heart is there. They’ve given themselves to countless hours of preparation. They bought a new shirt. They got their nails done. And for a good chunk of them this is the largest audience they’ve ever spoken to. They are feeling big time because it’s one of the few places in youth ministry where we gather to acknowledge big time people.
And when they complete their task– most are both eager for feedback and too raw to receive feedback constructively. That’s why we’ve created spaces for them to just come and relax. For most, their hearts are just too raw and they need some time before and after.
This really isn’t any different than when I’ve taught or preached. (Thankfully, I’ve never been in a band!) You leave the platform feeling exposed, you seek out feedback, you want to know that what you did or said moved people or helped somehow or was just good and not bad.
It’s a raw state that anyone who speaks or performs experiences.
Inevitably, as folks bump into me, they want to know what people were saying online while they presented. If I’m on my A-game, I’ll have selected and saved a few tweets to share. I’m careful to show them things that will affirm. But folks are savvy and they know that if I’m showing them 1-2 things that there are likely a lot more. So when they ask, I suck at lying, so we look at them all.
And it’s depressing. You can feel the shoulders slump as they are shown a mirror they weren’t quite ready to look into.
There are lots of tweets quoting people. Awesome.
There are lots of tweets about how people feel as a person is singing or speaking. Awesome.
And there are lots of tweets about flippant things as people try to say something smart so that they can get re-tweeted. Not awesome.
It’s not awesome. It hurts. It sticks. And it bitters the entire experience. No one wants to read that someone thinks their hairstyle sucks. Or the color of their shirt is wrong for the color of their skin. Or that they look kind of like a celebrity.
It’s as if we get so caught up trying to out smart-aleck one another that we forget that these are real people who will likely read about themselves on Twitter, or Facebook, or Google. Yeah, when you @reply a person on Twitter it is very likely they are going to see it! Geez, you think?
That’s the problem. We don’t think. We forget that people are not objects. We forget that this is real life. And we forget that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
This isn’t about convention, it’s about you
In the same breathe lets acknowledge some truth. Anyone who speaks at convention knows that criticism, even over silly things, is part of the game. It shouldn’t be but it is. And they all get over it.
And just like when a student comes into our office and rips on us for 20 minutes… we all know that flippant negative remarks aren’t about us. They tend to be about what’s in the heart of the critic rather than style of the critiqued clothing.
Think about this for half a second: Who called you to a ministry of discouragement?
As I was thinking about this yesterday, I wondered how many people would like the same treatment this week? How would they like it if they taught a Bible lesson on Wednesday night in full knowledge that while they were sharing all of their pupils were having a dialog about their words and trying to one-up one another on Twitter or Facebook.
What would it be like to teach on Sunday morning, have people shake your hand as they left, and then read that there was a rowdy debate about whether or not you’ve gained some weight.
You would feel horrible. You would cry out to God, “Why have you called me to minister to these people? Why do I deserve this? I share the message you’ve laid on my heart and all they care about is where I bought my shoes!”
And yet we do it all the time. Not just at events like NYWC, we do it all the time… all the time! We post some smarty-pants comment about a person not knowing or caring that this same person is going to see our tweet, click on our profile, and think… “Youth pastor at First Baptist, eh? What a jerk!”
My plank is just as big and as weighty as anyone else. But being common doesn’t make something correct.
You are entitled to your opinion
I think there is an important distinction to mention here. There is a distinction to be made between a flippant remark, something sarcastic or a dagger about someone’s attire, and comments made about content. I’ve never known a person to not appreciate feedback on content. Even if it’s in strong opposition to what’s been presented. That’s on-topic and relevant. And I’ve also witnessed some incredible dialog as the result of comments made on content.
On top of that, when you pay to attend something you feel empowered to judge it. You watch television for free and when something isn’t to your liking you just change the channel and get over it. But when you pay to see a movie that you don’t like and you feel a responsibility to tell other people.
I get that. And I affirm that. You’re entitled to like or not like something. But you aren’t at liberty to tear down for the sake of making yourself look good. It is one thing to not like a movie. It’s an entirely different thing to make fun of someone who came to encourage you.
Change is needed
As I sat and thought about this phenomenon while coming home yesterday, I just couldn’t get two things out my mind.
First, a passage of Scripture I memorized long ago.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. Ephesians 5:1-7
Second, a song we sing with children.
O be careful little mouth what you say
O be careful little mouth what you say
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little mouth what you say
O, that we would be a people known for lifting people up instead of tearing them down.