A friend of mine once said as he was coming out of a Church meeting, “I know the ideal is that our leaders are called by inspiration, but I think in this case it must have been by desperation. He didn’t have an agenda for the meeting, everything was pure chaos and I honestly don’t know what was decided. The meeting ran fifteen minutes over and people left just shaking their heads.”
My friend saw a new leader conduct a Church meeting in an ineffective way. He responded by criticizing the leader and questioning the inspiration of his call.
As a business consultant, I frequently critique business leaders and give them feedback to improve their performance, but what about Church leaders who are not promoted for their competence based on the judgment of a boss but are called by revelation to serve the Lord and His children? Could it be that leaders are sometimes called, not because of the competence they possess, but rather for the competencies the Lord desires them to acquire? Could it be that the Lord does not always call the most qualified person for a position, but the one He wants for whatever reason? What then is our duty when we see mistakes and have ideas for improvement? What if we become aware of serious problems that could cause great harm? Are we to never criticize Church leaders?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course.” (Ensign, Apr.1986, p.3-4.)
President Hinckley legitimizes the use of criticism as a tool for correction; in some instances, the tool can lead to improvements and betterment. However, in other cases it becomes evil speaking and contention.
Elder George Albert Smith teaches an astute insight about criticism, “Aren’t we rather prone to see the limitations and the weaknesses of our neighbors? Yet that is contrary to the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a class of people who find fault and criticize always in a destructive way. There is a difference in criticism. If we can criticize constructively under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, we may change beneficially and properly some of the things that are being done. But if we have the spirit of fault finding, of pointing out the weaknesses and failings of others in a destructive manner, that never comes as a result of the companionship of the Spirit of our Heavenly Father and is always harmful.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1934, p. 50.)
Allow me to suggest a principle, based on motive and outcome.
Criticism given with the Spirit to help and strengthen is righteous. Criticism given to hurt and teardown drives out the Spirit and is always harmful.
I can picture some offering an objection, “Although the criticism may be hurtful, what if it’s true?” This supposes that only slander is wrong. I believe that nothing is as hurtful as the truth used with malice. Truth can be served up in a helpful or a hurtful way.
My friend who criticized a newly called Church leader was not a big evildoer, he spoke without intending harm, but the result was he questioned a brother’s calling and then belittled his performance. The outcome was to besmirch a brother’s reputation and spread negativity about him. My friend did harm.
I had a different friend in the mission field who encountered a similar situation with a newly called leader. My friend clearly saw the problems and said nothing about them to others. He then asked to speak with the newly called leader and they sat in private.
My friend said, “I noticed a few things in our meeting that I believe could be improved to make our meetings better. Would you be interested in my sharing them with you?”
The leader eagerly listened to my friend’s honest observations and incorporated several of the ideas in the next meeting with wonderful results.
How do we make sure our criticism of Church leaders is righteous?
Ask yourself, is this a minor problem of little consequence? If so, let it pass with a prayer for their well-being.
If the problem is significant and its solution would bless lives, obtain the Spirit and discuss the issue in private, not with others. The Savior taught, “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matt.18:15.)
If the problem you have identified is of a serious nature and the brother or sister you discuss it with refuses to correct the problem or neglects to do so, then have a discussion in private with the Church authority who can correct or release the person.
Finally, brothers and sisters, we are a church of lay ministry. Our lessons and talks are not given by professional, polished, learned clergy-you and I give them so we can be edified together. My point? Let’s cut our Church leaders some slack. Smile at the slip-ups. Remember when we were in their shoes, or contemplate when we might receive their calling.
President Hinckley teaches a powerful principle about focus and emphasis, “What I am suggesting is that each of us turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults.” (Ensign, Apr.1986, p.3-4.)