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How do I approach my women’s ministry leader, elders, or pastor about the false teacher whose materials our church is using, whose conference our church members are attending, etc.?

I’ve received this same basic question from scads of readers over the past few weeks. It’s alarming when your women’s ministry leader picks a Lysa TerKeurst book for the next women’s “Bible” study or the elders promote Steven Furtick’s latest conference. You love your church and don’t want to see people deceived, but you also know that people don’t often respond well to hearing that the Christian celebrity they’re enamored with is a false teacher. What to do? How can we alert our leaders to the theological problems with a popular Christian personality?

1. Pray
I’m gonna beat this drum ’til the cows come home, because this is a concept we have got to get through our heads. God knows and loves your leaders and your church infinitely more than you do, and He is far more able to do something about the situation than you are, because He is able to change your leaders’ hearts and minds and open their eyes (which is usually what’s needed). You are not. Furthermore, He wants you to depend on Him to handle things rather than depending on evidence, your own persuasiveness, etc. You should already be praying regularly for your church and its leadership. When a situation like this comes up, pray long, hard, and continuously.

2. Remember why you’re approaching your leadership.
If you’re going at this from a “they’re wrong, I’m right” perspective or some sort of desire to “win” at this conflict, you need to repent. This isn’t about you. This is about the supremacy of God’s word, the purity of His Bride, and the exaltation of His reputation. This is about loving your church so much that you’re willing to risk rejection and humiliation so that they won’t be deceived.

3. Memorize and meditate on these verses and use them as your guide when approaching anyone about false teachers/doctrine:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 2:24-26

Remember, you’re the Lord’s servant, not some hot shot discernment Big Man on Campus.

Are you quarrelsome? Kind? Able to teach? Patient enough to endure evil? Able to correct with gentleness? That’s a good checklist for your heart and abilities.

Who’s going to grant repentance to the person you’re dealing with so she might come to a knowledge of the truth? You? Nope. God is.

Who’s the bad guy here? Is it the person you’re approaching? No. It’s the devil. He’s holding that person prisoner to deception. You’re not approaching an enemy to conquer. You’re rescuing a captive with spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.

4. Approach

a) Who should approach this leader?
Are you the best person for the job? Are there other willing and discerning church members who might be able to handle the situation better than you can? Sometimes you’re the only person for the job. In that case, ladies, remember your role in the church and at home. Be sure you’re submitting to your husband’s leadership in this situation.

If the person you’re approaching is the (female) leader of the women’s ministry, Bible study class, conference coordinator, etc., it might be best if you go to her alone or with another discerning sister. It is usually best to approach this person first before going over her head to the elders or pastor. You want to win your sister over to the truth, if possible, not simply force her to change things because a superior tells her she has to.

If the person who needs to be approached is male, it might be best for your husband (or another discerning brother) to meet with him, or for you and your husband to meet with him together, with your husband taking the lead and you in a supporting role. Again, it’s usually best to approach the lower level leader, if any, before going over his head.

b) How should you approach this leader?
In humility, love, and all the other characteristics from the 2 Timothy 2 passage. And keep a few other things in mind too:

First, give the person the benefit of the doubt that she’s got good motives. She probably thinks the study she’s selected would help the women of your church or that the conference would lead them closer to the Lord. It’s usually not the case that the person is consciously trying to introduce anti-biblical material.

Second, keep ignorance at the forefront of your mind. Most people in the church today – even pastors – are completely unaware of the extent of false doctrine, or even what false doctrine is, or that the majority of the most popular Christian celebrities are false teachers. They think if you can buy it at LifeWay or if it calls itself Christian and sprinkles a few Bible verses around, it must be biblical Christianity. You must initially approach people with the mindset that they’re trying to do something good, but they they simply aren’t aware of the false doctrine that’s out there or that the person they’re introducing to the church is a false teacher. (This is where “able to teach” and “correcting with gentleness” come in).

Next, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and keep in mind that it’s hard to hear that a Christian celebrity you love is a false teacher. Give the person time to sort out all this new, and sometimes overwhelming, information.

Finally, be prepared for backlash. No matter how kind, gentle, and objective you are, the person may feel personally attacked and lash out at you. Don’t lash back. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile.

c) With what should you approach this leader?
The Bible and credible evidence. For every charge you bring against this false teacher, you need to bring credible audio, video, or print evidence of the teacher’s own words or actions and the Bible passages she is violating. Don’t bring opinions, histrionics, unsubstantiated rumors, or out of context remarks by the false teacher. Bring solid, objective, incontrovertible evidence.

Don’t overwhelm the person you’re approaching with reams of material to read or long videos to watch. She might see how time consuming it will be and give up before going through any of it. Keep things concise.

Don’t attempt to address every wrong word, action, or teaching ever perpetrated by the false teacher. Go with a few of the most attention-grabbing, glaring, violations of Scripture.

Make sure your evidence is up to date. Focus on the false teacher’s most recent violations of Scripture, not something from 20 years ago that she has repented of (in which case you shouldn’t be bringing a charge) or backed away from. Recent evidence is also more compelling.

d) How should you leave things?
Reassure the person of your love for her and for the church. Ask if she has any questions, and make sure she has your contact information and knows she’s welcome to get in touch if she has questions or needs more information. If she’s open to it, make some suggestions of doctrinally sound materials, conferences, etc., that could be used. Don’t expect an immediate resolution to the situation. Give the person some time to think and pray things through and to go over the evidence you’ve provided. It might be appropriate to ask if you can touch base with her again in a few days.

Doing all of these things is not a magic formula that will guarantee the results you’re hoping for. In fact, going by the e-mails and messages I’ve received, I would estimate that about 90% of the time, you’ll be ignored or villified as a hater or divisive.

Do it anyway. God may have placed you in that church to help it correct its course or to serve as a biblical warning to them. And, who knows? You might just rescue somebody.


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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