I’ve got a friend (who is not “in the ministry”) who uses that phrase to refer to people who find little to applaud in other people’s ministries. A “small applauder” has a very small window for what they consider admirable. They have a small checklist of things they look for and if you don’t hit those… well, your ministry is not really worth much of anything.

I don’t usually like to be around those kind of people. It’s not that I don’t believe in robust dialogue about truth in ministry. And it’s not that I think theologically-sloppy ministry is OK. It’s just that I recognize…

  • The things I do see clearly in ministry are the result of a genuine work of grace God has done in my heart.  That recognition should not lead to judgmentalism, but to grace, patience with others, and a general spirit of acceptance.
  • There was a time when I was not passionate about the things I am most passionate about now. That doesn’t mean there was nothing praiseworthy in my ministry then. I’m also grateful that God did not discard me as quickly as these ‘small applauders’ seem ready to discard the ministries of others.
  • I also realize I probably don’t have ministry figured out now nearly as well I think I do. Chances are my ministry has some pretty steep shortcomings in God’s eyes. I often think about this: What is greater, the gap between the person I am critiquing’s understanding of ministry and mine, or mine and God’s? Thus, if God is gracious to me, why wouldn’t I be gracious to others?
  • Just because God has not shown someone the same grace He has shown to me (by revealing certain things about doctrine and ministry) does not mean He hasn’t shown them anything worth learning from them… God reveals some things more clearly to one than another, so that we can share with one another out of the grace He has given to each of us. The global church is Christ’s body, and we complete each other. He never gives everything to one member. In other words, He did not give us the graces He gave us so that we could be proud and look down on one another, but so that we could love and serve one another.
  • Relationships matter. They don’t trump truth, of course, but I am willing to put up with some things I don’t exactly agree with because I recognize someone as a brother in Christ and I want to know and be a part of their lives and ministry. If I’m not, how will they ever see the things God has shown to me? I can only bless them if I know tham and am up close to them. People rarely listen to strangers or enemies.
  • If we limit our praise and our fellowship to only those people who see things as clearly as we do, our circle will get progressively smaller and smaller and we’ll get  lonelier and lonelier in ministry, which will make us meaner and crabbier than we already are.
  • I’d rather “assume the weaknesses and notice the strengths” than “notice the weaknesses and assume the strengths.” Real Christian encouragement is usually built on that principle. We often help others most not by beating them down in their failures, but by finding evidences of God’s grace in their lives and fanning them into flame.
  • God has not called me to the judge of everyone else’s ministry. I don’t have the time, ability, or desire to be the judge. I’m more worried about the shortcomings in my own ministry to get consumed with those of others. I’m just not going to waste the precious time God gave me for ministry tearing down someone else’s.

Let me acknowledge that what I am saying is a little out-of-balance. There most certainly is a place for critique and the Gospel most definitely matters. We must contend for it. Where would we be without Athanasius, Luther, or Carl FH Henry? And we should be “big boys” enough to give and receive godly criticism (that is one of our core staff values at the Summit). But I just generally want to be a “large applauder” and a “small critic” rather than visa versa. I want to find evidences of grace in people’s lives and ministries and really celebrate those.