The Know-It-All Observer

I was thinking about some things that bug me the other day, and then how those things came to bug me and put a couple of things together in my brain. Frequently we talk amongst ourselves, and with other friends about how opinionated outsiders (def: those who do not live here full time) seem to be about what we do every day.

Seriously, you wouldn’t believe how often we’ve been told by people that we should do x, y, or z, or all of them, differently because whoever it is seems to be an expert. An expert with no experience.

It got me thinking. I’ve spent many years working in ministry of some sort, and you know what? It’s amazing how critical people can be, even though they aren’t holding that particular ministry position. Think about it. It’s like there’s this mentality that anyone who is a Christian automatically has the right to be an expert about any kind of ministry position. How often do pastors, missionaries, evangelists etc come under scrutiny simply because we think we have the right to tell them how to do their jobs because we share the title Christian. I know the Bible talks about certain perimeters for being in those roles, but just because we read our Bibles and call ourselves by similar names, does not give us the right to offer directives.

Case in point – would I tell an engineer how to design an airplane, just because I’ve flown in  a plane at some time or seen a plane? Would I tell a teacher how to teach when I’ve only merely been a student? Would I tell a baker how to make a cake if I had very little experience and they pumped out 20 cakes a day?

Furthermore, would I offer my unsolicited advice, when it was just that – unsolicited? 

Chances are no, I wouldn’t. Because it would be stupid and rude. I don’t know enough about any of those to have any sort of educated opinion, so why would I try to tell any of those people how to do their job. Yet every day non-pastors are telling pastors how to pastor. Non-missionaries are telling missionaries how to work in the mission field. Non-evangelists are telling evangelists how to evangelize. You get the idea.

What gets me even more is when people get offended, after the offered unsolicited advice is rejected. Even very politely with a statement like, “Well, it’s more complicated than that,” or “Based on my experience…” And then they get further offended if the person on the receiving end is even remotely ungracious, or is honest and says that their advice is not need, or asked for. And yet, we probably wouldn’t be offended if an engineer told us we really didn’t know what went into designing an airplane. We would probably admit that they were right, that we don’t know what we’re talking about.

In my years of working in ministry I’ve seen more criticism to those doing the hard work of ministering from those that weren’t in their shoes than I believe I ever would see working in a “secular” job. Why, people? Just because we share the same faith, doesn’t mean we become experts in every aspect of it, or working in the roles God calls us to. There’s a reason why the Bible talks about the body and each person having their role to play. It’s because we aren’t all called to the same things, we don’t have the same giftings, and we can’t possibly understand every calling out there and what it takes to carry it out. There are reasons why some are called to work in pastoral ministry, and some in hospice care. Some are called to be teachers, and others prophets. Not everyone is equipped to leave their current life behind and go live in another culture like a missionary. There are reasons for this, in the same way that not everyone is a brain when it comes to math and building things, and not everyone can do childcare without dropping from exhaustion. And within those roles, there is still more room for our unique personalities and giftings. No two pastors will pastor the same way, and no two missionaries with work in the field in the same way. Yet, for some reason, within the Church we have no end of criticism and advice for those that minister around us.

We have no right.

The Bible firstly talks about the body and how we have a role to play that is different from everyone else’s. If my role is different, how can I possibly know what someone else *should* be doing?

Secondly, the Bible warns against judgement. We are told not to. If I’m giving someone advice in an area that I know very little about, let me tell you, the line between knowing and judging becomes a very fine one indeed. We can sweeten it up under the veil of concern or good intentions, but the bottom line is the same – telling someone how they should do their ministry role better without being asked is judgement. You are saying, “I don’t think you’re doing this right, and this is what you need to do to resolve that.”

Lastly, when someone is called into ministry, the only opinion that really matters is GOD’s. Yours does not matter. When we give unsolicited advice we’re giving ourselves more importance than we actually have. It doesn’t really matter what we think – it’s what God thinks that matters, and it’s God’s job to convict his servant and to direct them in the way they should go. I do believe that there are times when we’re called to hold each other accountable, but accountability is in regards to sin, not in regards to people doing things we just don’t agree with for our own reasons. I also believe that God uses others to speak wisdom into our lives, but that wisdom is supposed to be spoken in love and in relationship.

I think we need to be very careful when we start telling others how to carry out their calling. And, we need to remember a lot of discernment needs to be used before we offer our opinions. How can our words potentially hurt or undermine? How can they grind against the things that God might be leading and directing? Are we willing to listen when someone says, “Sorry, but that’s not what God’s been telling me”? Are we willing to look at ourselves and our motivations before we share? Are we willing to admit that maybe we don’t know what we’re talking about and what’s best in a particular situation? Most of all, are we willing to be learners, actively listening to what the needs really are and the reasons behind chosen actions or directions?

It’s a lot to think about, isn’t it?


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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

6 thoughts on “The Know-It-All Observer

  1. Yes. Then add the layer of folks who have been visiting your country of service for all of 1 hour, 1 day or even 1 month who have all the answers. SIGH. Thanks for writing this and have a wonderful week.

  2. Way to go, Leslie! I know just what you mean! We dealt with that in Haiti and back in Canada. It never ends and for some, it pushes the missionaries away from missions. I know it certainly had a role to play in why we left the last mission we were with. Praying for you guys!

  3. I know where you are coming from and I sympathize, but be cautious in rejecting input just because you think the source knows nothing; it often is not true. I will give you one example from my experience; I could give many.

    Years ago I worked in a railway shop. At the time of the incident in question I was just an apprentice. One day one of our engineers came to us with a plan for a very complicated and very expensive piece of equipment that was to be built. As he was discussing it I looked over the blueprint and noticed what I considered serious design problems. When I pointed them out I was met with “Who do you think you are? You’re just an apprentice. What do you know about engineering design. I have been an engineer for years. I think I know better than an apprentice.” We were ordered to build the equipment as per the blueprint. We did so. When the equipment was activated, it self-destructed as I had foreseen. Hundreds of thousands of dollars went into the scrap.

    Just because someone is not an expert in what we do, does not mean they know nothing and their observations are of no value. Wisdom sometimes comes from the mouth of babes. We also tend to get in a rut; we don’t like change and like to do things the way we’ve always done them. Sometimes someone has a better idea. We need to remain teachable.

    • I think we need to be careful about assuming that rejected advice means a person needs to be more teachable or that they might be stuck in a rut. In most cases it’s just what it is – rejected advice, for whatever reason that person might have. And just because it’s rejected doesn’t mean it hasn’t been discussed or weighed, it just means it’s been rejected. It’s a disagreement of what is appropriate in a particular context. The bible tells us to use discernment when seeking out wisdom and advice. Any leader in a ministry position that I’ve worked with has always had people to turn to for guidance and advice, most often because of experience in that particular area, and they understand more of the inner workings of what is involved in the decision – many details that the advice giver may not be privy to.

  4. Hey Leslie,

    It is almost a year since you wrote this. I am just curious if any of your thinking and feeling has changed about this? Would you write any of this differently today?

    Having been in various ministry leadership roles, I have seen the same sort of thing happen. Some where along the way, God taught me to ask myself two questions whenever someone gives feedback: 1) is it true? and 2) does it matter? If I answer ‘yes’ to the first question then I go on to the second one. If i answer ‘yes’ to that one too, then I need to do something with that feedback. At first, I was just doing this evaluation process with what I considered to be negative feedback. But I have learned that it is just as important to do it with what seems like positive feedback, too, because sometimes the ‘feel good’ feedback isn’t very accurate.

    Recently, I have added a third question that I try to always ask myself, whether I have answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to any of the previous questions. That question is, “is there some kind of a character issue in me that is at the root of this?” In other words, “Is God trying to teach me something or show me something or reinforce something for me here?”

    • Hi Bob,

      I do feel the same way, even a year later :) I think you’re right about weighing things, and while it wasn’t hit on specifically, that process, for me at least, falls under the “using wisdom and discernment” category. I think if we are Biblically seeking to speak with grace and love, then we are going to be more conscientious about how our advice and suggestions may come across and be received, and more willing to share and leave it there, rather than be offended by the response of the one on the receiving end if they don’t do what we suggest. This was written more specifically from the perspective of being on the receiving end of endless advice from those that struggle to admit they aren’t really in a position to be giving any, and who struggle to accept the decision to not act on their recommendations.

      As the receiver, I think we also have the responsibility to receive with grace and love, respond with grace and love, and then weigh things according to what we feel God is calling us to do, then be confident in our decisions.

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