The Problem When Christians Become Armchair Quarterbacks

Of all the damage Hurricane Harvey did to south Texas, one of the most frustrating revelations was the number of Christians who felt “called” to be armchair quarterbacks. Plenty of them surfaced writing about what Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church did wrong (in their opinion). But it’s also reminded me of all the others who feel just as “called” to address the theology, style, behavior, choices, and other aspects of numerous pastors, leaders, and congregations across the country.

In the case of Lakewood, there were bloggers who went to great lengths castigating Joel and the church, even though they were writing from a thousand miles away, weren’t in the storm, hadn’t been in the prep meetings between the church and city, hadn’t contacted church leadership, and pretty much based their comments on what they’d read online (mostly via social media.)

But no need to get hung up in Houston, because I can give you plenty of others. One remarkably common example is a disgruntled ex-church or staff member who feels called to launch a blog or Facebook page for the single purpose of criticizing their former pastor or church. If you ask them about it, they’ll argue in noble terms like they’re “calling out sin” or “exposing the truth.”

But speaking of truth, there’s that pesky scripture: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Obviously, we can’t all get through to people we may think are in the wrong, and many of them won’t respond anyway. But the point is to get as close as possible to the source. Talk to the person, or at least find out the actual facts. Do some research. There’s no scriptural instructions to blog or launch social media campaigns based on hurt feelings, moral indignation, or worst of all – sketchy information from the social media mob.

The truth is, the Internet has made it so easy to be an armchair critic. Just get angry, type something up, and “click” to send it on. When I write books, my editor and publisher require that I fact check everything, but not so online. Believers need to control that impulse and wait until we have the facts. CBS News recently did a piece on “Internet Shaming” and it’s a powerful report about just how much damage this causes.

Second, we need to examine our own actions more and other’s actions less. In the case of Lakewood, I’m curious how much their critics were doing to help the hurricane victims. In the case of other critics of pastors and leaders, I’m curious about how many people they’ve led to Jesus recently. It may sound trite, but at the end of my life, I’m not expecting God to ask my opinions about other leaders. He’s going to ask what I did with my life.

Last – stop the sanctimonious posturing. As Maggie Smith’s character Dowager Countess Violet Crawley in Downton Abby remarked, “It must be cold on the moral high ground.” We have little idea of the battles other people are fighting or the obstacles they’re dealing with. Of all people, Christians should be known as the people most willing to extend grace.

Certainly there are hypocrites, apostates, and jerks in the church, but I need to deal with my own shortcomings before I start lecturing others. Too many Christians have become like a parent who yells at his kids to get off their phones, while scrolling through his.

It’s time to stop being that guy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • V.W. Falcon

    Of the 1900 Houston area churches, only 60 ever took people in.

    • GarySweeten

      Each church has strengths and weaknesses. Judging anyone for not doing a particular task is easy to be mistaken. I have been in house churches and mega churches with Sunday school classes larger than my house church. Be very careful about judging.

      • V.W. Falcon

        Not judging, Gary, quite the contrary. For all those armchair church-based QBs who are judging Osteen, the odds are they didn’t open as a shelter, or wouldn’t if a storm hit their city.

  • Tony Miller

    Well said! Most never ask themselves “What am I doing to help this situation?”

  • Candi Jenkins

    perfectly said.

  • Maryjo Petersen Castro

    Nicely said!

  • VictoriousOne

    On point as usual, Dr. Phil. I also am perturbed about the rampant mega-church hate that surfaces every time there is a challenge or a controversy, regardless of what the facts might be or how much information is known. Churches grow large because people enjoy the services, and while there are many examples of foolishness within churches large and small, there is some kind of silly jealousy lurking in the church that causes folks to hate on pastors and ministries they know nothing about simply because they’re large. And God forbid we actually turn to scripture, which clearly gives a thousand instructions about getting off of one’s own derriere and serving or helping, and zero about utilizing the ‘computerized courage’ people derive from social media to be critical. Well said, my friend…

    • Lioness78

      ^^^^^and equally on point & well said, VictoriousOne!!^^^^^
      I feel kinda’ honored that, though not as eloquently, I’d voiced (in comments on some of the very threads, rife with armchair QB’s) some of the same verbiage, scripture(s) as Phil C—in comments where the goats feasting in the fields of false information, accusation and judgment were enthusiastically then scattering around their post digested disinformation.
      Would one of the main twittering pastors (who “called out”) Joel O) not then been strutting about claiming he’d ‘shamed’ Lakewood into opening their doors, and accusing Lakewood of lying about the delay, I’d have been more convinced there wasn’t a modicum of competitive jealously involved.
      After Lakewood opened their doors as a shelter, had that guy (not naming. not “shaming”) then said something like: “OK, Joel, I didn’t agree with you not opening your doors initially, but now you have, what can I/we do to come along side you to assist?”
      Since I’m not sure if it would cross a line of proper etiquette on Phill Cooke’s on blog, I won’t post the link itself, but HIGHLY recommend another fantastic piece (that companions beautifully, IMO, with this of Phil C’s) written by a very unlikely defender of Joel Osteen, Ed Stetzer. In Christianity Today: “Some Christians Hate Joel Osteen more than they love the truth”.
      He wisely, lovingly, matter-of-factly takes to task those “bearing false witness” in the “Osteen -vs- Harvey displaced (false narrative) kerfuffle, like a father having a “family meeting”, exhorting us all with a reminder that “we’re better than this”. An EXCELLENT, objective read.
      The world will know us by the love we have FOR ONE ANOTHER. Armchair QB’s of the butting-goat persuasion have those on the outside looking in thinking: “uh-uh. I ain’t stepping into that mess”. Talk about keeping the displaced (in the world) shut-out!!

  • Gary Janzen

    Great post Phil, I am one of those who could blog about injustice etc from inside the Church but I can’t see any purpose other than trying to hurt another person and try and get them to feel how I am feeling. We are instructed in 1 Peter 5:6-8 to lead with humility, casting our cares on Him who cares for me. God is the ultimate judge of all of this and I am going to let Him deal with my perceived shortcomings of others, and not try to drag others to pile on.

  • Ron_Sellers

    Reminds me of this: “I’m sure that what I’m doing isn’t perfect,” replied Billy Graham to an Anglican leader who criticized him. “But I like the evangelism that I’m doing better than the evangelism that you’re not doing.”

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  • Thank you Phil. I go to Lakewood and the media frenzy over Hurricane Harvey and Pastor Joel was nonsense. Today’s media is looking for sensationalism in the midst of tragedy and picking out a scrapegoat. Today if your hair is the wrong color, you’re going to have haters and trolls if you are in the media. Our church rallied big time and now involved in a year long rebuilding of communities. One thing Lakewood proved is that all ethnic groups, cultures, people from all backgrounds worked together in love. The storm brought people together while the media worked to create division.