So I’m not used to healthy spiritual authority in my life. How do I know whether advice from Christian elders is worthy of accepting?
Jed Brewer replied:
Hey my friend,
Great question. To start, I think we need to ask whether the advice is actually Biblical.
If a pastor or Bible study leader or whoever is trying to convince you to hate gay people, that is bad and unbiblical advice, and you should reject it. The Bible says we have an obligation to love all people, no matter what. (Romans 13:8)
Same thing goes when the advice quotes the letter of a verse, but misses the spirit of what’s being said. So, for example, if someone says, “Jesus said to turn the other cheek so you have to put up with my bad behavior”, they are twisting a verse to say something it doesn’t actually say. God does not want you, or anyone, to stay in an abusive situation.
And, certainly, the same thing goes when someone is quoting something from the Bible, but that has nothing to do with your life, and they’re trying to put it on you. So, you know, somebody quoting some obscure verse about clothes or tattoos or long hair to try and tell you that you have to change your appearance. Jesus didn’t like it when ‘spiritual leaders’ pulled stunts like that, and neither should you. (Luke 11:46)
But, now, what about when a pastor or mentor or Bible study leader says something to us that is Biblical, in both word, context, and intent, and has a whole heck of a lot to do with our life, and might kinda be true?
I think, in that moment, there are two options. And which option we choose boils down to the question, “Yes, but do you love me?”
Think of the classic case of a guy hanging outside a burger joint, smoking a cigarette. And the well-intentioned-but-clueless passerby stops and say, “You know, those things will kill you! You should quit!!”
Well, now, it’s true. And it applies. And You Should Quit. But, does that person love you? No.
So, we file that advice under the heading, “Something I’ll look at when I get good and ready.”
But let’s say it’s your best friend who says you should quit. The one who picked you up when your car died three hours out of town. The one who sat up with you all night after your boyfriend left. The one who didn’t stop believing in you when you flunked that class. The one who helped you move apartments even though it was raining cats and dogs.
Well, if that person offers the advice, I think we actually want to listen. At the very least, we want to take some time to pray through that advice, and ask the Lord if this is a nudging from Him, because it just might be. Sure, sometimes, Biblically-based advice from people who love us can be the wrong advice for the moment. But it’s always going to be worth taking some time to think and pray about it.
So, with Christian elders – to use your term – we need to look at whether or not their advice is Biblical, but, also, whether or not they’ve demonstrated that they love us. Whether they’ve earned the right to be heard in our lives. And then we want to pray about it, and ask God to guide us.
And that leads us to one last thing. You deserve to have Christian leaders in your life who give good advice and who genuinely know and love you. Don’t settle for less than that. There’s a wide world of (well-intentioned?) advice-givers who don’t have any interest in your as a person. But that ain’t useful.
Start asking God to help you find a community where older Christians will take a personal interest in you, and your life, and your growth. Those communities exist, I promise. They aren’t always easy to find, and they don’t always meet on Sunday mornings, but they’re out there. And you deserve to be a part of one.