the shape of leadership

Should We Name Names?

We can do better than the call-out culture of social media

Chris Colvin on August 28, 2019

It happens frequently in today’s digital world. Someone calls out a pastor online, posting clips from a video conveniently edited to prove the speaker wrong. The tagline may be something like, “Can you believe what he said?” or, “Let’s put her in her place!”

Some people love to name names, purportedly to correct errors or point the way to established truth.

On the one hand, there’s something to be said for telling it like it is. We shouldn’t allow sin or false teaching to go unchallenged when it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. On the other hand, calling out others is, at best, a distraction from our true task as disciple makers. At worst, it’s a poor precedent, copying the patterns of the world instead of following the dictates of Christ.

To be sure, there is power in a prophetic voice, and many believe they hold that office. They may even speak truth in a way that affects real change. But is publicly calling out other ministers really necessary in today’s culture?

Naming names goes beyond just pointing out the types of things to avoid or highlighting the right things to do. It involves putting a person’s name and face to your negative evaluation.

Some reason that since certain ministers have gone public in word and deed, they are fair game. And the only way to counter their heresy or hypocrisy is to be as public as they are. They may even add a biblical justification, saying, “Paul named names, so I can name names.”

Is that a valid argument, though? We need to be sure we understand what Paul was doing in his day. He wasn’t sharing his thoughts on Twitter and Facebook. He would send epistles, or letters, to churches and friends. They were private correspondence, more or less. And every time he named a name, it was the name of someone whose life he was personally involved in.

So to name names like Paul named names is to call out a close friend or co-laborer. It’s not firing blindly or anonymously at those we’ve never even met. Either way, this is an area that calls for wisdom and discretion.

Assuming the Best or Worst?

When we call out those we disagree with, there are a host of unintended consequences. The motivation may be honorable, like the correction of a brother or sister in Christ (James 5:19-20). But if we paint with broad strokes, highlighting only shortcomings or mistakes, we may end up overlooking good qualities.

In the end, we should follow only one example: the path of truth, love and honor that Jesus established.

Think of a minister others have blasted online. Have you heard anything about the people saved under that ministry? Regardless of the lives changed and the real discipleship that may be happening, it’s easy to reduce the leader to a caricature.

Instead of assuming the worst about someone else, assume the best before naming names. You can still disagree with a person’s doctrine or behavior without assassinating his or her character.

Questions to Ask

I do believe there are times when it’s justified, or even necessary, to name names. But we need to apply a measure of caution before engaging. Here are some questions we should ask before going public with another minister’s name:

Did you follow the biblical roadmap? Jesus is clear about the process to follow when you feel another believer has offended you (Matthew 18:15-17). Before you go public and name names, make sure you’ve at least attempted these.

The first step is to approach the person one-on-one. If he or she refuses to listen to your concerns, take one or two others with you. This step is vital to the process, bringing in the wise council of others. Finally, if the offending party is not interested in correction, you are free to take the concern to the whole church and name names.

Did you speak the truth in love? Another great scriptural principle is found in Ephesians 4:15. Growth and maturity in the body of Christ can only happen when we put truth and love on an equal plane. When we perceive doctrinal errors, it’s not enough just to know the Bible well. You must also love well.

Examine the language you use. Is it demeaning and hostile, rude and insulting? Mocking and shame are dead ends if you seek reconciliation and restoration. Remember, love covers a multitude of sins.

Did you act with the right motive? What’s your goal, honestly? Is it to help that other person see the light? Is it to protect those you are leading? Or is it just to make yourself look better?

We often fall into the trap of talking negatively about someone else to make ourselves look better. Naming names can often be a sign that we are not secure enough in our own identity. Before calling someone else out, make sure you’ve corrected your own mistakes and self-doubt.

Taking a biblical approach to correction is a much more refreshing alternative to the culture around us. There is a tendency among social media users to be overly abrasive to those with whom they disagree. It goes far beyond merely providing a counterpoint. The goal is to remove anyone who holds a different opinion. I’m afraid many in the Church behave no differently.

This should not be. God calls us to a higher standard, not one that copies the malignant methods we see in the world. Some ministers name names not because Paul did, but because Twitter does. In the end, we should follow only one example: the path of truth, love and honor that Jesus established. Anything else is just static.

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