5 Ways Judgmental Christians Are Killing Your Church

Judged anyone lately?

Sadly, the answer for most of us (including me) is… yes.

From the guy who cut you off in traffic, to the off-beat person who’s not picking up the social cues you’re sending, to your weed-smoking neighbour… it’s so easy to judge.  And judgment just gets worse from there. It’s the basis of racism, sexism and almost every other ‘ism’ you can think of.

It’s also fundamentally incompatible with authentic Christian faith.

Jesus said Christians should be known for how deeply we love. Yet studies show that in the eyes of many non-Christians, we’re known for how deeply we judge, not for how deeply we love.

The problem in many cases is not that unchurched people don’t know any Christians. The problem is that they do. And they don’t like us—for good reason.

Christians will argue: well, who’s going to stand up for truth?

Understood.

Yet in Jesus, grace and truth are perfectly fused.

Remove grace from the truth and you don’t actually have truth at all, but a cold, steely imitation. (This is the shadow side of conservatism.)

The opposite is also true, of course. Remove truth from grace and you don’t have grace, but a spineless imitation. (As you’ve already figured out, this is the shadow side of liberalism.)

Fusing grace and truth is an exceptionally difficult venture and is usually only successful when you spend significant amounts of time on your knees and when the source of your attempt is actually Christ himself. I am rarely good at it, flipping from one side to the other too quickly.

But when you see grace and truth fused, it takes your breath away. Why did people travel for days on foot in extreme conditions to meet Jesus? Grace fused to truth is what our hearts most deeply long for.

But in the evangelical church today (and I’m an evangelical), the hard edge of truth has crushed many. And one of the most frequent expressions of loveless truth is found in judgment.

Judgmentalism is incompatible with at least 5 wonderful things. Keep judging, and your church will miss all 5 of these Christian virtues that can advance your church’s mission.

judgmental Christians

1. Love

The presence of judgment almost always guarantees an absence of love.

Think about it through the lens of your marriage, a friendship or even someone you work with: it is virtually impossible to love someone and judge someone at the same time.

But wait, you ask: what if they’re making a mistake and I need to correct them?

First of all, look at your mistakes and the depth of your sin, and deal with your issues first. In the process, you’ll encounter a loving God who forgives you despite your rather egregious sin.

And having been loved, you can love others.

I try to remember this rule: If I’m judging someone, I’m not loving them. You can’t judge someone and love them at the same time.

2. Help

Ever notice that people who judge almost never help and people who help almost never judge?

That’s because judgment creates a line. The line is labeled “better than” or “smarter than” or “more righteous than” the person who needs help.

Help knows no such line. It just knows how to help.

When Jesus taught on judgment, not only did he tell us not to judge, and to remove the massive timber from our own eye before trying to find the speck of dust in someone else’s eye first, but he then showed us the purpose of removing the speck from someone else’s eye: it’s to help them.

The Christian purpose of stepping into someone else’s world is not to judge someone, but to help them.

If you’re not trying to help, don’t bother. You’ll probably only make it worse.

And if you are trying to help, you’ll likely notice something else has disappeared: any sense of judgment you once carried.

3. Humility

Judgment is never grounded in humility (As in oh my, I’m also a mess. Let’s figure this out together.)

Judgment is grounded in arrogance. That’s because a judgmental person almost always carries with them a sense of condescension (I never get into this kind of situation myself…you should be as good as I am) or a sense of pity (poor, stupid you).

Judgment always says I’m better than you, I know more than you and I’m also superior to you.

No wonder people run from it.

Very few people get judged into life change. Many people get loved into it.

Humility, by contrast, fosters empathy. It says “I’m like you. I get that. Maybe we can help each other.”

Many people would run to that.

4. Prayer

There’s also a connection between judgment and prayer.

Judging someone and praying for someone are pretty much mutually exclusive.

You can’t pray for someone you judge because you’re actually not for them. Sure, you can pray about them, but again, your prayer won’t be grounded in humility. It might be grounded in anger, or in arrogance, or superiority, but it won’t be grounded in love.

You never truly pray for someone you judge.

Conversely, if you want to stop judging someone, pray for them.

It’s impossible to judge someone and truly pray for them at the same time.

5. Evangelism

If you want to kill evangelism at your church, fill your church with judgmental Christians.

People run from people who judge them. They run to people who love them. Think about it; that’s what you do: you run from people who judge you.

When grace and truth are fused, people usually run toward it because the combination of truth and grace describes a reality they’re facing and brings actual hope that things can get better.

God never asked you to judge the world. He did ask you to love it.

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

A Giant Hypocrite?

But wait, you say, isn’t this entire article just one big piece of judgment? You are a complete hypocrite, you say.

First of all, you’re totally right. You could completely read this as a judgmental invective. And I definitely write it as someone who is part of the problem.

But when it comes to judgment, Paul makes it clear we are NOT to judge the world, but we are to practice discernment in the church.

There is also a distinction (at least in my mind) between judgment and discernment.

This is a very fine line, and I don’t stand on it well at all. This article could be a complete failure in what it sets out to accomplish.

One of the things I struggle within the church today is that we rush to judge outsiders and rarely look in the mirror. That’s the exact opposite of what Paul instructed us to do.

The reality is that people’s lives are plagued by problems. There is an epic battle raging in this life, and people get taken down every day over addictions, failed relationships, misguided beliefs and things that we think will give life, but, in the end, only destroy.

We need to help outsiders because we have been helped. We need to help each other on the inside and thereby better realize our mission.

True judgment is reserved for God. Discernment seeks to help.

Discernment says there is a problem, but lovingly, humbly, prayerfully, empathetically I’d love to help with that.

And guess what? The person on the receiving end of the help senses it. They know when they’re being judged. And they know when they’re being loved and help.

That’s what I hope to do. And that’s what I hope, in the end, this article does. Because I, too, am a judger who is seeking to become a loving helper.

And if this article still strikes you as harsh, remember that Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for arrogant, judgemental leaders inside the faith. At times, we’ve likely all been that insider. I have been anyway.  Conversely, Jesus was pretty much never harsh to people outside the faith.

We’d be so much better as a church if we did the same.

What Are You Learning?

What are you learning about judgment and discernment? Scroll down and leave a comment.

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35 Comments

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  4. Deb Fokos on February 1, 2019 at 2:26 am

    Thank you for your wonderful article outlining judgement vs help and love. My husband and I have moved across several states into a new culture, and that also means a new church. He is comfortable anywhere the Word is preached, whereas, I am a very touchy-feeling-have to feel ok about so many things before I join a church and its people. I’m not a conventional person, but often think outloud and this gets me in trouble with being judged and makes me want to leave before I’ve started. Your article helped right my potentially sinking ship and gave me a few pointers about loving and helping as a focus. Thank you, again!

  5. Aaron on December 14, 2018 at 12:04 am

    But to say there is no truth in liberalism is a lie and to say there is nothing but truth in conservatism is also a lie. Both are wrong. Some truths from both sides: banning guns will only help the wicked, being gay is not a choice, there are only two genders, planned parenthood does more good than bad, vaccines are important, science is not evil, evolution has solid evidence, boarders protect us, Islam is evil, black lives matter, all lives matter, it’s okay to be gay, and so much more. To say trurh is only on one side is dangerous and wrong.

    • Howard Glass on December 15, 2018 at 9:19 am

      While what you say about truth in the two camps is correct some of the time. Your closing statement is entirely false. I have heard the old saw, “It takes two to tango,” used in such a way that an abuser’s behavior is mitigated or diminished. It amounts to moral abuse. The Nazis were entirely wrong. Slavery is entirely wrong. I think you get my point.

  6. Bozes on November 18, 2018 at 7:38 am

    The Purpose of the church meeting together isn’t evangelism, it’s to worship Christ and to mature in Christ, while enjoying fellowship with other members of the elect. We are to go out into the world to evangelize, but meeting together is to prepare us for this work. I’m assuming you’re part of the church growth movement and a proud pastor of a seeker friendly church.

  7. Howard Glass on August 19, 2018 at 4:32 am

    As we gain experience as believers we should realize that the Christian life can and should be lived without a dependency on the behavior of others. Any group of believers might contain some who are shallow. In my experience they all do. While working in harmony with others is a biblical admonition, we must rely on His goodness, not the goodness of others. If our support for ministry depends on the character of fellow Christians the devil has already won. I guarantee disappointment sooner or later. That there are church members who do not reflect Christ well is for some an excuse to retire to a comfortable spot where their opportunities and concomitant responsibility to serve are limited.

  8. Angela De Tar on August 19, 2018 at 4:00 am

    Hi, I like this humble, truthful article. We humans all are sinners. We we’re born into it. We ALL judge others in one way or another. I get that. I too find it hard to connect in my church. I have joined the groups and do serve in my church. I have been bullied out of serving in different areas of my church. I have been looked down on, told my hair is dry and my skin is ugly, ignored obviously! Now, it is almost ridiculous. I stuck it out but I am still judged by some of the meanest people in church and they are leaders in my church. I am almost to the point I want to ask them why? When you are truly a christian and love Jesus, He lives inside you. He changes us from the inside out. I guess the truth is just because these people are in church, it doesn’t mean they have Jesus. Jesus loves people. I don’t know why some of these people stay in church, maybe they would be worse off if they didn’t! I know we are to forgive others and love them as God loves us. It does hurt deeply when you are hurt in church, more so because we believe people in church are saints! ( not all!) Anyway, I can’t sleep! Love to you all!

    • Russell Ray Lewis on September 11, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      The church is God,not a building or a stone Jesus is the cornerstone of Life!

    • Manning on December 31, 2018 at 12:29 am

      Ya, but remember this; not all in the church are really Christian some are just like spectator, some are immature and the worst is even satan go to church looking for opportunity to find faults and ready to destroy the institution of God’s people. That is why we need to be aware of what’s happening inside and outside the church. Satan is like a hungry beast!!

      • Jennifer Roth on February 7, 2019 at 12:09 am

        I find that Fundamentalist Christians are not only judgemental but they are arrogant and down right mean, it just doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes I wonder if many of them have mental problems because they seem obsessed with pointing out the so called sin in others but they themselves are often selfish, arrogant, dishonest etc. They don’t have any tolerance and are not willing to admit that they don’t know everything about God, it’s their way or the highway. Honestly they seem almost happy to say that all the unbelievers are going to burn in Hellfire. If they really were filled with the Great Love of God and they really believed that people were going to Hell then they should be doing whatever they can to Love them into the truth but instead they’re pushing them away with their meanness. It’s sad but the way they are is going to bring the church as we know it to an end but maybe that’s a good thing in the end. I believe God loves everyone and the church doesn’t have all the answers so they should be humble and open. Jesus made it clear that love is the most important thing and sadly I see very little of that coming from most Christians.

        • Howard Glass on February 7, 2019 at 11:03 am

          You must live in an entirely different world than me. I have met thousands of Christians. I know dozens of fundamentalists pretty well. I don’t know even one who fits the image you report. You describe a parody of Christians.

  9. CC on August 16, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    Christians seem to be the most judgemental of each other. They always seem to be hurting each other and rejecting each other.
    And unbelievers notice this. If Christians can’t be nice to each other, then those on the outside are certainly not going to trust Christians to be nice to them.

  10. Don Martin on April 27, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Excellent article. Judging others is fraught with peril. With an overfocus on “being right” without love, you get stuff like the Thirty Years war. Learn from history.

  11. Jamie on April 19, 2018 at 1:16 am

    Thank you for highlighting this. I’m a Christian and so desperately need Jesus in my life, however, other Christians make me question myself constantly and it’s all through their judgements on either me as a person or silly opinions I may raise (but in a respectful way). I’d never turn from God but I really want to feel like I belong somewhere.

  12. Paul on March 19, 2018 at 5:42 am

    This all sounds very nice and dandy, but is actually the opposite of what God’s Word instructs us to do.
    Calling the command (!) for Christians to judge, a ‘discernment’ is twisting scripture. At best you’re telling a half-truth here.

    See for instance 1 Co 5:

    1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that *even pagans do not tolerate*: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 *And you are proud!* *Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship* the man who has been doing this?

    *I have already passed judgment* in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this

    So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and *the power of our Lord Jesus is present*, 5 *hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh*, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

    6 *Your boasting* is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 *Get rid of the old yeast*

    9I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 *not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters*. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that *you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.*

    What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? *Are you not to judge those inside*? 13 *God will judge those outside*. *“Expel the wicked person from among you.”*

    There you have it; Christians MUST judge those inside the church, but leave judgment of people outside the church to God.

    Calling christians who try to do this (WHICH IS VERY UNPOPULAR!) ‘judgmental’ is disingenuous.

    • Kristen on January 11, 2019 at 4:26 pm

      Judging by handing the sexually immoral etc over to satan is done without cruelty. The author is talking about unwarranted judgement toward repentant christians.

  13. David on February 24, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    Love this article… why I’m a homeschooling Christian… when the pastor of most all churches is there for a paycheck and not the Lord.. my grandmother raised me, she was mamma.. we were at every meeting.. and even as a kid I looked forward to going.. our lives, the communities lives revolved around the church.. when our pastor went home to the Lord.. things changed.. the young money hungry pastors came… back then most pastors or at least where I’m from.. farmed or held a regular job ,still found time to visit people in the hospital and all the other duties and took just enough out of church funds to pay for gas that.. now this same little country church, small country church that has around 30 people on Sundays, pay a pastor 85k plus travel expenses. Which they add up to almost 20k and keeps him and his family in a house too…

  14. Val on February 17, 2018 at 11:35 am

    I am a believer. I do not go to church. This article explains why perfectly. Thank you.

  15. Jango on January 15, 2018 at 10:20 pm

    The lowest common denominator of everyone I have a problem with is that they are Christians. Everything from adultery to judgement. I have sought out the Church for answers and found every one of them turning their back on me.

  16. Howard Glass on January 6, 2018 at 7:37 am

    The enemy has been very successful in keeping believers from speaking out against behavior that is obviously destructive out of fear of being judgmental. We’ve been worrying about being too judgmental for as long as I have been a believer, and all that time the church has been slowly losing its moral and cultural clout. The fact is that sooner or later the results of destructive behavior (sin) manifest themselves in a ruined life. I guess it’s okay to let someone make a wreck of their life so that my self-image as a loving Christian remains intact. If God knows my heart is full of love and prayer for the lost, is my own self-image more important? Jesus didn’t think so. He went to the cross for speaking the truth to those who did not wish to hear it.

    Just one caveat here: If you are one who has never involved yourself directly with trying to help someone who truly needs it, keep your responses to yourself. The church is full of people whose opinions are not based on actual experience but rather on what they have read or been told. My experience tells me that the lost person will hear you once you have shown in some tangible way that you love them. You can “earn” the right to give life advice. Relationship precedes influence.

  17. Leah on December 13, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    This is exactly why I left religion as a whole. It seemed like every other Sunday the pastor would talk about some group or another in a very judging way. I’m also Asexual but apparently I have to marry a man and bear children to be a proper Christian, which is just bologna. I’m very open minded and try to be kind to everyone, not that it always happens as I of course have weaknesses and sins just as everyone else does. I tried many churches but I only found one that I liked. Unfortunately I’ve moved so I can’t go there anymore. I’ve been in more churches with screaming judgmental pastors than I can count. I also can’t stand how much hate there is for certain groups in church. Like gay people. I went to a church once who wouldn’t even allow them in the building. And if they found out a member was gay, They would force them to leave the church. It frustrates me. We’re here on this earth to LOVE one another. Even if we don’t see eye to eye with each others views and choices. If Jesus was on this earth today, he’d walk with everyone on this earth. No matter what their gender, sexual orientation, race, or disability.

    • Bozes on November 18, 2018 at 7:32 am

      You obviously are following a false Christ, which you can read about in Matthew. But from your comment I’d assume you’ve never read the word, or if you have you have no discernment. Christ didn’t make his fathers commands about sexual immorality null and void, He came to offer us a path to redemption.

  18. Brady Mayo on October 22, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    I thought this article was spot on! We are called to help not judge. Scripture could not be any clearer. When we share the good news with non-believers it should be as one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. Paul goes as far as saying that we should see other as better than ourselves. It was self righteousness that Jesus spoke against the most. We Christians spend too much time taking a stand on a particular sin that we think we have conquered. I have done this in the past. I am at peace when I am not judging anyone. And what if another believer commits a sin? What if we see our brother fall? Sometimes I hear, “If you don’t do this or that then you need to question your salvation”. I hear this garbage all the time from other Christians. No, the answer is clearly seen in Galatians 6:1-4: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions…”

    • Newbie but not baby on October 21, 2018 at 5:19 am

      Thank you for this. I struggle so much in fellowship feeling judged by others as a new Christian- so many assumptions about my life. It feels sometimes as if they will tear my walk with the Lord apart given half a chance. Then I am distressed because the temptation comes to judge their judgement in anger! One huge plank gets taken from my eye, but then another emerges. I believe He knew very well all of this, that long prayer for us to be united. He didn’t pray for rain in Manchester.

  19. Christine A Johnson on April 17, 2017 at 1:35 am

    This was refreshing to read. Thank you for writing it. I have an autistic son (7 years old now). He’s been in church from infancy, like his brother before him, and his sister from about 3 (now 16). We suffered through many years of judgment about our son. Last year, I had enough. Leaving the church has been so difficult, but there is no physical way I could have stayed. I was always in the nursery, or helping with something, but rarely in service. And, of course, always trying to keep my son from offending anyone or doing the wrong thing and embarrasing his extended family. My heart has been completely shattered by judgment. I don’t know how to recover from it spiritually. Life otherwise has improved for us since we left, but Easter Sunday was hard. I WANT to be in church. I just don’t want to be around snippy comments or judging glares. I made myself do it for too long. This conversation needs to happen more. The Autism rate is climbing, and families like us need a place to worship, too.

  20. […] 5 Ways Judgmental Christians Are Killing Your Church by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  21. Vicky kajengo, Zimbabwe on January 16, 2017 at 5:22 am

    Thank you Pastor Carey. We fail here many times, and when we judge we lose an opportunity to minister as Christ would have us do. As a minister of the gospel myself, I’m not yet a Pastor, I have been found wanting many times and whenever I judge, thank God for His grace.. He corrects me immediately and am able to see a better way. The word says judge not for with the same measure it will be used against you. When we learn not to judge, we grow in our understanding of what it means to really love. God is opening opportunities for me to work with the mentally challenged vagabonds in a way that shows them a deeper love whereas before I would only go as far as sharing the gospel with them and not want to further associate with them. When we judge we really hinder God’s work in those 5 areas you mention and more. I had an issue with another minister just yesterday and have been battling with how to correct it. This morning God was showing me a better way – affirm the good she did, offer to pray for her in her struggles before pointing out areas of improvement, and in pointing out the weak areas be open to mention similar areas where I also need to work on. Your article has helped to encourage me.

    • Newbie but not baby on October 21, 2018 at 5:35 am

      Vagabonds… hhhmmmm. Do you say that to their faces? I’m not sure I would say this to your face btw… I hope I am loving you.

  22. John Martin on January 15, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Paul tells Christians in Corinth to judge a man living in sin with his dad’s wife (surely not his own mom). He prescribes a judgment of removal from fellowship so he can see his sin. “Judgment shall begin at the house of the Lord.” We are to treat everyone kindly, but honestly. In the West, where all is seen as OK unless it interferes with someone else’s license, the church runs the risk of being seen as judgmental due in part to a society that enables sin. No such enablement went on in the Palestine of Jesus’ day. Also, the biblical consensus of yesterday in the West is gone. How will it ever be brought back without truth? I have been around very judgmental Christians as a pastor. The problem is that they lived in the flesh and were simple minded, lacking empathy. As a Weselyan-Arminian they assumed we were better than the Calvinist because when we tell people “they’re going to hell for sinning, we meant it,” unlike the Calvinist who say we sin every day. All churches need to think deeply about the seriousness of sin. Jesus says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.” We shouldn’t expect the world to long for righteousness if we aren’t. Today’s church seems to hunger and thirst after the things of the flesh. NO WONDER WE’VE LOST THE CULTURE WAR SINCE THE 60’S. Ya’ll are welcome to judge me. “Come now, let us reason together.”

  23. Diane Hagni on January 14, 2017 at 11:34 am

    This is such a difficult line to walk, and I appreciate the insights you provided. Perhaps the more we can see ourselves and every other person as created by God in His image to reflect some aspect of Him — no matter how badly we have messed that up — it will help us keep a proper perspective. Then we can all help each other get back to that original purpose in God’s heart and mind for us,

  24. Hawkeye on January 11, 2017 at 9:27 am

    We are taught to pray earnestly for spiritual gifts, one of which is discernment. I like the emphasis on that principle in this article. Discernment will show us how to be welcoming and full of grace to those with whom we may disagree, and to do so without compromising biblical principles and our own beliefs.

    There are so many “groups” in our society. Christians are the only ones who are actually fully equipped to take on the task of bridging the gap to authentically engage others in a sinful world. Yet, as this article has pointed out we regularly fail to follow through. A challenge and an opportunity to be saltand light in this world.

  25. Canbuhay on January 9, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    “And if this article still strikes you as harsh, remember that Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for arrogant, judgemental leaders inside the faith.”

    So are you saying Pastor Carey that the pharisees were Christians or followers of the true God? Isn’t that a judgment you’re making about their faith?

    • Brady Mayo on October 22, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      That is not what he was saying at all. You missed the point completely.

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