When David committed adultery and covered it up by committing murder, Nathan the prophet came unbidden and confronted David as recorded in 2 Samuel 12:1-15. Later on, in 2 Samuel 24:11, the prophet Gad is referred to as “David’ Seer” (NASB). David gave these prophets permission to speak into his life and provide correction to his faults and errors. He granted this permission on the basis of his relationship with God and his desire to remove any obstacle to loving God.
King Ahab, on the other hand, viewed the prophet Elijah as a “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17). Ahab refused to tolerate the prophetic voice speaking into his life and reign. He viewed Elijah as a troublemaker or gadfly and dismissed his message as an annoyance.
While modern church leaders cannot pronounce the death penalty upon those who speak out with suggestions or criticism, they can make it very uncomfortable for those who do not agree with the leader. There is a danger that those who speak up and voice their disagreements will be labeled as troublemakers, the way that Ahab tagged Elijah. This is dangerous because not everyone that voices discontent is seeking to cause trouble.
Martin Luther was not seeking to split the Roman Church. He simply voiced his discontent over practices that were harmful and against Scriptural command. Yet he was tagged as a heretic and a troublemaker. We should be wary of any system which places such labels on people.
How do you distinguish between someone who is trying to bring positive change and a troublemaker? I believe the difference is in their focus. A troublemaker works his way into the spotlight and works for his own glory. The one who desires positive change (in the church setting) seeks to draw people into closer relationship with Jesus Christ and into a greater commitment to living out Scriptural principles.
Another distinction is that troublemakers attack people; change agents attack problems. It is one thing to attack the pastor’s character or motive; it is another thing to suggest a better way of doing something. Criticizing people causes dissension and division; critiquing methods can cause growth and improvement. Troublemakers tear down. Change agents seek to build up.
No human leader (with the exception of Jesus) is right all the time. No human leader should be granted the power to be the ultimate authority in a church. No human leader should have the authority to label those who disagree as troublemakers. If you find yourself within a church that applies such labels to people, my advice would be to walk quietly away and find a more loving place to worship.
Why walk away? Because eventually you will be forced to choose between acquiescing to something with which you don’t agree or be labeled as a troublemaker and be shunned. Better to leave sooner before the accusations start flying.
Leaders, I would offer this advice. Better a few gadflies than a castrated group of yes-people around you. A few gadflies will cause more growth in you than a thousand yes-people. You need your ideas challenged. You need your authority challenged because God is the ultimate authority and it is to Him that we are all to submit. The prophetic voice that you need to hear will be silenced if you start believing you are above such challenges.