Are You a Nitpicky Chaplain?

By Doug Carver

I recently read a thought-provoking comment about the human condition: “The fact is, most of us are nitpicky by nature.” As an avid student of etymology, I immediately searched for the meaning of this word, hoping that I wasn’t suffering from this dangerous condition that too often destroys marriages, ministries, and churches. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a nitpicker is “a pedantic critic; one who searches and overemphasizes trivial errors.”

The word “nitpicker” was first used in the early 1950s to describe people who “quarrel over trivialities of expression and meaning while, at the same time, offering no constructive comments or justified suggestions for improvement” (Collier’s, Nov. 24, 1951). Nitpickers like to use phrases like:

  • “You’re wrong.”
  • “I told you so!”
  • “You just don’t get it.”
  • “How can I believe that?”
  • “Give it to me so I can fix it!”

To be clear, it is not nitpicking to offer someone constructive feedback, mentor a person to pursue excellence or point out a potentially unsafe or dangerous condition. It is not nitpicky to defend the Bible’s inerrancy to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience” (2 Tim. 4:2) as you instruct and teach God’s Word. It isn’t nitpicky to “contend for the faith that once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Finally, it is not nitpicky to seek clarity and accuracy in biblical interpretation and theology because the Word of God is certainly not trivial.

Some of the most professional nitpickers are found in the church. We have a strong tendency to nitpick trivial issues regarding the sermon, the music, the announcements, the coffee kiosk, the bathroom tissue, etc. The prime target of church nitpickers is the pastor. We criticize him for everything imaginable. The sermon was too long or too short. He used the CSB Bible instead of the ESV. He spent too much time on the first point and not enough time on the application. He wore casual clothes instead of a coat and tie. When church nitpickers are done with the pastor, it’s on to the Sunday School teacher, the worship team, the music, etc.

The Apostle Paul addressed a nitpicking problem with the church in Rome. In Romans 14, he exhorted them not to quarrel over opinions, judge others by their dietary preferences, criticize those who observed different religious holidays or argue over what food is clean or unclean. Paul had serious concerns that the Christian community had become so focused on trivial matters it could potentially “destroy the work of God” (Romans 14:20).

In Romans 15:5-6, Paul provides helpful guidance to Christians prone to nitpicking. First, we must remember that we worship the God of patient endurance and encouragement. Our character should reflect the Father’s heart in relationship with our fellow Christians. Second, God calls us to live in harmony with one another for the glory of “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6).

SBC President Bart Barber’s theme for the 2024 Annual SBC Meeting on June 9-12 in Indianapolis is “One Mind, One Voice,” based on Romans 15:5-6. Addressing the reason he chose this particular text, Pastor Barber said the most important task of the SBC is to fasten ourselves uncompromisingly to God’s Word without abandoning the biblical mandate to “live in harmony with one another by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Chaplains, join us in praying for the thousands of Southern Baptist messengers who will gather in June for the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting. Pray for the Holy Spirit to pour out such a spirit of love and harmony so that, with one mind and one voice, we glorify God in all the convention’s sermons, deliberations and events. And remember, when we intend to criticize a fellow Christian, let’s start with ourselves. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 7:3 to take the wooden beam out of our eye before nitpicking at the specks in anyone else’s eye.

Published April 7, 2024

Doug Carver

Doug Carver, NAMB Executive Director of the Chaplaincy, serves as the senior advisor to NAMB and the Southern Baptist Convention on the chaplaincy ministry. He leads the NAMB Chaplaincy’s Team daily support to over 3,300 endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains.