Every church has ‘em. The Chronic Critic…the person(s) who simply can’t be pleased. No matter what you do, they have something negative to say.
You are not alone when you face chronic critics. Nehemiah, perhaps one of the greatest leaders of all times, was on a mission from God.
Yet he faced chronic critics. They could have derailed his God-given mission. They didn’t. And here’s what he did.
Complete this statement:
The last time I was criticized by someone in my church I…
Reacted, blew up, screamed, cussed, stayed silent and drove my anger inward, became defensive,
felt embarrassed, listened and learned from the critic?
Criticism never feels good. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not. Nehemiah’s criticism from Sanballat and Tobiah was not warranted, yet Nehemiah wisely responded with the 5 P's below.
A girl’s high school basketball team from our area recently won their eighth consecutive state basketball title. Today I was thinking, “I would not want to follow in that coach’s steps. He will be a hard act to follow.”
In following Jesus I sometimes feel the same way. I feel as if it is hard to follow his example. A passage from Isaiah 53 shares one such example. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah. 53:5-7)
One of the most profound TV moments happens in The Office when Michael glances at the camera.
It is a satirical way of reminding us that a reality show isn’t actual reality. People aren’t real when the camera is on. No one is truly himself when he is being observed.
America’s celebrity-driven culture is fun and interesting. But there are inherent problems. One of them is that we see our famous “friends” for an hour each week and assume this is the “real them.”
We watch our actors, singers, athletes, politicians and preachers during their most glorious moments. We stand in awe of them, and then we feel dissatisfied with our own ordinariness. But we are comparing apples to oranges: their scripted and prepared public presentation to our normal human existence.
If you want to see the real persons--famous or not--spy on them while they are changing diapers, visiting a sick friend, mowing the lawn, responding to a request for charity from a homeless person, “discussing” issues with spouse or children, performing redundant or menial tasks at their vocation.
Have you ever shot yourself in the foot? This old saying refers to an action or attitude that causes you personal harm or problems. As ministers of the gospel we can be guilty of shooting ourselves in the foot. We often do this with the best of motives and purest of intentions, but they cause us harm nonetheless. A few personal examples might help clarify the picture for you.
I remember an occasion when I got upset with a group of leaders because they failed to fulfill my expectations. Rather than sharing my disappointment with the group and letting that be the end of the matter I closed up and stopped communicating. This caused the leaders to close up and stop communicating. When all was said and done I shot myself in the foot. My self-justification blinded me to my part in the problem.
There were other occasions when I shot myself in the foot with my preaching. What preacher has not used words that came back to haunt him. For example, we might think that stern words will “correct the flock” and cause a wave of repentance. I found that stern words usually discouraged the faithful who were working hard and burdened those who did not need such a burden.
Do you ever feel like you’re climbing out of a pit when you get out of bed in the morning? I felt like that yesterday. I had two minor setbacks that threw me into a tailspin. The setbacks caused me to feel somewhat despondent and discouraged. I spent about half of my day in this pit and then God began to help me climb from it.
A number of different causes can send us to the pit: Monday morning blues, rejection by others, failed plans, a sermon that fell flat, conflict at church, burnout, family issues, just to name a few. The causes vary but the result could be the same - the pit. How do we climb out of the pit? I share the following resources that I have found over the years.
Pray - This resource should be an obvious choice for Christians, but many times it isn't. Pits can be a major inspiration to our prayer life. We tend to criticize people who turn to God in times of crisis. However, is it not human nature to pray more during times of trial? All of us are more spiritual when things are difficult. God desires to use such times to grow us.
Get out of your cave - When trials come, it often feels as if we are in a cave. I remind myself that caves are dark! Thus, it is good to get out of the cave. Visit a friend! Help someone else! Visit someone in the hospital!
Pursue fresh ideas - I find that fresh ideas refresh my spirit. Browsing a magazine, reading a new book or sharing ideas with another person always motivate me.
Share with others - When I got out of bed feeling despondent I didn’t know what the day might hold. Two ministry visits helped to change my focus. I visited a friend who had hit a deer while riding his motorcycle. After that I had lunch with a pastor friend who was struggling with church issues. This visit seemed to be a God ordained contact. That feeling always makes me say WOW!
“What depletes your energies for God?” Here are my top ten energy-depleters:
You’re doing something displeasing to the Lord and you know it. The guilt lingers and weighs you down. When you try to read your Bible, pray, or worship, the fog is so thick you could cut it. God seems far away, and you know without being told it’s because you moved. (Isaiah 59:1-2 comes to mind. “Your sins have separated you.” Confess them and move back closer.)
The discouragers around you are constantly pointing out that you cannot do this, you are not the Christian you ought to be, the Bible cannot be understood, your prayers never go beyond the ceiling, and your pitiful offering amounts to nothing. To make matters worse, sometimes that negative voice hounding us is our own. You lose heart and want to give up. (Psalm 103:1-5 comes to mind. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Speak to yourself words of faith. Believe your faith and doubt your doubts.)
A family member, a colleague in the office, or a so-called friend has taken it as their personal calling to remind you of your failures. Of course, he tells you this for your own good. You leave your friend’s presence feeling worthless and hopeless. (Philippians 4:8 comes to mind. “Whatsoever things are true, think on these things.” Choose where your mind will land and come to rest and what it will feed upon.)
As I type this article I am watching the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. As I watched the athletes I was reminded of the lonely path they must walk. Sure, there is glamour in what they do, especially if an athlete has the good fortune to win a medal. However, think of the demanding regimen of training, special diets and difficult workouts they must endure. In addition there are occasions when they miss family events or pleasurable activities to stay faithful to their training. Some athletes even move to locations that present better training opportunities. These unique demands are not glamorous.
The lonely path is the destiny of many Christians, especially those who faithfully serve Jesus in ministry. I include pastors, missionaries, deacons, elders, Sunday school/small group leaders, musicians and others who walk a similar path.
As I consider this thought my mind races to the times when God's servants walked alone, as recorded in the Bible. Abraham walked alone when he offered Isaac as an offering to God. Moses walked alone when he ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the revelation of the Ten Commandments. Esther walked alone when she represented the Israelite people before King Ahasuerus. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah walked alone. The ultimate example of walking alone was Jesus. He walked alone when He was tempted. He walked alone when He prayed in the garden. He walked alone when He hung on the cross.
“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” (Col. 1:9-11)
Nicole had just been wheeled into the air ambulance helicopter. Her 30-minute ride from our city to the medical center was under way. I stood numb and speechless with her mom and dad in the parking lot as they gathered courage for their car ride to the hospital. A week earlier their daughter had been a picture of health; now Reyes Syndrome had filled her with toxins that were eating at the very fiber of her life.
Another friend came over to offer encouragement. “She’s not going to die,” he said, “She’s going to be all right.” And then he left.
I wanted desperately to concur. Two options were alluring. Perhaps I could promise a miracle, or at the very least say a pastoral word that would help them to deny their excruciating reality. I found words for neither. She died the next day.
On another occasion we arrived at little Sarah’s house to pray with her and her parents. A special shipment of drugs had just arrived from a specialty cancer treatment center, and they had asked that we pray for Sarah again, and ask God to add his blessing to the new treatment she was about to receive.
The sturdy carton sat next to us on the floor as we knelt at Sarah’s bedside. Her strength had ebbed to the point of little responsiveness. Her discomfort had worn her out to bland resignation. The pain of her family was obvious in their drawn faces.
I wanted desperately to help them all escape. Perhaps I could promise a miracle, or at very least say a pastoral word that would help them deny their excruciating reality. I found words for neither. We held her memorial service last week.
Eugene Petersen has got me thinking again. This time the book is Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. In the chapters on Lamentations and Ecclesiastes he deals head on with the pastoral temptations to avoid hard realities or to deal with them inappropriately. Neither, or course, is an acceptable alternative to living through the real thing. It is not that God cannot do miracles; He can and He does. I have witnessed it myself. But sometimes He says no, and then it is left to pastors to hear, accept and affirm His “no” even when there is congregational pressure and inner temptation not to do so.
Several weeks ago, while visiting Sears, I received a simple but profound message from a line that separates parking spaces. When I parked there was no car on either side of mine. However, when I returned to my car there were cars on either side. The car on my left was parked especially close to me. When I saw the close proximity of the car I became a little agitated. I thought to myself “how dare that driver crowd me?” I could barely squeeze into my car.
After closer examination I discovered I was the one who parked over the line. I was at fault for the close parking conditions. The other fellow was innocent. As I contemplated that incident I considered the lessons God had in store for me, a minister.
First, I should be careful about judging others because I may have a log in my eye. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye?” (Matt. 7:3-4) When I preach or teach or talk, I should be careful in judging others without recognizing and confessing the sin in my own life.
Second, I should beware of my pride. As I work with others I may make quick judgments that are totally wrong. That was certainly true at Sears. In working with people it is easy to place blame on others when I need to look in the mirror myself.
Third, the Sears incident reminded me that I am a work in progress.
I stood there staring through a sliding glass door watching the rain fall and wondering how things got to this point. I had just heard the news from a deacon friend that several of the deacons wanted me to resign. “For what, and why?” I asked. He thought for a moment and said, “Not for any particular reason and I’d rather not say.” He added, “I think you should resign.” I replied, “I don’t feel like it is time for me to go. The Lord has not released me.” I have invested three years of my life, I thought, in the community, church, and the unchurched in my community. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought of my wife and kids.
The reason for these accusations was unclear. The only thing of which I was guilty was loving people. I work hard visiting, reaching out and preparing a word for the people. I asked the deacon, who bore the bad news, “Do I have your support?” He responded, “Yes, but I don’t want a church vote.” “It shouldn’t have to come to this,” I replied. I sat through a week of tense meetings, where I was drilled for any and every flaw. In one meeting seven to ten people verbally ridiculed me for three hours.
Over the next few weeks all I could do was cry, pray and cry. My heart was crushed. I felt broken. I had truly loved the people who were out to get me. I had spent hours visiting, drinking coffee and ministering to these people. Now they were shooting me down. I felt utterly alone. My hands would tremble from stress and people would say, “Bro Tim you are losing weight.” I felt like a walking shell. I didn’t lock myself in my house or office, due to some helpful advice. The lights were on in my heart but no one was home. My spirit was broken and missing in action. I was numb.
Finally, I was given a list of the things of which I was accused. I felt like the list was put together by a group of junior high kids. The list included: using non-deacons for the Lord’s Supper, letting dogs in the church building, not asking for permission to secure a revival speaker and borrowing toilet paper without permission. Yes, toilet paper!
While talking with a young pastor a few days ago, I asked how he was doing. He gave a canned answer that all of us use. He said something like, “I am doing fine.” From that point he shared how busy he had been and hard he had worked. He proceeded to share how we are called to pour out our lives for Christ. I admire his enthusiasm and dedication. He is a hard worker.
The previous discussion started me thinking. When are we pouring our lives in dedication to Christ and when are we foolishly managing our emotional reserves? Failure to discern between these two concepts could have devastating consequences.
First, we are called to pour out our lives in service to Christ. After all, Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
Our hearts are stirred by great saints who poured out their lives for Christ. I am reminded of William Tyndale who was burned at the stake for his efforts to translate the scripture into the common man’s language. I am reminded of William Wilberforce who struggled for years with insult and persecution as he sought to eliminate the slave trade in England. I am reminded of Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist missionary who died of malnutrition and exhaustion as she served the people of China. I am reminded of the great saints listed in Hebrews 11 who poured out their lives in service to Christ.
I share a couple of simple observations. People who pour out their lives for Christ seldom see themselves as making a sacrifice. Their surrendered life is a part of their identity. People who pour out their lives for Christ are like a galloping horse who is hard to reign in. Their passion is their life.
One of my first sensations on driving a new Camry home from the dealer was the pristine condition of the windshield. No nicks, no dents, no dried bugs. None of the stuff you get with older cars.
After a few months and several thousand miles, the windshield began to look like all other used cars.
There is a way to keep a windshield unflicked (is that a word?). Park it in the garage and leave it there. Never take it outside.
Real life is this way. If you get out in the world, you get nicked and dented and even scarred. If you get involved with people you will occasionally come home at night with bruises and the occasional black eye and bloody nose.
A friend who left the pastorate to become the director of missions (my former ministry) with the Baptist churches in a Gulf Coast county wrote recently to say no sooner had he unpacked his boxes than he had to mediate a situation between a pastor and a church. The pastor was being forced out and the DOM worked with the church leadership to arrange an appropriate severance package.
I observed that sooner or later, if he does this enough, both sides will turn on him. He was unfair, he was partial to the other side, he is unworthy to call himself a Christian, let alone a minister, he is no friend.
The minister should expect it; don’t be blind-sided; it happens. No one said it was going to be fun.
We all get beat up in life. If our lives count for anything larger than ourselves, we will occasionally have to wade into difficult situations not of our own making in order to salvage lives or relationships or justice.
Policemen will tell you the most dangerous aspect of their jobs is settling domestic disputes. An angry husband who has been beating his wife resents the intruder who tries to calm him down and now turns on him.
Pastors and counselors live in the same world as the cop. “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not where ships belong.”
If you are looking for a carefree career, one with pleasant working conditions, smooth and supportive relationships, and constant rewards, the ministry is not for you, friend.
When you became pastor of that church, for a brief shining moment, it gave your ego a thrill. That lasted about 24 hours.
Then the phone began to ring. People began to knock at your door. The chairman of this committee or that project informed you that they’ve been waiting for you to arrive so you could tell them what to do. Caution: the reason they’ve not already made the decision is there is no good choice. This is a steel trap waiting for a head just the size of yours.
Last week my wife, Judy, and I stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Our car has a hard time passing a Cracker Barrel! As we sat waiting to place our order I noticed two men being ushered to the table next to us. As I watched I thought to myself, “If I were a betting man, I would guess those two men are preachers.” My assessment proved to be right. (Please understand, I am not judging these men. They may have been totally Godly men, as far as I know.) This is not the first time I have made such an accurate assessment of preachers, simply by looking at them. This assessment occurred before these individuals ever opened their mouths. After they were seated their conversation proved me to be right.
The thought raised in the previous paragraph caused me to do a little soul searching. I wondered if I look like a preacher. If my behavior and conversation cause people to raise an eyebrow out of respect, then I praise the Lord for such a testimony. However, if people evaluate me negatively by my dress, demeanor, carriage and manner of speech, then I should do a little soul searching.
When the Lord called me to preach I rejected His call because of a stubborn heart. However, there were certain perception issues which encouraged my procrastination. These issues were based on the naïve heart of a teenager more than on actual fact. I list several of my issues: I thought all preachers wore Sunday clothes all of the time. I thought all preachers were loud and arrogant. I thought all preachers were gluttons and had huge bulging stomachs. There I said it!
Oh, I know, this appears to be a change of tune for me. My blog has been critical of controlling leadership as a very poor leadership style. I apologize. I should have recognized the benefits in controlling leadership before now. Thankfully, there's still time in my leadership career. Hopefully I caught you in time too.
Controlling leadership, if done well, offers some powerful contributions to the organization.
Here are seven benefits of being a controlling leader:
1. You keep things small. Small is so easy to manage. Growing is so overrated.
2. New ideas are stifled. New always translates to different...you know...how we've done things before now. Different can be messy. Keep things neat and tidy and life is more comfortable.
3. Change is minimal. Change is hard. Unpopular. Challenging. Ain't nobody got time for that.
4. There are fewer misunderstandings. Everything is clear. You're the boss and no one questions your authority. There. Take that.
5. You get all the credit. You can even blame others for mistakes. Because, after all, you're in control.
6. Risk and fear is minimized. (Or so it seems at the time.) If you can control things, you can keep things from getting away from you. It's safer. (At least it seems.)
7. People don't grow. You know what happens when people grow. They start developing their own leadership skills. Pretty soon they start thinking they could do things on their own - perhaps even better than you can do them. They may even leave searching for another opportunity. They may leave. Stop that. (And that'll keep 'em with you forever, right?)
See how cool this is. Right now you're probably thinking you should've thought of this controlling leader deal years ago. You can thank me later.
But, you controlling leaders better quit reading this post. Someone is waiting on you to make a decision. You make all of them around there...don't you? It's what you do best.
Note from Pastor Tim – I hope you appreciate Ron's cynical look at Controlling Leadership. Happy New Year to our Shepherd friends.
Printed with permission from h http://www.ronedmondson.com
Do you remember a time when a gift you gave lit up the face of a child or someone special? During the holiday season we are given the opportunity to repeat this action a number of times. As a believer it is my prayer that I would always remember the joy of giving.
During the Christmas season I am reminded of several gifts that should be shared at Christmas and throughout the year. First, there is the gift of unconditional, unsolicited love. All around us there are people crying out for unconditional love. I think of Jesus' love for the social outcast, the leper, the demon possessed, and the unlovely. He displayed the grace and unconditional love of our Heavenly Father.
The gift of encouragement is also needed. All around us there are people who need encouraging-- the single mom seeking to raise children by herself, the lonely senior adult who receives few visits from family, the recently released prisoner who is trying to rebuild his life, the cancer victim who struggles with the insecurity of the future, the widowed/widower who faces the first Christmas alone. All of these individuals need the gift of encouragement.
The greatest gifts are not necessarily those that can be wrapped in a package. Some gifts require extra effort and extra thought to process. It is easy to love when it is expected or the love flows along family or friendship lines. Jesus said,
"For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don't even the Gentiles do the same?" (Mt. 5:46-47 HCSB)
The words that stand out to me in this passage are the words "out of the ordinary." As a Christian and a minister, am I willing to go beyond the call of duty? Am I willing to go beyond the ordinary?
Some time ago I heard a story, on the morning news, about a young American Marine who went beyond the call of duty. He went beyond the ordinary. He took a bullet and died in a valiant effort to rescue a medical doctor who was being held by Islamic extremists in the Middle East.
As ministers and Christians there are certain things we are expected to do. We are expected to fulfill our responsibility to the church. We are expected to maintain a Godly character. We are expected to support our families. These are all noble and commendable actions. My prayer is that during this holiday season - and throughout the year - we will fulfill what is expected but also perform those actions that are beyond the ordinary. Such actions will bring us an extra special level of the "Joy of Giving."
I suppose it’s a vocational hazard.
We preachers walk through the valley of the shadow with people in the church and out of it. We do our best, weep with them, tell what we know, and offer all the encouragement we can. Then, we go on to the next thing. Someone else needs us.
That family we ministered to, however, does not go on to anything. They are forever saddled with the loss of that child or parent. They still carry the hole in their heart and return to the empty house or sad playroom. However, there is one positive thing they will always carry with them. They never forget how the pastor ministered to them.
He forgets; not because he meant to, but because after them, he was called to more hospital rooms, more funeral homes, and more counseling situations. He walked away from that family knowing he had a choice: he could leave a piece of himself with them–his heart, his soul, something–or he could close the door on that sad room in his inner sanctum in order to be able to give of himself to the next crisis.
If he leaves a piece of himself with every broken-hearted family he works with, pretty soon there won’t be anything left.
So he turns it off when he walks away. He goes on to the next thing.
He hates himself for doing it. But it’s a survival technique. It’s the only way to last in this kind of tear-your-heart-out-and-stomp-that-sucker ministry.
We pastors shake our heads in amazement at this, but we know it’s true. We get it all the time. Well, that’s not right. We get it from time to time. And when it comes, it’s like a love-letter from Heaven. Like something the Heavenly Father decides to send our way as if to say, “You’re doing good. Hang in there. I know you think you’re so weak and so flawed and understand so little that it can’t possibly be of help to anyone. But it’s better than you know. Keep on.”
Durn. I’m tearing up again.
Do you ever find yourself preoccupied, encased in your own little world? Today I was considering the times I have missed ministry opportunities because I was in my own little world. “Missing a ministry opportunity,” this is a strange statement coming from a minister. We are surrounded by ministry opportunities. If anything we cannot keep up with the ministry opportunities, or we are exhausted from ministry overload.
Let me explain my statement, “missing a ministry opportunity.” There are ministry opportunities that come with our job. They are somewhat expected and/or demanded of us. Then there are the exciting opportunities that God lays in our lap. We might slide by if we miss the first type of opportunity. They are routine and accompany our vocational calling. However, those God-given opportunities involve a different story line. They stimulate a little more excitement. They are characterized by an air of intrigue! Questions such as, “What is God up to?” come to mind.
This discussion reminded me of the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The part of this story that disturbs me the most is the description of the two religious leaders. “A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (vs. 31-32) All of us have heard sermons, studies and read commentaries about this passage. The priest and Levite may have entertained religious reasons to pass by without helping. They might have been in a hurry. My current thinking prompts me to ask, were they preoccupied? Were they so busy being ministers that they did not have time to minister? This challenges me to ask several questions:
Last week I watched a football game in which the star player for one team was tired and slightly injured. The coach took the star out of the game, had him checked, and placed him back in the game. Do you ever feel like you are tired and injured and need to be taken out of the game? You are not alone!
In Exodus 5 we find Moses wondering if he should be in the game. After a season of struggle Moses reluctantly accepted God’s call to go into the game and lead the Israelite people out of Egypt. After embarking on this task Moses faced an immediate trial. He came against Pharaoh. As he came against Pharaoh things got worse instead of better. Instead of Pharaoh allowing the Israelite people to go free he increased their burden. Not only did he keep them in bondage, he required them to make the previous quota of bricks. In addition, he made them collect straw with which to make the bricks. Collecting straw had not been demanded in the past. After this encounter we find Moses’ words in Exodus 5:22-23. “So Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.’"
In this encounter Moses faced several negative emotions.
1. Moses was discouraged. He asked why God had “brought trouble on this people.”
2. Moses doubted. He asked, “Why is it You have sent me?”
3. Moses was basically defeated. He said, “neither have You delivered Your people.”