Criticism hurts. It hurts to have our motives unfairly called into question. It hurts to diligently prepare and deliver heartfelt sermons, only to be met with skeptical people who nitpick our interpretations of a particular Scripture. And it hurts when we do our best to love and serve our people, only to be misunderstood, unappreciated and questioned in our integrity.
Now granted, this doesn't happen very often; but it doesn't need to happen often—just one or two criticisms can wipe us out and take us from the peak of Mount Hermon to the valley of the Jordan.
So how do we deal with it—at least how do we deal with the unjust criticism? We know how to deal with legitimate criticisms: We humble ourselves, we repair any damage we may have caused, we ask forgiveness, we repent, and then we pick ourselves up and move on. That's not too difficult to deal with. It's the other kind, the unfair, unnecessary kind that takes the wind out of our sails and causes us to question why we ever signed up to serve as pastors. Fortunately for us, Jesus, the Pattern Son, modeled five ways of handling criticism.
I’m finishing my fourth year as an itinerant preacher and have been the beneficiary of some great (i.e., generous, encouraging) love offerings and the victim of no poor offerings. (That was a good place to have said I’ve been victimized by some unscrupulous pastors or lay leaders, but thankfully, I haven’t. Every check given to me has been more than I deserved and well appreciated.)
On the other hand, I’ve seen the other side of it. I regret to say that a time or two, when I was pastoring, my church was struggling financially and we gave the guest preacher far, far less than he deserved.
Every minister understands this. If a church does all it can, that’s all anyone can ask. On the other hand, some have some funny ways of doing the Lord’s business.
The problem of prejudice is real. Sadly, even heroes of the faith like Peter have been guilty of it.
Prejudice is defined as “preconceived opinion(s) that causes one to dislike, be hostile to or behave unjustly toward others.”
We continue to find it along racial lines, social standing and religious background, and even among gender, age and sexual orientation. All too often, even Christians are guilty of prejudice.
“When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.” (Gal. 2:11-12a, NIV)
Paul saw prejudice as sin, regardless of who was guilty of it. A telltale sign of prejudice is who you are eating or not eating with.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. — Philippians 4:8
The human brain is an amazing component of our bodies. With it, we are able to sense, to recognize, to understand, and to remember countless things. Our brains keep track of countless important details (like heartbeats) that keep us alive. All without conscious decisions on our part. Even with the most advanced products of scientific research, we have not been able to rival what has been given to us by God with the gift of life.
One thing we must be careful about is the type of material we give our brains access to. Since the brain is like a sponge, it retains all the information it receives. A few years ago, Denny Gunderson, former president of Youth With A Mission, asked an interesting question: Would you feel comfortable if your thoughts were to be shown on a movie screen for all to see?
What we think about can have a very strong impact on the way we handle a situation or view a series of events. Thoughts lead to actions. And, if left unchecked, these can turn into negative character traits rather quickly.
The Lord wants our minds to be pure and useful for the tasks he has planned for us. It is difficult to serve effectively when a person is considering thoughts of revenge, envy, or other wickedness. Paul understood this and challenged the Philippian church to think about things that were honorable, true, lovely, admirable, and worthy of praise. This way, their actions would match their thoughts.
Would you feel comfortable if your thoughts were shown on a movie screen for all to see? It's not too late to allow God to perform some "editing" so our thinking is in line with his. The question is whether you are willing to let him do it. Can you take the list from Philippians 4 and note three or four items for each of those traits?
At the risk of not showing honor to peers in ministry, I want to tackle the topic of honor today. I’m concerned. I see a trend in churches that I think is unhealthy. Honestly, I believe it’s also unbiblical.
There are a number of churches today that are trying to teach a culture of honor. The concept of honor is biblical. In fact, Romans 12:10 tells us to:
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (ESV)
We should show honor to our leaders, but God designed it to go both directions. If it’s one-way, it’s unhealthy and unbiblical.
Have you ever heard the phrase “odd man out?” It means you didn’t fit. You don’t measure up for some reason. You were excluded. It hurts.
I’ve been that person numerous times. I get it because I’m pastor sometimes. People assume I can’t also be fun. So they don’t invite me to the party. I experienced it some in business circles. There are haves and have nots in many business circles. I was mostly in the have nots. I’ve even been excluded though for having too much. People assume because I’m not struggling like they are that I probably never have.
We’ve all been excluded at some point in life.