“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16).
We can’t say the Lord didn’t warn us. Although, clearly, some did not get the word.
In Matthew 10:16-42 our Lord is preparing His people for their future ministry with its pressures, persecutions, betrayals, and conflicts. He tells us how things will be, what to expect, and what actions we should take when bad things occur. To our shame, our people are rarely taught this, and thus are blindsided when turmoil erupts in a congregation.
And so, when the enemy attacks the church, God’s people panic and flee like chickens in the barnyard when a hostile dog arrives.
We all pay a big price for our failure to prepare the people.
It’s a familiar story, one which I heard again today. When the pastor resigned suddenly due to his own foolish behavior, many in the congregation panicked and went into a tailspin. The leadership wants to carry on the program, but people are leaving the church in droves. What to do? Can anything be done at this late hour to keep members from jumping ship?
The best time to act is two years ago. (“Oh, thanks a lot, wise one. You’re a big help!”)
“Christ also suffered for us…when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously….” (I Peter 2:21-25).
Quotes on enduring criticism abound. Go online and pull up a chair. Here are a few we found in a few minutes….
–The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.(Elbert Hubbard) -You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a sign of weakness to get caught up in either one. (John Wooden) –A critic is a legless man who teaches running. (Channing Pollock) –You are a glorious shining sword and criticism is the whetstone. Do not run from the whetstone or you will become dull and useless. Stay sharp. (Duane Alan Hahn)
Pastor and church leaders: You do not want to live and work where there is an absence of criticism.
You think you do. But you don’t. Only in the harshest of dictatorships is there no criticism. But in a free society–like ours–criticism abounds. If the society is indeed free, much of the criticism is fair, just, and well deserved. Likewise, much of it will be unfair, unjust and unmerited. A leader who survives has to develop discernment in order to know what to ignore and what to treasure and learn from.
A friend texted: “Joe, write something about criticism! Some good pastors are resigning because not everyone in the church likes them!”
“Jesus said, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” No prophet is welcome in his own hometown'” (Luke 4:24).
John Fogerty’s group Creedence Clearwater Revival is unforgettable to anyone who has owned a radio in the last 50 years. Two years ago, in an interview with Dan Rather, Fogerty was remembering a key moment in the 1960s.
The group was one of many bands to perform at a particular event. As the final group to warm up, and thus the first band to appear on stage, suddenly CCR found they had been unplugged. John Fogerty yelled to the sound man to plug them back up, that they weren’t through. The technician did so reluctantly, then added, “You not going anywhere anyway, man.” Fogerty said, “Okay. Give me one year. I’ll show you.”
This morning, as we were sitting at the breakfast table discussing memories good and bad, my Bertha said something I wrote down so I’d get it just right.
We have a wagonload of memories of God’s people who have loved us and cared for us. But we also have painful memories that we wish we could edit out of our lives. But the Holy Spirit has shown me that if He took out the pain and strife, He would also be removing the lovely things that happened during that same time. Or, that happened as a direct result of the bad event.
It brought up a painful memory from my junior high days. A teacher said something really harsh that forever left its mark on me. Over the years as I have sometimes reflected on that incident, my primary focus has been on the offense. I’ve wondered about that teacher, why he did what he did, what it meant, and so forth. But I realized something from what Bertha said today.
The teacher who scarred the kid
Early in the semester of the 7th grade, all the students–perhaps a hundred of us–were herded into the gymnasium. The band director, a Mr. Keating, called everyone to order and announced that today we would be electing class officers.
“Your words have helped the tottering to stand; you have strengthened feeble knees” (Job 4:4).
Speak clearly. Enunciate. Use simple, active language. Avoid wordiness. Never try to impress the audience with large, unfamiliar words.
Encourage people with your speech. “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).
“Take with you words,” said the prophet to God’s people, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).
Words. They matter so much. You’re reading a compilation of them right now. Ideally, I have so arranged them as to make sense and convey a message.
The major reason writers edit their writings is to find the culprits that would hinder communication.
It’s essential not to use a word that would impede, stun, or burden the message. .
In today’s newspaper, the food section carried a huge article on how a good salad can improve a meal. The headline said: “Ameliorate any meal with a simple pasta salad.”
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Anyone doubting that should stand outside a typical church on a Sunday morning and listen. “I like the way he preaches.” “He makes me feel good.” “I don’t like what I hear.” “I’m not sure what it is about that preacher, but I don’t like him.” I like, I don’t like, I feel, I don’t feel.
What I want in a church. What we’re looking for. Why we’re considering leaving.
When King David was criticized by a fellow named Shimei–and I mean publically and cruelly, cursing him–one of David’s men asked for permission to execute him on the spot. David’s response is worth noting. “My own son wants to kill me; how much more this Benjamite. Let him alone and let him curse, for (perhaps) the Lord told him to do this. Maybe, if I’m merciful to him, the Lord will be merciful to me.” (Paraphrase of 2 Samuel 16:9-12).
Every leader gets criticized. If you don’t want it or cannot take it, please refuse when they offer you that promotion.
To be a leader–the manager, president, chairman, or pastor of the church–means you will have a target drawn on your back. You must be able to take the heat.
Every leader needs the blessing of positive criticism from the ranks of the membership or team or congregation. The leader who rejects criticism is asking for all the trouble he/she is going to inherit.
But what if you are the employee or member of the congregation or team member and need to get a word of constructive criticism to the leader?
There are wrong ways to get criticism to the pastor. To the leader, boss, chair, president, whoever.
“Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:2-3).
We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike. But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”
“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.
His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent, and ousts anyone not obeying him. He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers. His opinion is the only one that counts.
We could wish it were a rare phenomenon. It isn’t.
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark. (Acts 12:25)
The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them…. and they also had John as their helper.” (Acts 13:2,5)
Now Paul and his companions put out to se from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, and John left them and returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13)
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return…’ And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another. And Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord….” (Acts 15:36ff.).
Staff members! Can’t live with them and can’t live without them!
The biggest headaches most pastors will know in a lifetime of ministry will involve staff members. Some will be his best friends, strongest advisors and most loyal supporters. Others will write the script for his nightmares, will be Absalom to his David (i.e., rebelling and leading an insurrection), and will turn hairs in his head either to gray or loose.
Perhaps the three greatest problems a pastor will face in his entire ministry will be choosing members of his ministerial ministry team, motivating and guiding them, and (occasionally) having to terminate them.
A number of my friends are going to think this was written just for them. They will be right.
They’ve just lost their ministry positions which had been their existence for the last year or many years. They loved that church and delighted in serving Christ there. And now, they’ve been cut loose and told their services are no longer needed. They are hurting as though a death had occurred. They grieve, they fear for their future, and they deal with anger over how they were treated.
The termination of ministers is reaching the epidemic level. And shows no signs of abating.
So, this is a word to ministry friends who have suddenly found themselves cut loose. Flockless shepherds. Ministers without portfolio. Called by God, trained for the ministry, employed by a church, and then suddenly made redundant. Pink-slipped. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
God bless you. May He comfort you with His nearness. Hold your head up high. No moping allowed (except in private, maybe on your back porch).
May He speak to you in your pain and minister to you through a few of His most faithful servants. Those who have been there/done that will be of most comfort to you.
In one sense, this is a word to you five years ago. Something we wish we could turn back the clock and say to you back then when things were going well.