Let’s say you are a politician running for office. At a public gathering, someone in the audience begins heckling you. Rather than being highly offended, or worse, having the secret service (or your staff) usher the guy outside or even arrest him, you should consider that the fellow is doing you a favor.
The critic is giving you a chance to do something you rarely get an opportunity to do: you get to impress the larger audience by the way you deal with this one man.
So, when you respond to what he does or says, keep this in mind: By himself, the man is unimportant (to your campaign); but people are making up their minds about you by the way you deal with him.
Likewise, if you are the pastor and someone in the congregation arises to criticize you.
Great opportunity, pastor.
Whether the questioner is angry or sarcastic or just insistent, he’s doing you a favor.
Oh, and incidentally, whether he has a point is not the issue. If he does, you grant the point, thank him, and give the information. If he does not have a point–or is misguided, ignorant, in error, or a raving lunatic–you will deal with him in the same way as the serious questioner: kindly, gently.
It’s one of the lessons we could learn from Rush Limbaugh. Years ago, when he first began broadcasting, I was amazed at how rudely he would treat some of his callers. If the guy on the phone was an obvious liberal, Limbaugh cut him off at the knees, then cut him off altogether. The poor guy was left speechless because he was no longer connected with Limbaugh’s show.
Rush Limbaugh did not care about that particular caller. He was playing to his national audience.
By the way, I am most definitely not suggesting we deal that sharply or rudely with critics and questioners. As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be Christlike in our responses to those demanding an accounting of what we have done, even if their approach was rude or disrespectful.
Some things we do for the larger audience (as well as for the individual).
The Gospels are saturated with occasions of our Lord doing exactly that.
Take these instances from one chapter, the 10th of Mark.
10:2 The Pharisees asked about divorce. Jesus used it as a teaching moment for His entire audience.
10:13 Mothers who bring their little children to the Lord are rebuked by the disciples. Jesus turned this into a teaching about the kingdom.
10:17 The man we call “the rich young ruler” asked about eternal life. Jesus’ response was for everyone listening, not just him.
10:35 Two disciples ask for prominence in the kingdom. Jesus’ answer guides us even today in our concept of greatness.
Everyone is listening, pastor.
In a church business meeting, someone stands to his feet and asks in a most irritating, offensive manner, what happened to the money in this account or why the church was not asked to approve a particular action or where the preacher got the authority to do such-and-such. You are on the spot.
Everyone is watching and listening, pastor. Even if they recognize that the questioner was out of line or violated some rule of Roberts’ or was acting like anything but a Christian. All eyes are on you now.
How you answer matters to them.
Note that. It’s how you answer that matters most.
The facts of your answer will matter to several. But most are not particularly interested in a few dollars spent here or why someone thought you overstepped your authority. But they know Christlikeness when they see it.
Two pastors of huge churches served as presidents of our denomination a few years back. Sorry, no names here. I sat in the giant halls when each was presiding and observed their different presiding manners.
President Number One was kind and gracious. When a messenger (our denomination’s word for “delegate”) at a microphone asked a question in a rude or disrespectful or out-of-turn manner, the audience of many thousands buzzed. Made up almost entirely of church leaders, this meeting’s audience recognized ugliness (or simple wrongness) when they saw it.
But I can still hear the president saying, “Folks, I know he’s out of order here. But let’s hear him out. This dear brother in Christ has come a long way to be here today and this matters greatly to him. Is that all right with you?” You could see a thousand heads bobbing in assent.
The critic had his say, the president responded graciously, and we moved forward. No one was upset, no one left angry. Love prevailed.
President Number Two was not so gracious. When a questioner arose to address him rudely or presistently, our moderator took it as a personal attack. He would cut the critic off short, turn off his microphone, and try to move the business session along.
The audience was not following the details of the critic’s argument. But they knew harshness when they saw it. And it was coming from our leader.
The critic brought suit against our denomination, and, to the deep pain of a lot of us, money taken from church offering plates was used to defend the president in the suit even though he had been in the wrong. Nothing about this was good; many of us carried a bitter taste over this for years.
Nothing tells the story on your Christlikeness like being attacked verbally.
How you respond tells the world about your maturity, your self-control, your Christlikeness.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1) That’s how Solomon put it.
Here are a couple of places where Paul was urging the same thing:
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:29-32).
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:6).
Practice responding to harshness, pastor. So you will be ready.
Candidates role-play these situations with their staff. If you have the kind of ministerial staff who would work with you on this, it could be a fun exercise. Otherwise, enlist your family members. However, if no one is available or willing to assist you, try it driving down an isolated stretch of the interstate.
Envision someone attacking your verbally or insistenting on an answer to their question in a most disrespectful way. Now, prayerfully consider what would be the best way to answer them. Try different responses.
I’ll make a prediction here.
When it does happen, you will be caught off guard.
You will not see it coming and the questioner will blind-side you.
That’s all right. At this moment, you are going to have to fall back on something our Lord promised:
When they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you shall speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you (Matthew 10:19-20).
It is not you who speaks.
And, it is not the one you address who is your ultimate audience.
Everyone is listening.
Knock this one out of the park, pastor. Your critic is giving you an easy one right over the plate.
Don’t wish later you had this one back.