You’re getting scared. Your enemies are making fierce noises. There are so many of them. You are shaking in your boots, your time may be up, the end may be near, and as pastor, you have nowhere to go. Whatever will you do? This is so awful.
Or, maybe not.
In the mid-1840s, Ulysses S. Grant was a Second Lieutenant in the war between the U.S. and Mexico, with the prize being Texas. Grant’s “Memoirs” make fascinating reading. We’re told that Grant was the first former president to write his memoirs, and these are generally conceded to be the best of the lot. (Before reading the Memoirs, I read “Grant’s Final Victory,” an account of the last year of his life when he penned his story to earn enough money to provide for his wife after his impending death. Great story. He was a far better man than he is often given credit for. )
At one point, Grant and some troopers were in west Texas, which was sparsely settled except by the Indians and plenty of varmints. One night, they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.” The tall grass hid the wolves but they were definitely close by. “To my ear, it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all at a single meal.”
The part of Ohio where Grant had been brought up had no wolves, but his friend Lt. Calvin Benjamin came from rural Indiana where they were still in abundance. “He understood the nature of the animal and the capacity of a few to make believe there was an unlimited number of them.”
Benjamin began moving straight toward the wolves, seemingly unafraid. “I followed in his trail, lacking moral courage to turn back….”
After a bit, Benjamin spoke. “Grant, how many wolves do you think are in that pack?’
Lt. Grant figured he was about to be shown up by overestimating the number. So, “I determined to show my acquaintance with the animal by putting the estimate below what could possibly be correct.”
“Oh, about twenty.”
Benjamin smiled and said nothing. In a minute, Grant says, “we were close upon them and before they saw us. There were just two of them. Seated upon their haunches, with their mouths close together, they had made all the noise we had been hearing for the past ten minutes.”
And now the lesson from this. Throughout the book, Grant loves to drop in little insights and proverbs to share with his readers. We could wish he had expounded on this one. He said:
“I have often thought of this incident since when I have heard the noise of a few disappointed politicians who had deserted their associates. There are always more of them before they are counted.” (Memoirs, page 35)
Grant had served two terms as President of the United States. He knew politicians all too well. His observation is solid.
That can also be said of church.
Many a pastor has been visited by some complaining church member who says, “A lot of people in the church are unhappy about….” or “Pastor, I’m hearing a lot of complaining over…”
How many people exactly are unhappy about this? How many are upset over that program?
Remember Grant’s dictum: “There are always more of them before they are counted.”
Usually, it’s the man speaking and his wife. But would he admit that? Not in a million years. When pressed, the complainer says things like “I’m not at liberty to use names” and “You’d be surprised, Pastor. A lot of people feel this way.” He might even say, “Even if they aren’t saying it to you, they’re saying it to others.”
I know this from experience, unfortunately. When that little group found they did not have the votes they thought they did to oust me, they didn’t know what to do. The next morning, one of their ring-leaders came to my office with hat in hand, so to speak, saying, “I know I’ll have to get off the (named) committee, but please let me keep my Sunday School class.”
So, pastor, next time they come to you with this line–“A lot of people are unhappy about…”–I suggest you do two things. First, ask them, “Exactly who is unhappy. Please don’t come to me with anonymous criticism. If they don’t have the courage to attach their names to this, then I’m going to assume they are not in agreement with you.”
And then, after they refuse to give you the names, as they most certainly will not do–cowards are all alike in this regard; anonymity is their bulletproof vest–tell them the story of President Grant and the wolves of west Texas. (We all remember stories of how President Lincoln would disarm his detractors by saying, “That all reminds me of a story.” Tell the story. And smile real big. Then, thank the complainers for coming by. Have a brief prayer, then rise, stick out your hand and say, “Thanks for coming by. I hope you have a wonderful day.”
Do it. You can do this. Practice it a few times so you will be ready. The baying wolves will not give you advance notice that they’re coming by your office today. So, you have to be prepared.
Then, take a lesson from Lt. Benjamin (who was killed a few weeks later, Grant says, in one of the battles of that unfortunate war): Walk toward the wolves. Do not run away. They are not what your fears say they are. Face them.
Do not ever let anonymous threats frighten you, Pastor. As with anonymous notes, if the owner of those things had an ounce of moral courage, they would face you. By remaining in the dark, they hope you will think they are more numerous than they are.
They’re trying to scare you, Preacher. Don’t let them.
Be strong in the Lord, my friend. God has not given you the spirit of fear….