Preacher, a lot of people in the church are concerned. I’m not at liberty to use names. Even some who love you are not happy with the way things are going. I think you’d be surprised to know how widespread the unrest is. If you are the wise person I think you are, you will not want to jeopardize your family by risking a church vote and suddenly find yourself unemployed. If I were you–and I’m just saying this as a friend–I think I’d be looking for another church to go to.
The baying of wolves in the night can be disconcerting. But it’s also misleading. As this story from President U. S. Grant’s autobiography makes clear….
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. The first former president to write his memoirs, Grant’s are generally conceded to be the best of the lot. (Note: Before reading 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 from cancer. 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. Grant writes, 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.
By the time he was penning his Memoirs, Grant had served two terms as President of the United States. He knew politicians all too well. His observation is solid.
Ask any veteran pastor
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.
Almost always, 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.”
Innuendo has taken down many a faithful warrior.
I know this from experience, unfortunately. When that little group found they did not have the votes to oust me, they didn’t know what to do. The chairman of deacons, a ringleader of the bunch, admitted to the other deacons, “I guess I was wrong. I thought more people were against the pastor.”
The next morning, one of their leaders was waiting for me in my office, hat in hand. “I know I’ll have to get off the personnel committee, but please let me keep my Sunday School class.” The contrition was in marked contrast to the venom of 24 hours earlier.
My point, pastor, is this: Next time they come to you with this line–“A lot of people are unhappy about…”–I suggest you do two things. First, ask, “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 secondly, 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. Keep in mind the way President Lincoln would disarm his detractors by saying, “That all reminds me of a story.” So, tell the wolves story. And smile real big while you’re doing it, because you are in the driver’s seat here. Then, when you finish, thank the complainers for coming by. Have a brief prayer–do not ask if they have anything further to say, just say, “Let’s pray”–and then rise, stick out your hand and say, “Thanks for coming by. I hope you have a wonderful day.” Walk to the door, and open it, signaling that this meeting is over. Say nothing more.
Do it. You can do this. I suggest you practice it a few times so you will be ready. The baying wolves will not send advance notice that they’re coming by your office today. So, you have to be prepared.
Walk toward your fears
One more thing. 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 letters and phone calls in the middle of the night, 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, but of power and love and a sound mind. You can do this.