Somebody said something or did something, and now the pastor hurts. From a human point of view, he has every right to hurt; but he knows that his people won’t accept it. For some reason, pastors are supposed to “live above the snake line” and never have hurt feelings or broken hearts.
Quite the opposite is true. The loving “spiritual father and mother” (see I Thess. 27-12) who loves and cares for his family will be sensitive to what they say and do. All of us probably hurt our parents at one time or another when we were children, and the way they felt was an expression of their love. They were hurt.
When our people hurt, they come to us. Where do we go when we hurt?
As difficult as it is, we must take our own medicine and obey Matthew 5:10-12 and 43-48. Let’s search our hearts to be sure that we have not sinned and given just cause for some-body to criticize us. Preachers do make mistakes, and they also know how to make excuses for them. Excuses only make things worse. If an apology is in order, take care of the matter as soon as possible. Sometimes the best way to soar like an eagle is to learn to eat crow.
But suppose we discover that our hearts are clean in the matter: Then what? Patience and prayer. And while you are waiting and praying, evaluate the situation and ask God for wisdom.
Some things our people say and do are not worth noticing. If that’s the case, the best thing you can do is to commit them to the Lord and forget about them. In his Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon urged pastors to have “a blind eye and a deaf ear,” when it came to the common gossip and criticism in the church family. He said:
“You cannot stop people’s tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken.”
“Judge it to be a small matter what men think or say of you, and care only for their treatment of your Lord.”
After all, perhaps the pastor himself occasionally says things he shouldn’t say. Solomon may have had this in mind when he wrote, “Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you-for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others”(Ecc1. 7:21-22 NIV). Sobering counsel!
“A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11 NASB).
But whether the pastor was right or wrong, he must forgive others and make sure his own heart is right with God and with God’s people. If others ;won’t wash the wounds they caused, let the Lord do it; otherwise those wounds will fester and cause pain and only create more trouble.
Positively the worst thing we can do is to perform a constant autopsy as we review the matter in our minds. This keeps the pain fresh and even adds to it, but it doesn’t solve the problem. If anything, it makes it worse.
Fighting an ego problem within robs us of the peace and energy we need to love people and do our work well. Our families suffer, we suffer, and the church suffers. Is carrying a grudge worth all this suffering? The more we ponder the offense, the more we defend ourselves; and the more we defend ourselves, the more anxious we are to prove that we are right. Then, when we least expect it, we launch our attack-and wish we had kept our mouths shut.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get it out of our system, but we must be careful to explain and not explode. Every pastor needs a friend with an open ear and a sympathetic heart who can listen and give encouragement. If we “talk it out,” our hurt feelings will start to heal and our distorted vision will start to see things in perspective again.
President Harry Truman used to say to his colleagues, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen!” We may not like it, but criticism is a part of the ministry; and the pastor with a thin skin or a sensitive ego has to learn how to take it.
To quote Spurgeon again: “You must be able to bear criticism, or you are not fit to be at the head of a congregation; and you must let the critic go without reckoning him among your deadly foes, or you will prove yourself a mere weakling.”
This leads to another suggestion: Don’t take yourself too seriously. A sense of humor is a powerful weapon to defeat the Devil when he sets up a beachhead in your wounded heart. The ability to “laugh it off” has saved many leaders from the folly of trying to kill a mosquito with a cannon. You can do it, but plan to be picking up the pieces for weeks to come.
Yes, we take our office and our ministry seriously; but that’s not the same as making ourselves so important that people can’t disagree with us or criticize us. Often they don’t even know that what they said or did cut us deeply; and when we tell them, they are usually more than willing to make things right.
It seems strange, but in many congregations there is often one member who just doesn’t like the pastor. You go out of your way to love that person and try to win him or her over, but it just doesn’t work. What should you do? Learn to cooperate with the inevitable and give your best to the whole church, without letting Saint Critic distract or disturb you. If you were an oyster, that abrasive bit of sand would help you manufacture a valuable pearl. You’re not an oyster, but perhaps God can do the same for you!
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Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).