In a mega metro pastor's meeting where the pastors of great churches were talking about what encouraged them, I was discouraged by one comment. My brother, Fred, told the other pastors that he was really encouraged when he preached at my church and discovered that there were people there that didn't like me. (Thanks a lot!) He went on to explain that I had a very likable personality, and he thought everyone would like me. Everyone did like me ... until I became their pastor. Being a pastor means you will be criticized — so how do we handle criticism?
A salesman was telling his barber that he had an upcoming business trip to Rome. The spirited Italian barber told the salesman he would be a fool to go to Rome. He explained that Rome was overrated because the hotel service was horrible, restaurants were bad, and the airlines had all kinds of problems. The salesman argued that he was going to close a big deal, but the barber continued with his negative litany telling him that no one does business in Italy and that he would never get to see the Pope. The salesman went anyway.
Two months later when the barber inquired about his trip to Rome, the salesman replied that the flight was smooth, the hotel service was perfect, his business was successful, and he was able to see the Pope. The barber asked him about seeing the Pope. The salesman retorted, "I knelt down and kissed his ring, he patted my head and asked, 'My son, who gave you such a lousy haircut?'" That's how we handle criticism isn't it? We retaliate.
Winston Churchill enjoyed verbal battles. Lady Astor once said to him that she believed he was drunk, to which he replied that he believed she was ugly — but that he would sober up in the morning. Their battle continued. He once angered her so much that she told him that if she were married to him she would give him arsenic. He told her that if he were married to her, he would take it. Verbal barbs.
Harry Truman, one of our most criticized Presidents, once said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." And "If your head is made of butter, don't stand close to the fire."
Pastors have to be able to handle criticism. It will get hot, tough, and difficult. Inability to handle criticism results in the lack of accomplishment because there is always negative reaction to each action. Every organization with moving parts has friction. Success breeds jealousy. People criticize you to bring you down to their level. Birds pick the ripest fruit. Critics nitpick. Successful companies, organizations, and churches are criticized. Count on it.
A Chicago Times editorial read, "The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly platitudes and dishwater utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to foreigners as the President of the United States." The editorial concerned The Gettysburg Address. One of the most famous speeches ever written was referred to as "dishwater platitudes." Even one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was criticized.
Jesus was criticized. He was called a winebibber and glutton. He hung around with the wrong people — the sinners. He was called a Samaritan which was an insult in the Jewish culture. Jesus, who came straight from heaven, was not even religious enough for the religious crowd. They had a standard that even Jesus didn't meet.
Understand that when you make changes in religious programs, you too will be criticized. Opposition is inevitable. To avoid criticism: Be nothing. Do nothing. Say nothing. But then you will be criticized for doing nothing.
In most instances, you can ignore the criticism and continue following God's plan. Bulldogs can whip skunks, but it's not worth it. You can discuss, explain, plead, and argue with critics and maybe even whip them, but it isn't worth it. When a crow attacks a hawk, it will just fly higher and higher until the crow can't reach him. You can do the same. You can fly higher and higher away from the critics and do great things following God's standards rather than man's standards. Men's standards change. He never changes.
You will be directly challenged as a leader. When Jesus was challenged in this manner, He dealt directly with His critics. Paul also dealt with critics when he was challenged. Jesus, Paul, Nehemiah, and all the great leaders went exactly the way God wanted them to go and didn't let their critics sidetrack them.
Trying to please everyone creates messes. A man and a small boy were leading a donkey through a village. People in the village laughed at him and told him he should be riding the donkey. In the next village, the villagers ridiculed him for riding the donkey without the boy. He put the boy on the donkey, and in the next village, the crowd couldn't believe the burden they was putting on the donkey. The last time he was seen, the man was carrying the donkey on his shoulders.
What is the bottom line? It's very hard to pastor a church carrying a donkey. Personally, I would rather be called a donkey than to carry one.
Charles Lowery is founder and president of LIFE, Inc. and is in a fulltime speaking ministry. You may contact LIFE, Inc. at 469-892-0098 or www.charleslowery.com.