A well-known politician, while riding on a train, produced a $5 bill and said, "I'm going to throw this five dollar bill out the window and make somebody happy." One of his ardent admirers suggested, "But sir, why don't you throw five $1 bills and make five people happy?" A member of the opposition, seated in a corner, growled, "Why don't you jump out and make everybody happy?"
The dictator of a small country, bitterly disappointed that nobody used the newly issued postage stamps bearing his portrait, demanded an explanation from his postmaster. He replied that the stamps were not sticking. Seizing a stamp, the tyrant licked it and stuck it onto an envelope. "Look!" he shouted. "It sticks perfectly!" The postmaster faltered for a moment, then sheepishly explained, "Well, sir, the truth is that the people have been spitting on the wrong side."
A fact of life is that the one who leads the pack gets arrows in the back. Critics are everywhere, even in the church. They sit so far back in the church, by the time they hear something, it's already a rumor. They weren't born again, they were born against. At the beginning of every meeting you feel like calling on them for a word of criticism just to get it over with. Their favorite TV character was Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. Their faces look like Lamentations. They always have that "I' m in pain" look. Maybe it's the side effects of having an artificial heart.
I always try to be positive with my critics. One came up to me last week and I said, "If I had two more just like you, I'd be a happy man." He didn't know what to say. He replied, "Pastor, what are you talking about? I'm always criticizing you. Why would you be happy if you had two more like me?" I answered, "Because I have twenty more like you. If I only had three, I would be a happy man!"
I wish the critics were more specific in their criticism, like: What kind of kite? What lake?
Someone has said that any fool can criticize and condemn and complain, and most fools do. For every step forward, there is an equal and opposite criticism.
Many times, as pastors, we feel like our church colors ought to be black and blue. But the fact is, all leaders are criticized. Lincoln and Washington, two of our greatest presidents, were the most criticized. Churchill received a standing ovation, and a lady commented how flattering it must be to receive that kind of applause. "Yes," he said, "but also know that if it were my hanging, the crowd would be twice the size."
Every great endeavor has its critics. When Robert Fulton first showed off his new invention, the steamboat, skeptics were crowded on the bank yelling, "It'll never start! It'll never start!" It did. It started with a lot of clanking and groaning. As the steamboat made it's way down the river the skeptics were quiet for one minute. Then they started shouting, "It'll never stop! It'll never stop!"
What do you do with your critics? One week I had received a lot of criticism, and a staff member's wife said to me, "When I hear that, I get a knot in my stomach." "I'm just the opposite," I said. "When I hear that, I want to give them a knot on their head." Do you hit them or do you pray that they will fry in their own grease? What about setting clever traps for them, like the guy who was so upset because his critic was always poking him in the chest. He decided to wire dynamite to his chest so that the next time he poked him, his critic would go up in smoke. That's not a good idea. Remember that critics who try to whittle you down are only trying to reduce you to their size. Take the rocks thrown at you and build something. Don't be paranoid. Everybody's not out to get you. Don't quit going to football games because you think they are talking about you in the huddle. There is no coat that will insulate you from criticism.
The best way to handle critics is to remember the canal. The builder of the Panama Canal was besieged with criticism. When asked how he was going to handle the critics, he said, "With the canal." Don't get sidetracked if you are on the right track. Stay positive. One football coach says when you are run out of town, go to the head of the line and look as though you are leading a parade.
A new arrival in heaven was surprised to see a suggestion box along Main Street. He turned to a more seasoned resident and asked, "If everybody is supposed to be happy in heaven, why is there a suggestion box?" The experienced tenant replied, "Because some people aren't really happy unless they complain."
So remember, a critic a day probably means you're headed the right way, and arrows in the back mean you are still in front of the pack.
Charles Lowery is pastor of Hoffmantown Baptist Church, Albuquerque, N.M.