Month: March 2016
“Choose a leader who will invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. Intellectualism and wisdom, not ignorance. Stability, not fear and terror. Peace, not chaos. Love, not hate. Convergence, not segregation. Tolerance, not discrimination. Fairness, not hypocrisy. Substance, not superficiality. Character, not immaturity. Transparency, not secrecy. Justice, not lawlessness. Environmental improvement and preservation, not destruction. Truth, not lies.”
― Suzy Kassem,
Generally speaking, parishioners appreciate the roles pastors perform in their churches and communities. This includes preaching/teaching Christian doctrine;performing rites of passage, such as baby dedications, baptisms, weddings, and funerals; pastoral care, such as visitation, counseling, comforting, and praying for people; and administration, such as chairing meetings, developing inreach and outreach programs for the church and community, and representing the church to the community.
But despite the roles pastors perform, they are not spared criticism from a number of their parishioners. Some of the criticism may be constructive and some destructive.
Pastoral ministry has its ups and downs. One of the up moments is when church programs work well in the church and parishioners support and affirm the pastor’s ministry. During this time, the ministry becomes pleasant and rewarding. A down moment occurs when there is a lack of support from parishioners and the program fails. The pastor faces criticism and bitter opposition from parishioners that can lead to feelings of frustration and discouragement.
Let us face it, a leader cannot avoid criticism. It does not matter what leadership position you hold, whether in politics, as the president or prime minister of a country, the head of a corporate organization, a pastor, or church administrator, there will be criticism.
Some years ago an experienced minister advised me how to deal with criticism from parishioners. What caught my attention was a remark he made that has encouraged me in my ministry. He said, “Jesus faced criticisms, too, and if you are a pastor and parishioners don’t criticize all the work you do, you wouldn’t know how you are performing in ministry.”1 Since then, I have learned to take criticism differently.
Jesus faced criticism too
Jesus faced criticism in His ministry. Matthew writes, “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw” (Matt. 12:22).2 While the multitudes were amazed, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for casting out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (v. 24).
Some criticized even His eating habits. They said Jesus was “‘“a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” ’ ” (Luke 7:34). On another occasion, the Pharisees and scribes were critical of Him, saying, “ ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’ ” (Luke 15:2). Yet, reaching out to save sinners was an integral part of Jesus’ mission to this world. No wonder, in a similar incident in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus replied to the Pharisees, “ ‘For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’ ” (Matt. 9:13).
In spite of criticism, Jesus was a successful leader. He did not allow criticism of His good deeds to divert attention from His goal to reveal His Father’s love for humanity, and preach the good news of salvation. He stayed focused and accomplished His mission. Pastors need to understand that we will face criticism as Jesus did. Besides, unlike Jesus who did not sin (Heb. 4:15), we will make mistakes and face criticism as well.
Reasons for criticism
Here are a few reasons, both positive and negative, why pastors may face criticism.
1. Failure to fulfill the responsibilities of pastoral leadership. Pastoral leadership can be very demanding and parishioners often know when pastors perform their jobs or not. Hence, pastors should not be satisfied with a level of mediocrity in their job performances. When we fail to fulfill our responsibilities, criticism will most likely come.
2. When a pastor wants to introduce change. Usually, when a pastor is transferred to a new district and attempts to change established tradition, some parishioners criticize the pastor and resist such change. To most parishioners “change is uncomfortable and often threatening.” 3 There will always be resolute defenders of tradition in every congregation who will criticize your intentions for change.
3. A breach of pastoral ethics. Pastors are expected to uphold and commit themselves to practice a pastoral code of ethics. For example, parishioners want a pastor they can trust and confide in with their personal issues. Failure to “practice strictest professional confidentiality”4 will result in criticism from parishioners and a loss of credibility.
4. Pastor a district for years without transfer. Though parishioners may feel uncomfortable when a change occurs in the status quo, this is not always so when it comes to a change in pastoral leadership. With time, parishioners get used to the pastor’s method of preaching and leadership skills.
5. Parishioners’ unresolved issues. Sometimes parishioners go through church-related issues for which they have not sought help from a counselor or their local pastor. Quite often, they are stressed out, impatient, and angry because of these unresolved issues. The church board meeting, or the church business meeting, becomes the forum for them to blame and criticize the pastor for what goes wrong in the congregation.
6. Expectation to live above reproach. Generally, people hold pastors in high esteem and expect much from them. Since pastors are seen as preachers of probity and accountability, parishioners expect them to live above reproach. When a pastor breaks one of the commandments or doctrines of the church, criticism or even rejection often follow.
Approaches for dealing with criticism
Not all criticism from parishioners is destructive. Some may be constructive; therefore pastors should take criticism seriously and not ignore it. What may be considered trivial and not given much attention may become a serious issue too difficult and too late to solve. Here are some suggestions pastors may include in their approaches to criticism from parishioners.
1. Count criticism as a blessing, not a trial. Let’s be realistic about this. We do not find it easy to face criticism and accept it as a blessing from God. When I started ministry, I used to think that parishioners who criticized my job performance did not like me. But I have also come to understand that criticism from parishioners may be God’s way of pointing out something I need to change or correct in dealing with an issue as a pastor. While I do not allow destructive criticism to detract me from doing my job, I do not ignore constructive criticism either. It reminds me that I am human and make mistakes. Constructive criticism also helps me learn and avoid other similar and terrible mistakes later on.
2. Pray for guidance and for those who criticize you. In one district, I made an appointment to see one of our conference officials for advice concerning the criticism I was facing from some parishioners. I can recall sitting in his office and pouring out my heart to him. After I finished, he looked at me and said, “You must pray for them.” I must confess that was not the answer I expected at that moment. But I continued to pray for them and before long they stopped the criticism, though a couple of them occasionally criticized me about church programs. Praying for those who criticize you will make a difference in your ministry.
3. Avoid arguing with those who criticize you. This is one of the difficulties a pastor may encounter with parishioners, especially when the pastor knows they are right about an issue they are being criticized for in the church. However, try not to argue with those who criticize you in public, whether at a church board or church business meeting. Assume a good disposition when confronted with criticism. Calm down, and if it requires a response, choose your words carefully and answer gently.
4. Always do what is right. In every decision that involves the congregation, if you have the church board’s and the majority of the members’ approval, go ahead and implement it. People will criticize and persecute you for doing the right thing, but God will admire and vindicate you for not doing the wrong thing. Ellen G. White offers encouraging words here, “To accuse and criticize those whom God is using is to accuse and criticize the Lord who has sent them.”5
5. Uphold ethics and beliefs of the church. Whatever the pastor does should be in accordance with the church beliefs and policies. Parishioners respect pastors who are honest and have a strong affirmation for, and practice, ministerial ethics.
6. Address the needs of your parishioners in a timely manner. The nature of our work requires us to be sensitive to the questions and felt needs of our parishioners, and we should make every effort to address those needs in a timely manner. We should not treat parishioners’ needs as trivial. Every parishioner is important in the eyes of Jesus, and as ministers of God, we are to treat them with love and respect as we shepherd them. This will help pastors avoid some criticism.
7. Sell your ideas to your leaders: Pastors have good plans and ideas for the church but quite often we meet opposition and criticism because of the way those plans and ideas are communicated to parishioners. When this happens, we wonder whether the church officers and parishioners see what we see. When you work with leaders in a church, they want to feel that they are a part of the decision-making process of the church. The board of elders and the church board members should know the pastor’s ideas and programs. They will then be able to support and help sell them.
8. Do not sideline those who criticize you. Remember the saying Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. You will be surprised that, in most cases, parishioners who criticize you are not necessarily your enemies, but they may be going through personal issues that require a referral or your expertise in pastoral counseling.
9. Involve those who criticize you in church ministries. Sometimes you will find it necessary to harness the energy and talents of parishioners who criticize you for soul winning instead of using their time in sowing seeds of divisiveness in the church. You can request some of them to volunteer in the prayer team or a special needs ministry in the church. Meet with them periodically to affirm and evaluate what they are doing. As you engage them in church ministries, it will help them use their talents in the right areas.
10. Know if, when, and how to confront those who criticize you. Pastors approach and deal with criticism differently. Some pastors adopt an attitude of a culture of silence and ignore them. Others choose a confrontational approach. “The attitude needed to deal with criticisms is not a withdrawal from the issue or an arrogant approach to the issue. It is gentleness and firmness—an attitude of smart love.”6 Pastoral attitudes and approaches to criticism should follow the biblical instruction in Matthew 18:15–17. Try not to harbor any animosity toward parishioners who criticize you. Continue to love and pray for them. This will make a difference in your ministry.
The pastor cannot avoid criticism. Every congregation has parishioners who will affirm your ministry and those who will criticize what you do. At times, the criticism may be constructive, and other times it may be destructive. The pastor should be open to criticism and willing to accept mistakes and correct them. Never allow criticism to detract from your calling as a pastor to perform your role. You can count on Jesus as He guides you to shepherd His flock and prepare them for His kingdom.
“A great leader must serve the best interests of the people first, not those of multinational corporations. Human life should never be sacrificed for monetary profit. There are no exceptions. In addition, a leader should always be open to criticism, not silencing dissent. Any leader who does not tolerate criticism from the public is afraid of their dirty hands being revealed under heavy light. And such a leader is dangerous, because they only feel secure in the darkness. Only a leader who is free from corruption welcomes scrutiny; for scrutiny allows a good leader to be an even greater leader.”
― Suzy Kassem,
“He who has the audacity to stop you from dreaming is he who had given you the imaginations to think, but not those who watch you as you explore the dreams!”
― Israelmore Ayivor
“When the actions becomes frequent than the words, success becomes heavier than the dreams. Do more, say less.”
― Israelmore Ayivor
Genesis 37:1-11 The Message (MSG)
37 Meanwhile Jacob had settled down where his father had lived, the land of Canaan.
Joseph and His Brothers
2 This is the story of Jacob. The story continues with Joseph, seventeen years old at the time, helping out his brothers in herding the flocks. These were his half brothers actually, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought his father bad reports on them.
3-4 Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was the child of his old age. And he made him an elaborately embroidered coat. When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than them, they grew to hate him—they wouldn’t even speak to him.
5-7 Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said, “Listen to this dream I had. We were all out in the field gathering bundles of wheat. All of a sudden my bundle stood straight up and your bundles circled around it and bowed down to mine.”
8 His brothers said, “So! You’re going to rule us? You’re going to boss us around?” And they hated him more than ever because of his dreams and the way he talked.
9 He had another dream and told this one also to his brothers: “I dreamed another dream—the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to me!”
10-11 When he told it to his father and brothers, his father reprimanded him: “What’s with all this dreaming? Am I and your mother and your brothers all supposed to bow down to you?” Now his brothers were really jealous; but his father brooded over the whole business.
Intro: A certain evangelist’s wife died, and when he had to be away in meetings, he hired a babysitter to take care of his two sons. Whenever he had been away, he would always bring them a gift when he arrived back home. One day, however, he came home and had forgotten to buy the boys a gift. When they asked for their presents, the father d\told them that he would take them to the store and that they could have whatever they wanted. When they arrived, the first thing they saw was the candy counter. They decided they wanted to buy candy. Their father said, “Let’s look around a little more first.” Then, they went to the toy department and saw some cowboy suits, complete with guns, hats, ropes, etc. They both yelled, “This is what we want!” Their father replied, “Let’s just look around a little first.” Next, they went into the sporting goods and found basketballs. They began to dribble these about the place and told their father that they wanted to buy the balls. The father said, “let’s look around just a little bit more.” So they continue to shop and as they did, they spotted 2 brand new 10 speed bicycles against the back wall. Their father saw what they were looking at and said, “How would you like to have those bikes?” Those 2 boys left that store with far more than they bargained for because their father refused to let them settle for less that his best. You see, he had intended to buy the bikes all along! Those 2 boys thought candy would be wonderful, but their father had something far more wonderful in mind.
So it is with the Lord, He has plans for us that we can only begin to imagine. We see things and formulate plans that we think would be wonderful, but God has something far more special for us than we could ever imagine. A look at the life of Joseph illustrates this truth. Joseph’s life demonstrates four facts that you will find true as you travel the path God has cleared for you. If you can remember these truths, then no matter how dark the clouds, how depressing the circumstances or how diligent the critics, you will always be aware of the fact that God has something special for you.
I. V. 1-4 THERE IS A SPECIAL PERSON INSIDE YOU
A. Joseph was different – If you read the story of his life, it is plain to see that Joseph stood out from his brothers in his commitment, his character and in his clothing and as a result, his brothers hated him!
B. Being different is socially unacceptable – The secret to popularity is conformity. The world tells us that to get along, you must go along. This is the siren cry of the world. Everyone wants to fit in, everyone wants to be accepted.
C. Being different is OK – While the world calls us to conform, the Bible gives us a far different message. The Bible warns us against conformity, Rom. 12:1. This literally means, “Do not let the world press you into its mold.”
D. Be different because you are different – The main reason why you should be different is because you are! God made you an individual, (Ill. DNA), and you do not have to conform to the crowd. (Ill. There are those who are like whatever crowd they get around. They worship with the saints and they grovel with the sinners. This ought not be so! Think of Daniel, at the age of 17, he took a stand that was the equivalent to social suicide. He chose to be different. As a result, God was able to bless his life and get great glory from Daniel.)
E. All I am saying is that you do not have to fit into anyone’s mold to be accepted. The only person you have to please is the Lord God! If you are living your life in a manner that pleases Him, then you are living the right kind of life. Never sell out to this world or to people who want to make you like them! Make up your mind that you settle for nothing less than the approval of God upon your life. After all, He made you, He loves you, He died for you, and if you are saved, He saved you. You are going to His Heaven to live with Him for eternity. Realize and recognize that you are an individual and that you are unique among all the people who have ever, or will ever live. God made you special and your duty is to live for Him.
I. There Is A Special Person Inside You
II. V. 5 THERE IS A SPECIAL PLAN FOR YOU
A. This verse tells us that Joseph dreamed a dream. In this dream, the Lord revealed the future to Joseph. In this dream, God showed Joseph that one day all the resources (sheaves) and all the ruler (stars) of the world would bow down at the feet of Joseph.
B. God had a special plan for the life of Joseph, and He has a special plan for your life as well. Sadly, many people lack the faith or the vision to find out what God’s plan for them is. There is something that God wants you to do! He has something for you to do that no one else can do. He wants to work in you, through you and around you in a very unique ans special manner. He has something only you can do and it will not be done unless you do it!
C. You might as well know up-front that there will be those around who will try to stifle your dreams. You might as well know that there will be those who will hate you because you have a dream. Notice how Joseph’s brothers reacted to Him, v. 19. There will always be those who lack the faith and the vision and will tell you that your dreams are either inconceivable, impractical, or impossible. (Ill. Alexanders Graham Bell’s father-in-law called the telephone “a toy no one will play with.” The famous British physicist, Lord Calvin, said, “Radio has no future.” British Royal astronomer George Bidell Airy, said, “The computer is absolutely worthless.” In 1899 Charles H. Duell, Director of the United States Patten Office, made this statement: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” He was so convinced of this that he tried to get President McKinley to abolish his job next year. Well, the very next year R. A. Fessenden sent the human voice over radio waves for the first time. In 1901 the first Mercedes automobile was constructed. In 1903 the Wright Brothers successfully flew a powered airplane. In 1904 the photoelectric cell was developed. All of this only five years after Mr. Duell said nothing was left to be invented. But, regardless of what the critics say, never let anyone kill your dreams, Pro. 29:18.
D. It was the truth that God had a plan for Joseph that sustained him during the times when he was a slave in Egypt and when he was in prison. May I say that to live life with the knowledge that God had no plan for our lives would be hell on earth! Always remember that you are a special person created for a special purpose!
E. Often, during the storms and battles of life, our dreams seem to be all we have left!
I. There Is A Special Person Inside You
II. There Is A Special Plan For You
III. V. 18-36 THERE ARE SPECIAL PROBLEMS FOR YOU
A. The life of Joseph is one of great problems and trials. In v. 18, his brothers conspired against him. In v. 21, he was thrown into a pit. In v. 28, he was sold as a slave. In ch. 39, he is falsely accused of rape. In ch. 40 he is thrown into prison. Joseph was forsaken by his family, forgotten by his friends and frustrated by his failures. Please remember that all these things that happened to Joseph were just part of God’s plan for his life.
B. This is a hard pill to swallow, but it is still true: Life is unfair! If the Lord of glory came to this earth and was crucified, then what makes us think that life will treat us fairly? Why did these things happen to a young man who was guilty of nothing more than obeying the will of God? The answer is found in Genesis 50:20. You see, Joseph is the Old Testament illustration to one of the New Testaments greatest promises, Rom. 8:28.
C. Through all the problems that Joseph faced, the Lord is teaching his the difference between growing old and growing up! We need to remember that God is always doing for great things in our lives. Remembering these will help us when the storm clouds of life begin to gather about us.
1. God is always Guiding you – Psa. 37:23
2. God is always Guarding you – Psa. 121:5-8
3. God is always Gaging you – He is constantly measuring our growth. God is far more concerned about how we react to what we face than what we face. – Psa. 105:17-19
4. God is always Growing you – God isn’t as concerned about delivering us out of our mess as He is about us growing out of the mess we are in. He is in the saint building business.
D. Remember, whatever you may face in this world, however deep and dark the valleys you are called to walk through, however heavy the loads you are called upon to bear, God is merely allowing these things in your life to strengthen and to help you become more like Him. The question is: How are you responding to problems that come your way?
I. There Is A Special Person Inside You
II. There Is A Special Plan For You
III. There Are Special Problems For You
IV. 39:2 THERE IS A SPECIAL PERSON WITH YOU
A. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that God was ever with Joseph – 39:2; 39:3; 39:21; 39:23; Acts 7:9. In everything Joseph faced he had a Helper and a Companion!
B. Three times in chapter 39 we are told that the Lord was with Joseph. It will be helpful for us to see just how the Lord was with him.
1. 39:1-3 He Was With Him In Servitude – Even though he was a slave, Joseph conducted himself like the ruler God was preparing him to be. Instead of griping, complaining, whining, bellyaching, and fussing about his situation, he just served Potiphar and did the best job he could do. What a lesson! If ever expect to rule, then we must first learn to serve! You will never be over until you first learn to be under! Joseph was learning about humility.
2. 39:7-19 He Was With Him In Seduction – Potiphar’s wife tried everything in her power to seduce Joseph, but he stood strong in the Lord and fended off her advances. God was teaching Joseph that no price could be placed on a clean conscience. He lost his coat, but he kept his conscience. God was teaching Joseph a lesson in purity and in self-control. Both are essential to those in leadership positions.
3. 39:21-23 He Was With Him In Suffering – Even when Joseph was forced to endure the shame of a false imprisonment, God was with him and blessed him.
C. Well, you know the rest of the story. God turned tragedy, temptation, torment and trouble into a great triumph. God brought all Joseph’s dreams to pass teaching Joseph and us this lesson, 1 Pet. 5:6-7.
D. Joseph never quit on the Lord. He never stopped believing, he never stopped trusting, he never stopped dreaming until the Lord brought to pass everything in his life that God wanted to do. Through it all, Joseph never wavered, he never compromised and he never flinched at what the Lord allowed in his life. As a result, he won the victory and so can you – 1 Cor. 15:58.
Conc: I heard about a fellow who came into town to a Little League Baseball game. He looked at the scoreboard and it said, “21 to 0.” A little boy was sitting on the bench while his team was in the field. The other team was batting, and the fellow said to the little boy on the bench, “Son, it looks pretty bad for your team doesn’t it?” The little boy said, “Ah, no sir, we haven’t even come to bat yet!” Well dear friend, sometimes it may look like the world and the flesh and the devil is winning. But remember with God on your side, you will always win because He has something special for you. So, keep dreaming, keep trusting, keep serving because God is preparing a great victory for you to enjoy. He truly has something special for you!