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Posts Tagged ‘pastors and criticism’

Alex Trebek was not happy.

The thirty-year host of the TV game show Jeopardy was hosting Kids Week on the program during the first week in December.

One of the contestants ended up $1400 in the red, and according to show rules, she couldn’t compete in Final Jeopardy.

Trebek said to the girl: “We have bad news for you, because you’re in a negative situation, it means you won’t be around for Final Jeopardy, but you’ll automatically pick up $1000 for a third place finish.”

The girl was visibly upset and ran backstage.

The girl’s mother later wrote a letter to Sony, the show’s producers: “If he had taken the time, he would have known, like you do, that my daughter is not a sore loser, and does not become emotional solely over losing a game,” she wrote. “She was upset about not being able to completely play the game to the end… I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for that.”

Trebek was accused of not making a credible effort to make the girl feel better and was asked to re-tape the moment right before the girl became upset and ran backstage.

Pastors go through this stuff all the time.

During my first pastorate, I was reading William Manchester’s biography of General Douglas MacArthur called American Caesar.  I discovered that I knew next to nothing about MacArthur or his accomplishments … like writing Japan’s constitution after World War 2 ended.

During one sermon, I selected an illustration from the book, a story where the Americans won and the Japanese lost.

A young couple attended our church.  The wife was Caucasian … and her husband looked Caucasian.

His wife later told me that he was part Japanese, part Caucasian … and that because of my story, he probably wouldn’t be coming back to the church.

How could I know that he was part Japanese … and how could I know that my story might offend him?

From the beginning of my pastoral ministry, I wrote out my sermons word for word, and then discarded my manuscript as much as I could.

I realize this style isn’t in fashion nowadays because congregations expect their pastors to speak without notes.

But one reason I chose to write out my messages was because I had time to think through how to say what I wanted to say so I would offend the fewest possible people.

But just like Alex Trebek, a pastor never knows when he’s going to say something offensive … or who is going to be offended.

My wife runs a preschool in our home with about 25 kids attending at various times.  She can say the exact same thing in the same way to 24 kids and they’ll comply, but the 25th child will burst into tears.

Should she then aim her directives toward the 24 kids or the one kid who is overly sensitive?

And should a pastor speak to the congregation as a whole or change his language so some people won’t be offended?

I once heard Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that about 15% of his congregation might be classified as dysfunctional, while the other 85% were pretty healthy people.  (This was at least twenty years ago, so the percentage of dysfunctional people might be higher now.)  Hybels believed that a pastor should direct his message toward the 85% and direct the 15% toward counseling.

How does that sound to you?

Pastors have two choices when it comes to preaching: they can speak in a politically and emotionally correct way … in which case they won’t say much at all … or they can be themselves before God and just let it fly.

But it’s not just up to the pastor, but up to the church board as well.

If the church board backs the pastor’s right to say whatever he wants before God … even if some don’t always agree with him … that pastor’s ministry can flourish.

But if the board demands that the pastor speak in such a way that he doesn’t offend the wrong people … that pastor’s ministry may not succeed because he’ll always wonder if he’s offending somebody by what he says.

During my last ministry, I said something in a message that really upset one couple.  They complained to the church board and wanted my head.

The board chairman listened to a recording of my message, felt I didn’t say anything wrong, and told the couple just that.

They didn’t stop their crusade against me until they left the church … livid … but I felt supported, and free to continue to say whatever God wanted me to say.

In the end, Alex Trebek wrote the following words to the show’s producers: “If you all think I should retape the opening, I will.  But I want to say that for 30 years I’ve defended our show against attacks inside and out.  But it doesn’t seem to operate both ways.  When I’m vilified, corporate (and certainly legal) always seems to say ‘don’t say anything and it’ll blow over,’ and I’m not feeling support from the producers, and that disappoints the _______ out of me.”

As a former pastor for 36 years, I understand where the Jeopardy host is coming from.

When you’re attacked, if you sense support from those you account to, you’ll forge ahead with greater confidence and boldness.

But if those you account to collapse on you when you’re attacked, your morale will plunge, and you’ll start looking for a way out … which is why Alex Trebek ended his statement by saying, “Maybe it’s time for me to move on.”

My favorite verse on preaching is John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Fundamentalists focus on speaking the truth … but often without grace.

Liberals focus on speaking with grace … but usually have little to say.

But biblical pastors prioritize truth in content … and grace in presentation.

And those are the ministries that make it to Final Jeopardy.

 

 

 

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Several weeks ago, I heard a well-known pastor make this statement: “Christians should never defend themselves.”

The pastor said that when Jesus was arrested, He refused to defend Himself.

As 1 Peter 2:23 puts it: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Yes, Jesus suffered unjustly.  He did not engage in self-defense when He was charged with blasphemy against Jewish law and sedition against Roman law.

But suppose that after that well-known pastor finished preaching that day, when he went back to his office, he was met by two church leaders, along with two detectives.

And then one of the detectives told that pastor, “I am arresting you on suspicion of child abuse.”

Would that pastor hire an attorney to defend him against the charges?

Would that pastor protest his innocence to church leaders and to his congregation?

Would that pastor assure his family and friends that he wasn’t guilty of the charges made against him?

The answer in each case is a resounding, “Yes!” … but didn’t he just preach that Christians … including pastors … should never defend themselves?

I’ve never been a fan of such blanket statements, and believe that they defy both Scripture and common sense.

Let me try and offer some clarity on this issue:

First, pastors need to ignore most criticisms and slanders.

Why?  Because it’s easy to become so obsessed with your critics that you can’t get anything done.

In his classic book Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon provided wise counsel to young pastoral students in his matchless chapter “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear”:

“We would say of the general gossip of the village, and of the unadvised words of angry friends – do not hear them, or if you must hear them, do not lay them to heart, for you also have talked idly and angrily in your day, and would even now be in an awkward position if you were called to account for every word that you have spoken, even about your dearest friend.”

In Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline, he writes:

“The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation.  A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image.  We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding.  If I have done some wrong thing (or even some right thing that I think you may misunderstand), and discover that you know about it, I will be very tempted to help you understand my action!  Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification.”

When I was a young pastor, every criticism wounded me, regardless of the source.  But as I grew older … and hopefully, more mature … I learned to shrug off many comments.  I couldn’t let them divert me from what God wanted me … and our church … to be and to do.

And sometimes I would engage in self-talk and say, “Who are you to think that you can please everybody?”

Second, pastors do need to address major charges … sometimes publicly.

A megachurch pastor once told me that four of his staff members were making false accusations about him.  The four had joined forces and were hoping to push out the pastor so they could lead the church instead.

The pastor instantly called a meeting of the congregation, and when he did, three of those staff members instantly resigned … which should tell you something.

One Sunday afternoon, the pastor sat on the stage and answered question after question related to the charges and resignations of those staff members.  As I recall, the meeting lasted many hours.

The pastor was able to convince the congregation that the charges made against him were untrue, and he stayed as pastor of the church, which has since become one of America’s largest and most impactful.

If those four staff members had successfully driven their pastor from his position, where would that church be today?

And if the pastor had taken the advice, “Christians should never defend themselves,” where would he be today?

Spurgeon put it this way:

“Standing as we do in a position which makes us choice targets for the devil and his allies, our best course is to defend our innocence by our silence and leave our reputation with God.  Yet there are exceptions to this general rule.  When distinct, definite, public charges are made against a man he is bound to answer them, and answer them in the clearest and most open manner.  To decline all investigation is in such a case practically to plead guilty, and whatever may be the mode of putting it, the general public ordinarily regard a refusal to reply as a proof of guilt…. when the matter assumes more serious proportions, and our accuser defies us to a defense, we are bound to meet his charges with honest statements of fact.  In every instance counsel should be sought of the Lord as to how to deal with slanderous tongues, and in the issue innocence will be vindicated and falsehood convicted.”

In Matthew 19:17-20, Jesus told His twelve disciples that they would be brought before governors and kings and the Gentiles because of their allegiance to Jesus.  The Master said: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Notice Jesus doesn’t tell His followers, “Don’t defend yourself and say nothing.”  Rather, He says, “The Spirit will tell you what to say when you need to say it.”  In fact, isn’t the last quarter of the Book of Acts a recounting of Paul’s attempts to defend himself against false charges?

In addition, how many times did Jesus defend Himself against charges made by the Jewish leaders of His day?  Just read John chapters 5-9 and you’ll be amazed how adamantly Jesus defends Himself and His ministry against His critics.

But when it was time for Jesus to die, He refused to defend Himself, and even though He was abused, He left His reputation in the hands of His Heavenly Father.

Whenever you hear a statement like, “Christians should never defend themselves,” stop and ask yourself, “Is that what the whole Bible teaches on the subject?”

And then imagine yourself asking the speaker: “If you were falsely accused of a major offense, would you really refuse to defend yourself at all?”

What do you think?  When should a pastor ignore any charges made against him … and when should he defend himself?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Like you, I’ve heard a lot in the past few days about U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Like you, I have some personal opinions about the wisdom of exchanging five terrorist leaders for the sergeant.

Like you, I wonder why Sgt. Bergdahl ended up being captured by the Haqqani network.

And like you, I don’t know whether Sgt. Bergdahl is guilty of desertion … or innocent … or something in between.

But I do know this: Sgt. Bergdahl has not yet told his side of the story … and until he does … we need to be very careful about making final judgments.

Why bring this up on a blog devoted to pastors and church conflict?

_______________

Several months ago, a friend and colleague sent me an email.

My friend had spent several hours with a pastor who was forced out of a church he had planted.

One of the staff members began spreading a rumor that the pastor and his wife were taking illegal drugs.

Someone called a public meeting.

When the pastor stood up to confront the charges being made about him, those who opposed him stood up and shouted, “You’re lying!”

Because they kept yelling at their pastor, he finally stopped talking and walked out of the church … and resigned soon afterward.

Satan couldn’t have planned it any better.

That pastor – and all pastors – need to be protected by the following safeguards in every church:

First, the pastor has the right to know any charges being made about him.

How many people told that pastor that people were saying he was taking illegal drugs?

My guess: few, if any.

I was recently told for the first time about a charge some people made about me 4 1/2 years ago.

The charge was 100% false, but why wasn’t I told about it sooner?  How many people believe it to this day?

And why wasn’t I ever given a chance to defend myself against that charge?

Second, the pastor has the right to meet with his accusers.

The staff member who made the accusation about drug usage needed to speak with the pastor and his wife before taking his charge to anyone else.

By taking his charge to others first, he could have ruined their reputations and careers.  What if the charge was totally false?

If a similar charge was made against a top leader in a secular corporation … and it proved to be false … the person making the charge would be dismissed and possibly sued for slander.

When people make charges against a pastor … but never make the charges to his face … they almost always exaggerate the charges.  Remember that.

Third, the pastor has the right to see any and all evidence against him.

What kind of evidence did the staff member have that the pastor and his wife were taking drugs?  Blood tests?  Photographs?  Eyewitness accounts?

Or was it all just speculation?

The pastor needed to be presented with all the evidence.

If the evidence was strong, the pastor might have privately asked for forgiveness … or gone into rehab … or resigned on his own … without involving the congregation.

But if the evidence was fabricated … or misinterpreted … then the pastor needed to be able to tell his side of the story.

Otherwise, when we don’t like a pastor, we can just manufacture lies about him, and he’ll be forced to leave … without anyone ever discovering where those lies originated.

Fourth, the pastor should never initially be confronted with a charge in public. 

Why would a staff member take a charge against his pastor public?

To embarrass him?  To humiliate him?  To use the power of the mob?

Yes, yes, and yes … but most of all, to engage in retribution.

Many of the charges that people make against pastors are really punitive in nature.

How can you tell?

Because the people making the charges never talk about restoring their pastor … or redeeming him … but only about removing him.

Where do we ever find that sentiment in the New Testament?

Finally, the pastor should be given due process whenever charges are made against him.

Many … if not most … churches lack such a process.

And even if they do have one, the process (found in church bylaws) is often ignored because people become anxious and overly-emotional.

But it’s critical that a pastor … as well as any spiritual leader … be allowed to have a hearing and tell his version of events.  Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”

When do church leaders ever question those who make charges against their pastor?

The ethos in most churches is that whenever people make accusations against a pastor, they’re almost always accurate.

But they aren’t … not by a long shot.

In the story about the pastor allegedly taking drugs, why did the pastor’s opponents shout him down when he tried to answer their charges?

Because they didn’t want their pastor to be given due process.  They had already selected themselves as judge, jury, and executioner, and in their eyes, he was guilty.

But if he had been allowed to speak, the truth would have exposed their own guilt and hatred, and they could not allow that to occur.

My prayer for churchgoers everywhere is that whenever they have concerns about their pastor’s character or behavior, they will insist on a fair process rather than immediately declare his innocence or his guilt.

_______________

I don’t know the complete truth about Sgt. Bergdahl.  Maybe nobody does right now.

But he shouldn’t be tried in the press, especially when he can’t answer the charges that people are making against him.

In the meantime, I’m going to try and keep an open mind about his guilt or innocence, especially after I read this article today from the pastor of the Bergdahl family:

http://theaquilareport.com/bowe-bergdahls-former-pastor-shares-his-personal-reflections-on-the-recent-events/?fb_action_ids=800376443330175&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=.U5FJWMSShZU.like&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%5B573571026084790%5D&action_type_map=%5B%22og.likes%22%5D&action_ref_map=%5B%22.U5FJWMSShZU.like%22%5D

He will have his day in court.  Then we’ll find out the truth.

But please remember: neither the mainstream media … nor social media … nor your dinner table … constitute a fair and final court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s precarious to be a pastor in our day.  According to the latest research, 70% of pastors are leaving ministry before they reach their fifth year out of seminary.

Why is this?

I could cite many possibilities, but my guess is that well-meaning pastors eventually wear down under a relentless barrage of criticism.

There are times when a critic is right … but much of the time, the critic means well but only represents his/her own ideas, not those of the majority of the congregation.

When I was a pastor, there were times when people accused me of doing something wrong and I disagreed with their assessment.

I heard their criticism … weighed their charges … but didn’t take their side … and in some cases, it made them angry.

A sampling:

*When I wrote my personal doctrinal statement for my district’s ordination committee, a committee member – a megachurch pastor and author – told me that my statement lacked warmth.

But isn’t a doctrinal statement supposed to be about truth and accuracy instead?

*When I met with a denominational executive many years ago, he told me, “You went to the wrong seminary.”

But should I have checked with him before applying to the school?

*The relative of a recently-deceased person from my last church called me up and chewed me out for preaching the gospel at his father-in-law’s memorial service.

But should I have mouthed pious platitudes and sentimental mush instead?

*A board member once chided me for preaching on “political issues” after I preached from Matthew 19 on Jesus’ view of marriage.

But aren’t the words of Jesus in Scripture both normative and relevant for Christians today?

*A couple once became angry with me for refusing to marry them.

But isn’t Scripture clear that a believer is not to marry a non-believer?

Sometimes a pastor knows that his critics have made a valid point.  There’s a little phrase I learned long ago for such situations: “Maybe you’re right.”

But there are times when a pastor’s critics fire bullets at him and the pastor knows they’re wrong … even if the critic believes they’re right.

When Paul appeared before the Roman governor Felix in Acts 24, Tertullus the prosecuting attorney accused Paul of being a “troublemaker” guilty of “stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world” and that Paul “tried to desecrate the temple.”  Acts 24:9 adds, “The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.”

But were they true?  In Paul’s mind, he was merely preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But in the minds of his critics, Paul was inciting public violence and attempting to destroy Judaism.

How did Paul handle this situation?  Agree with his critics?  Throw himself upon Felix’ mercy?  Head straight for jail?

No, Paul answered each accusation, and then says in 24:16: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”

Paul said, “I know my heart.  I have examined my motives.  I’ve mentally reviewed my actions, and before God, I am not guilty of the charges brought before me, and I haven’t done what you’ve accused me of doing.”

It takes a lot of courage to be a pastor today.  The verbal attacks against pastors are often cruel.  (Ever read an online story about Rick Warren?  He preached for the first time in months after his son’s suicide last weekend … and the critics were waiting with sharpened knives.  Check out this article from Time and read some of the comments afterward: http://swampland.time.com/2013/07/28/rick-warren-preaches-first-sermon-since-his-sons-suicide/)

Why bring this up?  Three reasons:

First, because when some churchgoers criticize their pastor for an alleged offense, and the pastor disagrees with their assessment, they become irate.  And from that moment on, they turn on the pastor.  But should a pastor surrender his integrity and agree with critics just to keep them happy and in the church?

Second, because when some board members criticize their pastor for an alleged offense, and he disagrees, they claim, “The pastor is stubborn and doesn’t listen to us.”  Most likely, the pastor heard the criticism loud and clear … he just doesn’t buy it.  When I was a pastor, if I had done everything my critics wanted me to do, I would have come off as a weak and ineffectual leader who was easy to push around.

Finally, because when some churchgoers criticize their pastor for an alleged offense, they want him to apologize and repent for hurting their feelings.  This presumes that a pastor has the ability to control the emotions of others – but he doesn’t.  Have you ever read the Gospels and noticed how many people Jesus offended?  For example, if you compare Mark 3:6 with Luke 6:11, you’ll see that when Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue, the Jewish leaders became so furious that they began to plot His execution.  But they were responsible for the way they felt, not Jesus.

It is my job to control my actions and my feelings.  It is your job to control your actions and your feelings.  I cannot control your actions … and I cannot control your feelings … only you can do that.

If pastors had to ask themselves, “If I say this or do that, whose feelings might I hurt?”, they would never do anything.

Many years ago, when I was a pastor, I was accused of doing something that I didn’t do, and the charge really bothered me.  I knew before God that I had done nothing wrong, but that didn’t seem to be enough for a few people.  They wanted blood.

I happened to speak with someone from another profession about the charge, and she said something I’ve never forgotten: “Just because somebody accuses you of something doesn’t mean that it’s true.”

Yes, all pastors sin.  Yes, most pastors are deeply flawed.  Yes, there are times when a pastor steps over a line and needs to apologize and even repent for something he said or did.

But my guess is that the great majority of the time, a pastor cannot agree with his critics … unless they show him from Scripture that he’s wrong … and most critics operate on the basis of their own preferences.

Both Jesus and Paul were accused of doing many things wrong, but they ignored their critics and pressed on.  If they had agreed with their critics, we wouldn’t have a New Testament or a Christian church today.

I believe that the more a pastor focuses on his critics, the less he’ll advance the kingdom of God.  But the more he focuses on God, the greater impact he’ll have on expanding Christ’s kingdom.

And here’s the kicker: God usually doesn’t speak through critics … yet they assume they’re the voice of God … but they aren’t.

During my 36 years in church ministry, God spoke to me most often through (a) Scripture, (b) my pastoral instincts, and (c) my wife.

Critics held place #348 … and that was still too high.

____________________________________

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and information about upcoming seminars.

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There’s an old adage: “Never follow someone successful.”

It was hard for Steve Young to follow Joe Montana, or for Steven Tyler to follow Simon Cowell, or for Robert California to follow Michael Scott.  (I’m still lamenting that move.)

And it’s hard for some pastors to follow a predecessor as well.

Pastors are affected by their predecessors because (a) the way the previous pastor left the church, and (b) the shape in which he left it directly impacts the current pastor’s success – at least for the first few years.

When I arrived at my first church, I was their fourth pastor in five years.  While I met the first and second pastors, I never met my immediate predecessor.  Evidently he was only at the church for a year and then was unceremonially dismissed.  (I heard it had something to do with the way he acted at a bowling alley one night.)

For the next 16 1/2 years, I didn’t have to deal with any predecessors.

But a few years later, I was called to a church and served on staff right alongside their pastor for a while … and then he retired and became my predecessor.

What was my responsibility toward him?

I believe my job was to express gratitude publicly for his ministry, defend him if anyone criticized him, and make sure we remained on good terms … although as the church turned over, fewer people knew who he was.

What was his responsibility toward me?

I believe his job was to pray for me, support my ministry publicly, and to send any critics back to me without listening to their complaints.

If a pastor’s ministry is a failure, would that make his predecessor sad?

If a pastor’s ministry is successful, would that make his predecessor joyful?

The answer to both questions is, “It all depends.”

When Saul knew that David would succeed him as Israel’s king, he became jealous and tried to assassinate David several times.

But the biblical pattern is for a predecessor to support his successor.  Think Moses and Joshua, Eli and Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, and John the Baptist and Jesus.  (In fact, John said about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”)

Why?  Because the kingdom matters more than its personalities.  Advancing God’s kingdom is everything.

Back in the late 1970s, the king of late-night talk shows, Johnny Carson, began taking Monday nights off.  (He had done 5 90-minute Tonight shows for years and was worn out, even when the show went to its current 60-minute length.)

Johnny invited a variety of guest hosts on Monday nights – David Brenner, Joan Rivers, and John Denver among them.

If you were Johnny Carson, would you want those hosts to succeed or fail?

The audience responded favorably to the guest hosts, which might have angered some Hollywood icons … but Johnny was thrilled.  Why?

In an interview, Johnny said, “When the show does well, I do well, and it makes me look good.”

Think about that long and hard.

Now let’s come back to pastors and their predecessors.

Let’s imagine you’ve been a pastor for 25 years.  You’re worn out.  You leave your church behind and do something else.

A new pastor eventually succeeds you.  Do you want him to succeed or fail?

If he succeeds, the kingdom looks good and advances.

If he fails, the kingdom doesn’t look as good and stalls.

Which would you prefer?

Wouldn’t a godly man want his successor to succeed rather than fail?

And wouldn’t he do everything he could to insure his success?

Then why do so many pastors behave in the opposite fashion?

Not long ago, I spoke to a Christian counselor who deals with wounded pastors for a living.

He told me that too many pastors undermine their successors.

They listen to the criticisms of former parishoners, giving their complaints legitimacy.

They agree with the criticisms of staff members, emboldening them to resist their current pastor.

They criticize their successor themselves, forcing people to choose between them.

While the ex-pastor may never witness the division that his interference causes, his involvement may negate much of the good that he did at that church – but few churchgoers have the courage to say, “Knock it off and go away.”

You might be wondering, “Is this really an issue?”

Yes … and I have the scars to prove it.

What do you think about this issue?

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My family enjoyed Christmas dinner with my brother-in-law’s family this past weekend, and we played a game around the table that proved to be oodles of fun.  Someone called it “telephone pictionary.”

We were each given small notepads and asked to write down a Christmas phrase like “figgy pudding” or “Santa Claus is coming to town.”  Then we passed our notepads to the next person who had to draw a picture of the phrase on the next page.  When that person was done drawing, they passed the notepad to the next person who examined the crude drawing, flipped the page, and tried to write down the original phrase.  Then we passed our notepads along, alternating between creating a drawing and coming up with a phrase.  When all fourteen of us finally received our original notepads back, it was quite amusing to hear how a phrase like “silent night” ended up becoming “dead potato” within just a few minutes.

The same phenomenon happens in churches all the time.  And unfortunately, the greatest victims of distorted communication are pastors and their families.

Years ago, I served as the pastor of a church that chose to write a new constitution and set of by-laws.  Four people served with me on the “constitution team” and we had some fascinating discussions about how our church should operate.  When we completed our draft, I preached on every major section of the document and invited questions and comments after each message.  (This was done at a Sunday evening service.  Remember those?)  The team recorded the best suggestions and included them in the final document before the congregation voted on it.  The whole process was transparent and participative.

I specifically asked that the following phrase be included: “This constitution will be null and void after five years.”  I took the phrase from a suggestion made by Ted Engstrom, one of the leading Christian management experts.  The purpose of the phrase was to ensure that the church’s governing documents would constantly be reviewed and revised.

However, a group in the church held a meeting around this time and invited a secular attorney to join them.  When the attorney was told about the “null and void” phrase in the proposed constitution, he concluded that I didn’t want the church to have any constitution after five years so that I could become the constitution and take over the church!  Sadly, this is what some people chose to believe even though they never asked me about it.

More recently, in the midst of a major conflict, a former attendee began telling people that “They finally caught him!”  (The “him” was me.)  Evidently she believed that I was guilty of some horrible sin in previous churches (even though she had never attended any of them) and that I was using the same modus operandi.  But I had no idea what she was talking about, although I’m sure there were souls who were willing to supply that information.  In some people’s eyes, my ecclesiastical crimes – although still unspecified – merited the worst possible punishment.  But, to be honest, being lied about is punishment enough.

Not long after this accusation surfaced, I ate separate meals with three different former board chairmen, none of whom evidently knew that they were breaking bread with someone who had committed unspeakable felonies when we had served the Lord together!

I have heard terrible things about many Christian leaders over the years.  While the charges are occasionally dead-on, more times than not they are completely twisted.

Charles Spurgeon, whose sermons were often harshly reviewed in the London papers of his time, encouraged the pastors of his college with regular talks on ministerial life.  In his classic book Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon’s chapter “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear” is the single greatest counsel on handling criticism I have ever read.  Spurgeon writes:

“In the case of false reports against yourself, for the most part use the deaf ear.  Unfortunately liars are not yet extinct, and … you may be accused of crimes which your soul abhors.  Be not staggered thereby, for this trial has befallen the very best of men, and even your Lord did not escape the envenomed tongue of falsehood.  In almost all cases it is the wisest course to let such things die a natural death.  A great lie, if unnoticed, is like a big fish out of water, it dashes and plunges and beats itself to death in a short time.  To answer it is to supply it with its element, and help it to a longer life.  Falsehoods usually carry their own refutation somewhere about them, and sting themselves to death.  Some lies especially have a peculiar smell, which betrays their rottenness to every honest nose.  If you are disturbed by them the object of their invention is partly answered, but your silent endurance disappoints malice and gives you a partial victory, which God in his care of you will soon turn into a complete deliverance.  Your blameless life will be your best defense, and those who have seen it will not allow you to be condemned so readily as your slanderers expect.  Only abstain from fighting your own battles, and in nine cases out of ten your accusers will gain nothing by their malevolence but chagrin for themselves and contempt for others.”

While Spurgeon notes exceptions to the above rule, his counsel is timeless.

They lied about David.  They lied about Job.  They lied about Jesus.  They lied about Paul.  And if you are doing anything worthwhile for the Lord, “they” (meaning Satan and his minions) will lie about you, too.  While I don’t like to be lied about (no one does), haven’t we all – knowingly or unknowingly – spread lies about others at times?

Years ago, I read Steven Covey’s classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Some of the phrases in that book have become part of our culture (like “seek first to understand, then to be understood”).  But one of the best phrases in that book is just five words long: “Defend those who are absent.”  As conflict expert Speed Leas says, we tend to exaggerate when we talk about someone who isn’t around to defend themselves.  But when that person is in our presence, it’s surprising how carefully we phrase our words.

Resolve that you will never intentionally lie about anyone, especially Christian leaders.  If you hear what you suspect might be a lie going around about someone, contact them directly and ask if it’s true.  Isn’t that what you would want that person to do for you?

Proverbs 6:19 links “a false witness who pours out lies” with “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”  Deception and division go together.  Liars destroy reputations and separate friends.  Resolve to tell the truth in every situation, especially when it comes to Christian leaders.

Because when we spread lies about another person, we are doing the devil’s work for him.

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