A Wisconsin minister who had resigned as pastor of a church he had served for eleven years shared his sad story with me. During his time as pastor, the church had grown from only a few members to a large thriving congregation. He had enjoyed his work for more than a decade but then a few of the members of the church began to criticize him, finding fault with his preaching and pastoral work. Finally, wearied by the attacks of these complainers, he had quit.
Hearing the former pastor’s heartbreaking story reminded me of a paragraph in the book, “The Tongue—Angel or Demon?” that has been played out again and again in too many churches: “Contentious tongues have hindered the work of God a thousand times over. Critical tongues have broken the hearts of many pastors.” Here, standing before me, was living proof of author George Sweeting’s accurate observation.
But ministers aren’t the only targets of cruel people. Fault finders exist everywhere. And they’re always engaged in their favorite pastime: cutting down all who fail to live up to their exaggerated expectations. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The human race is divided into two classes – those who go ahead and do something and those who sit still and inquire why it wasn’t done another way.”
When we find ourselves unable to please our critics, we’re in good company. Some grumbled when our Lord healed sick people on the Sabbath and others complained because they felt He spent too much time with sinners. Judas was upset when He allowed a woman to anoint His head with an expensive ointment, saying it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Judas didn’t care about the poor, but linking his protest to the needy made him look good. Those who focus on faults are always looking for ways to justify their caustic comments that injure innocent people.
Peter said we are most like our Lord when we take criticism patiently (1 Peter 2:20-21); but that’s a tall order. Few aspire to follow the path of humility and self-denial.
Opportunities to demonstrate the reality of our faith when under fire abound because there is never a shortage of critics. These negative nuisances are everywhere, continually searching for faults in those who are busy serving. They are always first to hear of anything wrong and feel it their duty to spread the word. For centuries, their cruel tongues have kept ministers on the move, contributing to what a major news magazine once called “the game of musical pulpits.”
Are you a target of critics in your church or community? Lovingly tune them out.
Even the moon couldn’t keep shining if it paid attention to barking dogs.
The discouraged Wisconsin pastor now realized he had been listening to the wrong people. Many in his church had appreciated his selfless and devoted work but he hadn’t heard their expressions of love because he was so preoccupied with the cutting words of his critics.
Let’s stop listening to the wrong people. Those who love and encourage us are gifts from God to enable us to keep looking up no matter what the complainers say.
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at email@example.com