As Christian leaders, we have to know when to let criticism roll off us. This is adapted from the writings of Blaine Allen taken from When People Throw Stones. You will meet a beautiful young lady who will want to know everything about you,” said the psychic to the frog who had telephoned her hotline. “That’s fabulous. Where will I meet her? In the park, along the seashore, on the trail to the woods?” “No,” countered the psychic. “Next semester in her biology class.” And that’s no fun. Diced to pieces by another on a cold lab table, dissected until your emotional guts hang out. That’s just no fun. Someone has said, “Two things are hard on the heartrunning uphill and running down people.” May I suggest a third? Running down yourself. Unjust criticism – the untrue, excruciating, vicious, Biology 101 criticismslashes deep. Though the critic may be gone, the gore is not. “Am I really that bad?” “Why did it happen that way? It must be because of me.” “I just can’t seem to do anything right.” “I must not have what it takes.” In no time, the criticized has turned on himself, a cannibal’s nightmare. And with an insatiable appetite, the impeached proceeds to consume what remaining shreds of emotional flesh are left. “Why continue?” “Who really wants or even needs me?” “What a failure, an ugly failure, I am.” Brutal words wheeled by brutal thoughts … and another victim is clubbed to a heartrending death. Of course, followers of the Lord should expect unfair treatment. It is part of the Christian career opportunity. The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy:
“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferingswhat kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:1012). Jesus taught, in what is probably his most famous sermon: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:1011). Since biased criticism will increase the more we grow in the likeness of our Lord and take seriously his call, there must be a better way to mentally handle what is vented. Therapy for the Bruised Psyche: There isa biblical way. Paul was often the prey of stabbing tongues, and it wasn’t all from unbelievers. One of the sickest New Testament churches labeled the great apostle Paul an absolute failure. Paul, you don’t know how to speak. Paul, you are not really an apostle. Paul, you are not very gifted. Paul, you don’t know how to lead. Paul, with your handicap, you leave a bad impression. Paul, as we rank you with others, you don’t measure up. You’re just not effective. Rumors like that had to hurt, especially from a people Paul had shepherded to the Lord and spent much time encouraging in their new faith.
The Corinthians took the apostle apart piece by piece. It was Biology 101, and he was the subject being verbally dissected. Laying him out on their cold lab table in one bloody mess, the Corinthians decreed: “You’re a failure, Paul, and you need to know it … an absolute failure.” He didn’t know it and had no intentions of knowing it. Read his response: “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God” (1 Corinthians 4:15). Polite, courteous, but to the point: “I don’t care.” When evident that the detractors were not heaven’s messengers, the apostle mentally blew it off. “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court.”
Know Who You Are: As Ralph drove down the freeway, the cell phone rang: “Ralph, this is your wife. I just heard on the news that some idiot is driving the wrong way down 1-95. Be careful.” “Hazel, it’s not just one car … there’s hundreds of them.” Perspective often determines outcome. And when you are the recipient of in-your-face criticism, that is especially so. The way you and I view ourselves determines how well we handle harsh words. We live and minister at a time when the Western evangelical church is making a historic paradigm shift. Less and less, Scripture is our sole authority. More and more, a culture that mirrors an antibiblical value system has the final say. In the name of relevance, demographic research determines our music and the shape of our message so that we can reinvent ourselves to appeal to the greatest number. Though perhaps done from positive motives, the results are staggering: The audience is not just the customer, it has been crowned sovereign king. “Do it this way… . We don’t like it done that way…. Don’t forget, we can vote with our pocketbook and our feet.” Sovereign king. To take the heat in the midst of such a radical shift and live to tell about it, we must understand and embrace heaven’s perspective on servanthood. We must hear again the true sovereign King’s stance on those who lead for him. With it, we can endure for the long haul, no matter how “worldly” our Lord’s bride becomes.
Paul knew that perspective. Though Paul’s response to criticism in 1 Corinthians 4 is not the primary gallery of God’s thoughts toward his own, there are some unforgettable portraits, like the two viewed in verse 1: “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.” Servants of Christ. “Yes,” you say, “that’s what I am.” Great. That’s what I am, too … some of the time. Only when I look closer at what a servant really is, I’m confronted with a troubling feeling that this snapshot is not always me. The photo is not of a person running one of heaven’s regional offices as vice president of operations. It’s not an executive setting the vision and agenda for the kingdom from corporate headquarters. Based on Paul’s choice of words from the original, a servant is a person clothed in sweat and the stench that comes along with it. This is a take-orders trench person doing what another tells him to do without raising an eyebrow. It was an expression used in Paul’s day to depict those who rowed from the lowest tier in the belly of the ship, an odious, painful place to be. And as an authentic servant of Jesus Christ, you row. Not as a favor, but because it’s your place. Assignments are made, not choices given; chores are done, not careers chased. With love, for sure – love for the Master with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength – but a love that finds expression through the bent knee. You do what you are told even if no one else does it with you. You do it when others wouldn’t dare. You do it unrecognized. You do it unappreciated. You just do it because you are his servant at his beck and call. If there are laurels for what was ordered, you know who really deserves them. If there is something less … after thinking about it, you are not surprised; that’s part of being a servant. Jesus said so: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty'” (Luke 17:10). So what is really bothering you?
Are you reeling from the shock of unscrupulous criticism? That’s understandable. But adjusting to the reality of “now,” is there anything else that has bent you out of shape? Do the reverberations from what others think, say, and do torment you? Does the thought of facing people who’ve heard things that simply are not true horrify you? Are you afraid that the words that gored will cost you advancement, your job, not to mention friends and you just cannot shake it? To stagger from the shock is again understandable. But to stagger from more than shock may indicate that you cannot say with Paul, “I care very little,” because you are an honest person, and you really care a whole lot. Servants don’t care a whole lot. What they do, they do because of the Master. It is the Master’s responsibility to handle the fallout. The burden is his, not the servant’s, to control the critic and grapple with the repercussions. So what if you have encouraged, supported, and even wept with your critic, who has now taken a hunk out of your hide? You did not choose to serve your critic; God made that choice. Your choice was to be a servant. He assigned to you the task to serve someone he knew would bite the hand that fed it. As an unworthy servant, you only did your duty. You did what you were told to do. Where I live they still ride on the back of the truck. Stopping at every house along the way, the two men do what few really want to do. Sometimes it’s to pick up an end table, footstool, maybe a bench … stuff that looks pretty good to me. At other times it’s to pick up what smells foul. But the two do what they are supposed to do, even if what’s picked up is covered with maggots. As servants of Waste Management, these men just do not care a whole lot. But me? When I walk through our neighborhood, I have been known to check out a rocking chair at the curb, a wheelbarrow, even a rake, just to see if it’s something I could use. But garbage? Maggot-infested garbage? No way. I’m very selective. Somebody else can deal with that mess. Because I am not a servant of Waste Management, I am very, very picky. ####
Servants of Jesus Christ are not picky. Dealing with maggot-infested crud that’s brought to the curb is not their favorite thing to do. Sometimes it really smells, but that comes with ministry. It’s part of the assignment. Authentic servants of Jesus Christ just don’t care a whole lot. And because they don’t, it’s easier for them to “blow it off.” “Men ought to regard us as … those entrusted with the secret things of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). Who are “those entrusted”? Think of an investment broker responsible for someone else’s money or a flight attendant caring for the needs of his passengers – that is the idea behind the phrase. This is the second portrait in Paul’s gallery. For the apostle, the entrusted assets – food of truth – were the “secret things of God” managed for his Master. Feeding God’s household was an awesome responsibility, for which the cook dare not tinker with the assigned recipes. This was not Paul’s own dinner to doctor up. Everything was God’s – the food, the gifts to prepare the food, the know-how to serve it in the right way at the right time to the right people. All of it was from God. Because it was, Paul answered to him, not to his critics. Remember who your audience is. You live your life, use his spiritual gifts, and serve as a servant, all before the audience of one. Your ultimate accountability is to him. He, and he alone, determine what success is and what it’s not. This is not to imply people should not hold people accountable. Quite the contrary. The Lord interposes individuals into our lives who are commissioned by him to hold us responsible within their various spheres of influence. They are supervisors, teachers, pastors, elders, deacons, board members, and those who serve in civil government to name a few. But there are some who simply assume that role. They believe all balance sheets – mistakes, no mistakes, bad work, good work, what’s said, what’s not said – are due on their desk. There are others who rightfully have oversight, but abuse it. They don’t hold people accountable; they execute them. When told by either the power usurper or the power abuser, “You can’t cut it,” you must remember who ultimately makes cuts. If we do, with Paul we can say, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court” (1 Cor. 4:3a). It’s looking into God’s gallery and seeing our portrait: one entrusted.
One of the worst ministry blunders you can make is to think you are working for someone else. I work for the mission board. I work for the elder/deacon board. I work for the senior pastor. I work for the congregation. I work for a “Para church” ministry. I work for the denomination. I work for the school. And the most deadly is the attitude of a spiritual entrepreneur: “I work for myself.” No, you are a servant of the living God, and an unworthy servant at that. You work for him. God puts his servants in various places to accomplish his purposes. Though we are to submit with positive attitudes and our very best effort for all those placed in proper authority over us, it’s from him that we live to hear, “Well done.” What, then, is the point of coming unglued over unfounded criticism? Did you use your abilities loaned from above to carry out duties assigned to you by the Lord? Did you carry them out with a passionate diligence? Have you been teachable? Are you still teachable? Are you still willing to be corrected if wrong or shown a better way? You said, “Yes”? Then, friend, with graciousness, “blow it off.” Have question, you may call: 08033399821, or write: firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay blessed. #####
Dr. Lewis Akpogena