In our first podcast since my health problems, Tim and I talk about the massive lessons the Lord has begun to teach me through these tumultuous weeks.
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Just as the matador prepares for the bullring, so the pastor must prepare for criticism. But the matador also has to distinguish between different bulls. He observes them from a distance and close up. He sees how they interact with other bulls and how they react to other matadors. He analyzes their character and anticipates their attacks. Some bulls are very aggressive and determined to kill, others treat it like more of a game, while still others treat the matador with the utmost respect. The matador’s strategy will be determined by the nature of the bulls and the nature of their “attacks.”
Likewise the pastor has to carefully distinguish between different kinds of critics and different elements of their criticism.
Invited criticism: Scheduled or regular evaluation and review by one or more people in one or more area of ministry
Uninvited criticism: Regular or one-off by people whose opinion you did not ask for
Justified criticism: Accurate reflection of the truth
There’s one way for a matador to avoid confrontations with bulls, and that’s never to get into the ring!
There’s only one way to avoid criticism in the ministry, and that’s never to become a minister!
But that’s not just true of the ministry. That’s true of all walks of life – sport, politics, entertainment, business, etc. You will never achieve anything in any walk of life if you are unwilling to receive criticism or are easily defeated by it. John Wesley once questioned in his journal if he was truly right with God since had had received no criticism for an entire day!
So, if criticism is inevitable, can we prepare for it? Yes we can. Just as no matador steps into the ring without thorough preparation, so the pastor should also prepare – spiritually and physically – for the inevitable “charge.”
1. Walk humbly with God. Pride comes before a fall. If we are over-confident or self-confident, we are going to stumble, make some big mistakes, and receive just criticism. Seek a deep sense of your own spiritual vulnerability. Pray to be kept from sin and foolishness. You will be criticized even if you never sin or do anything foolish (remember Jesus!). However, you will be criticized even more if you do. So why give extra ammo?
2. Develop and deepen love for your critics. Matadors may not love bulls, and in fact usually end up killing them. However, the pastor must love his “bulls” to life, even though they are maybe trying to gore him to “death.” You will eventually realize that there are a few people in your congregation who are going to criticize you no matter what you say or do. Instead of developing resentment and bitterness towards such people, ask God to give you a Christ-like love for them. It may give you an insight into how “hard” it was for Christ to love you!
3. Practice tongue-control. Ideally you will work at a deeper heart-level in quelling and quenching anger that leads to bad-tempered retaliation. However, in the meantime, practice simply saying little or nothing in response to criticism. Perhaps think of a stock phrase to use like: “Thank you for taking the time to speak to me about that. Please give me some time to prayerfully think about what you said, and let me get back to you on it.” I’ve never regretted saying that. I’ve often regretted saying anything else.
4. Get enough sleep. The matador’s preparation involves the mental, the emotional, and even the spiritual at some levels. However, he must also prepare physically if he is to be sharp and agile in his art. Likewise, the pastor has to prepare physically for verbal attacks. A lack of sleep and exercise will leave us physically run down, which has a knock on effect on our emotions and thinking patterns. If we are fresh and fit, it is so much easier to react in the right way to those who charge at us!
Following my post on What was Jesus doing in the Old Testament? I received a helpful Facebook comment from Michael Davenport. Michael suggests why, at Christ’s baptism and transfiguration, God the Father breaks His usual pattern of only speaking to us through His Son, the Eternal Word:
Your reference to possible objections in terms of the voice of the Father heard at the baptism of Christ (and I would assume the Mount of Transfiguration) – is it possible that these instances were necessary because of the failure of men to see in this normal human before their eyes the Image of the invisible God?
In other words, in times past (the OT era), when Christ appeared (Theophany/Christophany), there was no doubting in the one beholding that this was indeed God made manifest. It would seem that, due to the humiliation of Christ at His coming and His laying aside of His glory (exhibited when the men came into the garden to seize Him), men, even His own disciples, were not quick to recognize the voice of God speaking to them.
Thus the need for the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration to tell the disciples, “Hear HIM!” It is also worth noting that in both of these instances, the Father did not engage in some lengthy conversation or teaching – He merely solidified the fact that Jesus is the eternal Word; the Image of the invisible God; the Communicator of God’s special revelation.