I Got the P.K. Blues

“Sharon, you girls stop that fooling around now and start listening!” My grandfather’s correction from the pulpit stunned the congregation. Fans stopped waving, bulletins stopped crinkling, restless legs froze and a few women emitted quiet gasps. I felt a hot flame in my cheeks while my father glared at me from his chair on the platform and my mother’s head snapped up from the sermon notes she’d been writing in the choir loft.

In my childhood church, my grandfather, Charles Robins, served as senior pastor, my father as minister of music and my mother as a director of education, who also sang in the choir.  Passing notes and whispering during a Sunday morning sermon was risky business with three sets of eyes triangulated towards the pews.  My friends and I thought our back row spot served as cover for shenanigans. Wrong, wrong, oh so wrong.   Worse yet, my grandfather’s pre-Christ years as a ship builder, pool hustler and boxer trained him to have a booming voice, sharp eye and no fear of confrontation.  The teens in our church adored “Pastor Robbie,” for his straight talking style.  Normally, so did I.  This day, I wanted to go a few rounds with him myself for publicly calling me out this way.

The life of a child in a full time ministry family receives unique scrutiny from others, inside and outside of the church.  Sometimes pastor’s children are expected to act far above their peers.  Their failings can be gossip fodder.  They feel the pangs of neglect when ministry demands cause parents to be absent too much.  Without a proper framework to handle the special challenges of their position, many p.k.’s flounder and leave the church entirely.  The Barna group reports in a national survey conducted with ministers, an astounding 33% stated they have at least one child who no longer attends church anywhere.

We made our share of mistakes raising our daughter in a pastor’s home.   The large ones involved unbalanced energies between home and church.  A few things we did pretty well, though, and I humbly share them as ideas and encouragement for other ministry parents.

  • We consistently played together. No matter how tired we were, we prioritized fun.  Many times we silently cried out to God to give us strength to play Barbies, build sand sculptures or do yet another craft, but we did it.  The years when your children want to be with you more than anyone else are brief.  The repercussions of over spending yourself on ministry during their childhood can play out sadly when your kids are grown.  Listen to “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin, on Youtube.
  • We did not discuss church conflicts around our daughter.

Jennifer knew nothing of the heartaches we endured at the hands of others, when she was a little girl.  We didn’t want her to struggle with any of the conflicts we faced with individuals whom she saw on a regular basis. These were not her battles to fight. Surprisingly, some people who could find nothing positive to say about us were very kind to our daughter.

  • We did not expect her to “perform” for every guest in our home.

Although Jennifer is by nature very friendly and outgoing, she and I both find small talk to be uncomfortable.  When we hosted visiting missionaries, pastors, and such, we didn’t insist that she spend the entire time with the adults. We trained her to politely answer questions during meals and to help with hostess duties. Since she is an only child, we often encouraged her to invite a friend over during these times and permitted them to play elsewhere after the meal.  Frequently, she chose to stay with us and interesting guests but we respected her need to retreat when that’s what she needed.

  • We took responsibility for her spiritual training and education. In their busyness, ministerial families can potentially drop the ball here. You know, the cobbler’s children and the holes in their shoes idea. Sunday school and youth group are great, but we considered all that a supplement to our daughter’s spiritual development, not the main dish.  We taught her how to pray and have personal quiet times.  We grabbed teaching moments that life provided and taught her to apply the wisdom of scripture verses and stories she learned at church, to everyday life. When we didn’t have a junior church program, she sat by me in church while I drew pictures for her to illustrate her father’s sermon points, rather than just letting her mentally check out.

I am intimately familiar with the pressures and responsibilities of full time ministry but please remember that our first ministry is to our spouses and children.  The way we handle our own “p.k’s” and allow the church to treat them will greatly affect how they view the body of Christ for the rest of their lives.  Let’s do all we can to keep them firmly connected to their kingdom family.

 

 

 

 

The Leah Syndrome

 

My polite smile began to cramp my cheeks.  “Pastor Jones wife always worked at our pig in a blanket fundraiser. Such a wonderful way with pastry,” the chairwomen of the women’s guild chirped while smiling sweetly. A circle of expectant church ladies stared at me, waiting for my presumed, “Oh, I’d love to help out,” answer.   Their polite disappointment showed when I replied, “Well, let me check my schedule with Pastor Ken and get back with you.”

First of all, new to West Michigan, I couldn’t cipher why selling pigs wrapped up in blankets worked as a fundraiser.  Secondly, “making dough” sounded suspiciously like it involved baking somehow.  I hate baking. I do it “heartily unto the Lord,” for family and friends but that’s it.  Additionally, our responsibilities with youth and education in the church left Ken and I scant free time.  Burning it up away from him, with pie dough and pigs no less, sounded quite unappealing.

In every church and school where I’ve served, at some point I am subjected to a comparison between myself and my predecessor.  Dialogues that begin with something like, “You know, our last pastor’s wife …….” or “Our old teacher always…..”  make me feel squirmy. I know this is the prelude to me explaining or defending something I’m doing, or not doing, or not doing right.

I used to think all my predecessors possessed mythical levels of kindness, wisdom, energy, creativity and time management, based on what church members or students told me.  Then I started meeting some of them.  One teacher I replaced suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress load of the same class that left me frazzled each day.  I felt compassion for her emotional wreckage but I also felt a burden lift when I realized she might not have been quite the superwoman my students described.

It’s painful to be the Leah in a situation.  Even the description of her and her sister Rachel, in Genesis 29:17 makes me wince to read it. “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” Leah never receives the best love of her husband, Jacob.  A pawn in her father Laban’s schemes, she must suffer through the rejection of Jacob being aghast that she is under the wedding veil, instead of Rachel.  Her new husband is so disappointed; he insists on marrying Rachel as soon as his wedding week with Leah is complete.  That’s a truckload of rejection.

The rest of Jacob and Leah’s marriage is a sorry tale of Jacob consistently cherishing Rachel over her sister, even though Leah bears Jacob his firstborn son, plus five more and a daughter. When Jacob is fearful that his reunion with Esau will end in bloodshed, who does he put at the very back of his caravan, farthest from Esau’s private army? Not Leah, and his firstborn son, Reuben.  No, Rachel and Joseph are placed at the rear of the caravan with Leah and her children ahead of them.  The message is clear; if wives and children are to be murdered, then Leah and her children will die before Rachel and hers.

Do you ever get that Leah feeling, like you just come up short in someone’s estimation?  Do the ghosts of the past haunt your environment?  Take comfort in the knowledge that your predecessors probably felt the same way.  You can also choose a different mindset that will help you to resist a spirit of offense or rejection when someone holds up your shortcomings to the gilded memory of someone else.

First, let’s consider Leah again.  Jacob might not have been her hero but God championed her cause.   “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.” (Genesis 29:31) Ultimately, the Lord gave Leah numerous children while Rachel only ever had two and died giving birth to the second one.  Also note, that although Jacob treasured Rachel the most, God honored Leah’s family line far more by placing her son, Judah, in the genealogy of Jesus. To this day we know our Lord as the Lion of Judah.

There may be folks in your church, ministry, or workplace that never truly celebrate you and only ever tolerate you.  Their loss.  If you faithfully serve where God positions you, rest assured His heart is turned towards you.  He will bless the work of your hands if you labor heartily for Him while dishing out grace to your detractors.  Let Him deal with those who idolize your forerunners.  Don’t’ allow your emotions to rise and fall with people’s thumbs up or thumbs down.  Trust God to be your champion, your vindicator, the glory and lifter of your head and your greatest fan.

Bright Stars in Dark Nights

Bright Stars in Dark Nights

I felt a familiar stiffness in my face while I led worship. My facial muscles ached from trying to keep joy on my face with knots in my stomach. A number of folks showed their ongoing displeasure with new worship songs by folding their arms, shaking their heads and glaring at the worship team.  Sometimes they’d even sit down, read a bulletin or ignore us altogether.  Sometimes very unhappy people verbally assaulted us after the service, in loud volume.

On the platform, we musicians worked to return smiles and joy for frowns and glares. We selected music prayerfully, thoughtfully.  Nevertheless, some members refused to sing anything written after 1950.  I continued to cast vision and pour out encouragement to our creative arts department.  Sometimes, though, depending on how many conflicts crossed my path earlier that week, I felt terribly disheartened worship services also.

In my conversations with dozens of music ministers or creative arts pastors, I’ve learned that the scenes like the one above continue to happen weekly in churches across our nation.  Maybe in your church it’s a rejection of music written after the 1990’s or a displeasure with the types of instruments your using. Perhaps they don’t like the choir numbers you’re selecting or the fact that you don’t use a choir anymore.  Music and emotion are so intertwined it’s not surprising that passions can run high when people feel like you’re messin’ with their tunes.

Conflict and criticism can create black nights of the soul where you question your calling and gifts.  Look up! Like the stars in the heavens, God’s mercies can be seen best in darkness.

For a long time, my worship team endured worship services more than enjoyed them.  I believe God allowed us to remain in the fire for awhile so He could accomplish His purposes in us.  Here’s some things we learned during our time on that particular battlefield which can apply to ANY ministry.

  • Flesh fails. Only God’s strength kept smiles on our faces, songs on our lips and ongoing forgiveness in our hearts.
  • Conflict reveals motives. We were forced to shed insecurities that desired EVERYONE’S approval.  We hunkered down under the armor of our senior pastor and board’s approval of our musical choices and then learned to sing for an audience of One.
  • Battlefields create bonds. We formed deep, agape friendships, binding one another’s wounds and covering each other’s backs.
  • Iron is forged in heat. We learned to remain steady and calm returning gentle words for hot, angry ones.

We love the starry nights of the physical world.  Beauty splashed across the deep blue heavens inspires songs, poetry and paintings.  As believers we need to be just as moved by the brightness of God’s character and activity during our spiritual midnights.

Throughout His word, glowing stars of comfort, hope and promise are everywhere to be found. How would we ever understand the profound beauty of passages like Psalm 23 if we never walk through the shadows of sorrow?  Can we truly appreciate God’s assurance we will not drown in Isaiah 43:2 if we’ve never floundered in a sea of trouble? Let me close with some of my favorite Scripture “stars,” to encourage you.

Psalm 139:12 “Even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

 

  

               

 

 

Lonely Holidays

 

“But why don’t ­we have any family to be with?”  My kindergarten daughter looked up at me, tears brimming in her blue eyes.  She is still our favorite party otter to this day, always anticipating the next opportunity to go somewhere and do something fun with people she loves. Although my family lived only two hours West and Ken’s family one-hour North, they were all unavailable for family picnics and parades during Memorial Day weekend.  My family owns greenhouses so for them the holiday means many customers and loooooong work hours.  Ken’s family owned a large sailboat and end of May meant getting the boat ready for the summer season.

Our friends were all off enjoying camping or cottaging with their extended family “up North” “down at the lake” or “at the beach.” (That’s how we roll in Michigan during the summers.  Holidays and weekends, our cities empty out to our abundant lakefronts and woodlands.) All week, Jennifer’s classmates jabbered excitedly about “going to Nana’s cottage,” “camping with our cousins,” “boating with my aunt and uncle,” etc. etc. etc. Just hanging out with Mommy and Daddy all weekend sounded quiet and lonely by comparison.

Following God often means moving away from family, friends and hometowns. Full time ministry families frequently spend many holidays alone.  Travel expenses and vacations must be reserved for Christmas, weddings and other important life events.  Smaller holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day, etc. can be incredibly lonely when you are separated from extended family, especially if God positions you in an area like West Michigan where people stay planted for many generations.   Even in very mobile areas where few people have extended family nearby, I’ve spoken with folks who, due to their ministry demands, struggle to find enough time to build family-like circles of friends.

Abraham, Moses, and Joseph all spent decades living far, far away from any extended family.  To achieve their destinies, God separated them from beloved siblings and parents.  Surely they experienced times of great longing and loneliness for those who knew them best and loved them most.  When my husband moved me from Central Michigan to Chicago, for graduate school, (a scant four hours away) I developed intense homesickness for the first time in my life.  Except for Christmas, we missed every other holiday with our families due to our work and school schedules and tight budget.

After a very tearful Labor Day weekend, we decided to prioritize time and energy to make friends.  God graciously provided many quality, godly people who lived in the same on-campus apartment building with us.  We literally started knocking on doors and introducing ourselves, discovering that we were surrounded by a lot of lonely, homesick, newly married couples.  By Thanksgiving our circle of friends was so strong we celebrated Thanksgiving together in our tiny apartment.

Perhaps your family is all alone for this July 4th weekend.  I remember well what that feels like and I am praying God will show you some fun activities you can enjoy together.  Secondly, I’m asking Him to give you friends to spend time with on the next holiday.  God truly does provide for our needs “according to his riches in glory.” (Philippians 4:19) His wealth includes the richness of relationships.

If you are blessed to live and minister in close proximity to your extended family or lifelong friends, please look around you for those who might not, particularly families in full time ministry work.  Can you include them with your extended family or schedule a separate get- together with just your family and theirs?  Remember, we reap what we sow.  Just because you are ministering on familiar turf today doesn’t mean you will be a year from now.  Always be about the business of sowing good seed!  You never know when you might need to harvest it.

If someone extends an invitation to your family, don’t just brush it off.  God can use the most unexpected people and situations to bless us.  If no invitations are forthcoming, look around, just like Ken and I did in grad school. Did we feel kind of goofy just knocking on doors? Yup. Was it worth it? Absolutely.   There might be wonderful potential relationships right around you, just waiting for you to take the first step.  Ask God to open your eyes and heart to new people and new possibilities and trust Him to lead you.

 

 

Five Ways Leaders Frustrate People Under Them

 

Every time I took a spiritual gifts test in my younger days, I scored zero in the gift of mercy.  Zero. Although I enjoyed the affirmation of my administrative and teaching gifts, it concerned me that I couldn’t muster up a point or two for mercy.   People who worked with me in those days would probably give you a hearty “Amen,” on that.

God gifted me with a dreamer’s mind and the organizational gifts to bring vision to fruition. Unfortunately, my creative processes sometimes walked all over those around me. I’m pretty sure that I consistently left behind a wake of trampled, frustrated people on many of my larger projects.  What I didn’t understand back then is that God is more concerned about our process than our products. 

How you treat the people in your church or organization ultimately determines your ability to achieve shared destinies. God empowers shepherds who lead their flocks strongly, with tenderness. He disciplines careless or harsh shepherds.  Here’s some of my exasperating former ways as a cautionary tale for all you Type A sisters out there.

  1. Treat people like cogs in your ministry machine. I used to be so task oriented that I’d get ants in my pants if prayer concerns came up during strategic planning meetings. My eagerness to get down to the business at hand made people’s concerns seem like interruptions. Man, oh man, that’s cold. It also sounds like the disciples who tried to shoo away some of the people that approached Jesus.  The cares and concerns of the people in your ministry are as important as the work you are trying to accomplish together.  

 

  1. Act like ministry stuff is more important than anything else. Until Ken and I owned our own business I didn’t understand the stresses of the marketplace.   As lay people, sometimes we showed up late for church commitments or couldn’t make it at all for a number of reasons like, demands from corporate higher ups, unreliable employees, last minute customers, etc. etc.  I used to lack grace for these things from lay people.  Oh that I could take back so many slightly snotty looks directed at late comers who had legitimate reasons for their delays.

 

 

  1. Minimize the significant life events of your people. As a pastoral team Ken and I received invitations to countless open houses, anniversary parties, weddings, and other events. Generally, I love a good party but I accepted too many invitations then cancelled on some or over-booked Ken and I, leaving him no down time. My unintentional message? Some people count and others don’t. Prayerfully set special events boundaries and then be consistent.  When you respond “yes” to an invitation, show up to the event! Don’t decide at the last minute that you’ve had too many nights out in a row and then ditch somebody’s something. No shows with lame excuses are hurtful.   If you’re an associate, make sure your superiors are in agreement with your boundaries.  I know pastors of large churches who only attend life events for their pastoral staff.  Some youth pastors attend every graduation open house but then take extra time off immediately afterwards.

 

  1. Make changes too quickly. I’m the spokesmodel for this classic, rookie mistake.   Ken and I both created unnecessary tension by making right changes at wrong times or in wrong ways.  Did worship orders need updating?  Did committee structures need revamping?  Did youth group need some fresh fundraisers? Yes, yes, and yes!! However, sometimes we lacked the patience to allow people to process, reflect, or share input on the changes we believed God desired. As a layperson I observed mature Christians flee churches in droves simply because a leader effected change too abruptly. Doesn’t mean you wait for everyone to agree with you to move with God but the best way to lead people into new places is when you’re walking together arm in arm.  Dragging people towards what may very well be a God idea is exhausting for you and hurtful for everyone else.

 

*** As a side note, if you’re in a place where folks are resisting change at every turn, pray, pray, pray.  God will either change their hearts or move you to a different place where people are ready to receive what God is doing through you.

 

  1. Waste people’s time with disorganization. Here, I speak of experiences as a layperson and a member of community boards.  More times than not, I’ve languished in meetings, rehearsals and other events, desperately trying to not to jump out of my skin, because of sloppy organization.  Many years ago I served on a committee that consistently bounced on my last nerve. The meetings usually started anywhere from 30-45 minutes late.  The agenda consisted of whatever came to the mind of the event coordinator. Sometimes it turned out I wasn’t even needed at a meeting but didn’t know that until I arrived, after fighting my way through 40 minutes of heavy traffic.    If you have no natural administrative gifts, then partner with people who do!   Start and end on time and stick with an agenda that is clear to all. People are loyal to leaders who respect their time and resources.

Recognize yourself in any of these ministry faux pas?  It’s never too late to change your ways.  You might even owe some people an apology or three. Prayerfully consider the idea that you might be unintentionally driving the people under you a little bit crazy and then…..stop it!

 

               

The Grudge

 

Early spring air rushed through my car windows, whipping around some papers in the back seat. At a stop sign, I darted a backwards glance. My eyes recognized the bright colors of worksheets my preschool daughter loved to do, but there was also a strange black spot I assumed to be another “floater” in one of my eyes. I looked straight ahead, moving my eyes around to try to produce the same effect. Hmmmm….. where did that floater go?  At the next stop, I took a longer look into the back seat.  This was no black spot; it was a Something, a Something that hovered in the air.

Earlier that morning my mind fixated on a painful situation at church.  A few members recently behaved in some very divisive, ungodly ways.  Their actions and words cycled through my mind repeatedly, stirring up dark, vindictive thoughts, just like the vague shadow lurking in my car.

I completed the drive home, nauseated and shaking, refusing to look in the back seat and singing praise songs. I knew what this was. I didn’t understand why it was in my car! I immediately phoned an older pastor friend of ours from Texas. When I described the black shadow to him, he asked me one question in his baritone, southern drawl, “Darlin,’ is there anyone you need to forgive, anyone you maybe hate, just a pinch?”

My pride tried to answer first, and I hesitated, weighing my options.  This church girl knew full well that hatred and unforgiveness are serious sins. What would my friend think? Ultimately, my fear of what might be stalking me prompted me to answer truthfully, “Yes, yes there is.”

While I cried, this seasoned pastor explained Satan’s delight in finding an inroad into my mind. Refusing to forgive people is an open  doorway and welcome mat for him to stroll right into my thoughts.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, my spirit is sealed and set apart for God.  I cannot be demon-possessed.  However, by allowing negative emotions to camp out in my soul, I invite evil to draw close to me, oppressively.

That frightening drive remains as one of the few times God allowed me a glimpse into the supernatural world all around me.  I believe He wanted to shake and wake me out of the destructive sin of being a record keeper of wrong doings. The vividness of what I experienced that day keeps me on the straight and narrow regarding holding a grudge against those who hurt me or my family.

My friend laid out some scriptural forgiveness strategies, which became habit.  I’ve also added some of my own that you may find helpful.

  • As soon as someone sins against you, begin speaking silently or out loud, if possible, verses you committed to memory for such moments. My favorite is Matthew 5:11.  Other great ones are:  Matthew 6:14, 15, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:31, 32, Matthew 5:23-24 and, of course, I Corinthians 13. (Sometimes, I’ll even excuse myself to the restroom, or some other private place just so I can do this.)
  • Remember, Jesus understands. (Hebrews 4:15)
  • Allow yourself to feel painful emotions. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are. Don’t ignore them, they will simply express themselves in a different way. It’s what we do with our emotions that leads us to righteousness or sin.
  • For smaller things, forgive and move on. You may have to do this several times if you think of the offense, and still feel pain or anger. Keep clearing the wrong doer’s account. God will speak to this person, in His own time concerning their careless words or behavior.  “Let it gooooooooooo………” as the song says.
  • For large pains forgiveness is a process in need of time. On some occasions I’ve needed to pray for and forgive someone repeatedly until I genuinely feel no desire for retribution and can think about the person or incident without a yucky feeling in my gut.
  • Picture offenses as individual rooms in a hallway. When you are able to enter a room and look at the memory of an offense objectively, without pain, you are now able to reach back and encourage someone else who might be struggling to forgive someone for a similar sin.
  • Work towards reconciliation. Follow the Matthew 18 pattern to try to turn this person from an adversary into an advocate.  This process takes humility and patience.  You might think you are only 5% to blame in the situation, nevertheless, apologize and ask forgiveness for your part.  Often this opens the door for the other person to take ownership of their part.
  • When someone refuses to be reconciled with you, turn them over to God and continue your internal forgiveness process.
  • Seek godly counsel. Some situations, involving habitual or unrepentant sin, must be dealt with at a higher level. Another pastor in your church, an elder or deacon, or someone else who has spiritual authority in your congregation will need to be involved if someone is habitually sinning against you within your church or Christian organization or refuses to be reconciled with you.  In Psalm 105:15 and I Chronicles 16:22, God bluntly says, “Don’t touch my anointed!”  Tolerating and making excuses for those who “touch” pastors and ministry leaders with wicked behavior and words, grieves the Holy Spirit.
  • Let God do His work in your heart.  Just as he did for Joseph, God uses the sinful behaviors of others to accomplish greatness in our lives.

In my next post, I’ll be exploring this last item further.  Does it feel sometimes like your ministry life is a roller coaster, rising and dropping based on the decisions and behaviors of others? What may feel like a crazy ride can be an adventure when you remember God is working the controls!

 

Ducks and Lions-

“Well, I simply couldn’t concentrate on the sermon at all today with the pastor’s bare feet sticking out.” This fashion review occurred a few days after my husband preached an illustrated sermon as John the Apostle.  Most of the congregation loved his costumed, first- person presentation but one member thought that, perhaps, John should use better manners and wear dress shoes instead of sandals, in the pulpit.

Ken chuckled at the comment and moved on to the next thing.  I, on the other hand, brummed about it internally for several days.  “What were they doing staring at his feet anyway? For heaven’s sake, the minor things people get all twisted up about.” And on and on my inner snarky went, criticizing this person.

As my thoughts continued to feed my anger engine, a moment of revelation occurred. My behavior was no better than the church member, “for heaven’s sake!”  Indeed, I’m sure heaven was relieved I’d suspended my own complain train. I had chucked all the encouraging comments about Ken’s sermon out the window and fixated on one foolish remark.  I should have laughed and let it go, just like Ken did.

How do you know when to be a duck or when to be a lion concerning personal criticisms?  Ducks let a lot of water roll off their backs and just keep paddling. Lions aggressively pursue anything perceived as a threat.   Our perfect example, Jesus, knew when to paddle and when to roar.

In Matthew 27, Pilate questions Jesus about who He claims to be.  The profound silence from Jesus must have been maddening to a ruler used to getting his way.  In Luke 4 a crowd from the synagogue became so angry with some things Jesus said during a service, they tried to hurl Him off a cliff.  The Living Word slipped through the crowd and walked away.   There are a number of passages where Christ’s response to personal attacks is very duck-like.

Then, there are times when the Lion of Judah roars at his critics.  In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 22 relates an incident in which Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about taxes, attempting to ensnare Him with His answer.  I believe the key to Jesus’ response, a harsh verbal lashing, lies in just a few words in verse 18. “But Jesus, aware of their malice….” (ESV).

Walking in step with the Holy Spirit is non-negotiable to determine the difference between careless words and malicious attacks. We all can toss out whiny, complainy jabs when we are tired, ill or stressed.  Often, there is no true desire to hurt the recipient of the complaint or a consistent pattern of negativity.  People in your environment may say things, without thinking, that are hurtful without any true motive to damage you.  These are careless words.  Forgive, recognize the distress in the other person’s life, and move on. Paddle, paddle paddle.

Just like Jesus’ enemies, though, some people do mean you harm and their verbal stabs are part of an agenda of strife and disunity.  You cannot take a ducky approach in these situations.  Left unchecked, this kind of divisive behavior creates conflict and confusion, hindering your church or organization’s ability to move forward into the destiny God designed for you.

I recommend this outstanding article on ­handling church conflict, if you are under fire, consistently, from certain folks.  People whose conversations frequently turn to gossip and criticism, must be dealt with in a biblical, Christ-like way.

Are you overreacting to every unkind, thoughtless word?  Ask God to help you see the person behind the words, like Jesus did. If you listen, God will share insight into people, cause you to notice circumstances in their lives and put things in a better context.   Many times I worked myself up (which, by the way, is not beneficial to your health) ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit to pray for that person and my attitude, forgive them and move on.

My next post topic will be about the nuts and bolts of the forgiveness process.  Between now and then, read some of the Gospel encounters between Jesus and His opposition.  Fill your mind with His ways and allow God to change your heart on this matter.  Don’t miss any of the great adventures God’s planned for you because your brain is obsessing over someone’s sloppy words!  Selah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Criticism is Inevitable, Offense is Optional

The elderly church lady marched up to the grand piano, where I was playing, stuck her face by my ear and angrily hissed, “You always bang the piano so hard when you play.  It hurts my ears.” The harsh assessment came during a break in the service where members were supposed to greet one another and welcome newcomers. Dismayed, I smiled sweetly, apologized and reduced my volume, sorry I caused this dear sister any suffering.

Not!

The first part is absolutely correct.  The second part, about me, well…… that’s not quite the way it rolled out.  The truth is, I never looked up, kept pounding the keys, my gigantic 80’s mall bangs wobbling back and forth like a metronome, and gave my critic a terse nod. My insides took on a boxer’s stance. Snarky jabs jumped to mind, like, “I’d looooooove to play more softly but our antique sound board is so horrid, how else can I keep the congregation on the same beat!” The rest of the punches that piled up in my mind definitely qualify as below the belt.   Nice pastor’s wife, right? Sadly, I used to respond to criticism with less than a mature response.

This type of childish reaction is typical for many believers who lack the godly tools to process criticism. 

My inability to handle critics flowed from deep insecurities and a desire to be liked by everyone…..all the time, everywhere, without exception.  That’s normal, right? Probably not, but   I’ve known many other people who struggle with the same issue.

Insecure people don’t handle criticism well because they already feel lousy.

If the voices in your own head tear you down regularly, negative remarks from others become unbearable.   Some people wilt and shrink away trying not to poke the verbally abusive bears in their lives.  Feisty folk, like me, sometimes pop the bear right in the snoot. Neither of these responses are Christ-like, and can mess you up, in the long term.

The piano incident pales, pain-wise, in comparison to critiques of my character and motives I’ve received, over the years.  These types of comments used to slice deeply into my soul and make me question everything about myself in an unhealthy, obsessive way.

I know I’m a handful.  My artistic, melancholy and sanguine personality blend can be exasperating for those around me.  Folks never know if the party otter or the introverted worker bee will show up on any given day.  But these days, I am grounded in the knowledge of the unique person God created me to be, flaws and all.   My job is to walk uprightly before Him and let Him put his finger on the edges of my diamond that need polishing.  Criticism is simply one of the polishing tools He uses.

If you are a leader, scrutiny from others is a fact of life. People trash talked Jesus’ ministry and character frequently.  While Jesus responded, the disciples usually reacted.  How are you handling negative remarks?   Do you feel like the complaints outnumber the compliments?  How many bear snoots have you bopped?

You cannot control other people; you can only control your response to them.

Dishing out grace to our critics doesn’t happen with determination and grit. This type of maturity is the fruit of intimacy with God.  He enables you to be confident in your strengths and honest about your raggedy edges. He insists that your first priority is pleasing Him, not others.  Criticism may still wound you but you will respond to it instead of reacting to it.

 

How you navigate negative remarks will strengthen you, drawing you closer to Christ, or weaken and embitter you.  In the next few posts I’ll describe my personal process for handling criticism.  I’m still tempted to nurse grudges or retaliate, sometimes, but usually I don’t. That behavior grieves the Holy Spirit too much and derails my intimacy with Christ.

The first question I ask myself, when confronted with an unflattering assessment is, “Does this comment contain any truth?”   I choose to shift my mind away from instinctive reactions.  Instead, I choose to look objectively at the situation and my role in it.  Did I bang the piano too hard? Yup, and it probably did hurt some ears.  My critic’s tone and timing were poor, yet kernels of truth resided in what she said.  I could have kindly explained my challenges to her, after the service, and maybe gained support for purchasing a sound system upgrade sooner than we did.

Receiving criticism humbly and measuring our response is Christ-like and pleases our Father.  The bonus is that God can use the sharp edges of other’s words to chisel away our faults and make us more like His son.   Let Him do His work!

In my next post we’ll explore handling criticism further.  If you’ve got some tips and strategies for this common ministry challenge, please share them on my Facebook page.  Let’s encourage one another!

“Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.” Proverbs 29:1 (NLT)