Worse Things Have Been Said

 

Not long after I graduated from seminary, I spoke to a friend about my discouragement with the church I was serving. Looking back I realize now that things were not as bad as they seemed. The opposition I faced was the sort that every young pastor deals with, especially when he is eager to prove himself. But at the time it seemed to me that I had made a terrible mistake.

Some of the church’s charter members were grumbling about changes I had initiated. A few even hinted that I had bullied the church’s leaders into seeing things my way. Their criticism was unfounded but it stung just the same. I began to wonder if I was wrong to accept a call to this congregation. My friend listened to my tale of woe but was unsympathetic. “Worse things have been said about better men” he told me. I was annoyed by his blunt reply but could not disagree with his point.

Jesus warned those who speak in his name that they will also share in his reproach: “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” (Matt. 10:24-25)

The problem here is ultimately one of authority. Christ’s words serve as fair warning to all who preach that divine authority does not guarantee a smooth path. We would like to think that God given authority also gives us leverage with our hearers. “Listen to us,” we want to say. “We speak for God.” But the same Bible that gives us our authority also offers ample proof of the congregation’s capacity for discounting that authority.

Preaching is an awkward business. The preacher does not give advice, the preacher declares. The preacher tells people what is right and what is wrong. When they turn to the right or the left, the preacher stands before them like the angel who stood in Balaam’s path, and says, “This is the way, walk in it.” What right do we have to make such demands? Who are we to tell others how to live?

Preaching is impolite. When we preach we draw public conclusions about the motives of our listeners and impugn their character. We utter things from the pulpit that we would not dare to say in private conversation, at least not to strangers! 

This is the preacher’s prophetic responsibility. “Prophetic preaching does not necessarily imply that the preacher assumes the role of Jeremiah or Amos, but that the preacher remains faithful to the prophetic dimensions of biblical texts” Thomas G. Long explains. “If the word comes from God in the biblical text, the preacher remains true to that word, regardless of the reaction or the cost.”

Unfortunately, the prophetic mantle cannot guarantee that every barb that aimed in our direction is undeserved. Some of the complaints leveled against us are warranted. The reproach we bear is not always the reproach of Christ. Sometimes it comes as a result of rash decisions we have made or right words spoken in the wrong spirit. My friend was right. Worse things have been said about better men. And just as often better things are said about us than we deserve.

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Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

10 thoughts on “Worse Things Have Been Said”

  1. A comment from a church member, whether good or bad cannot be the basis for our resolve in serving God. Ours is not a profession of choice or a vocation of our own choosing, but ours is a calling of God! Yes we have submitted to His calling but more than likely it was not our initial choice for how to serve God or provide for our family! Our calling is a God centered issue and if we have a peace with that… we can endure the criticism of those we have been called to pastor/shepherd. As the article states, our calling does NOT exempt us from difficult times. The pastor must remain focused on his calling, his personal walk with Christ, his devotion to God and his family and his dedication to the calling and congregation God has chosen him to shepherd. This is a difficult and sometimes seemingly untenable contradiction, but we have to remember, that when the criticism comes, that we battle NOT against flesh and blood but against the principalities of darkness in this world. I understand the frustration and anger that criticism can bring to a man of God, but we must remained focused!

    1. Yes Bobby. i 100% agree with you on the matter of this. We are indeed called to serve and it’s not we who chose this ministry. So, our calling is higher and noble as well as assured by Him who called us. Somehow, i just would like to keep reminding myself and fellow ministers in Jesus Christ that our calling will become worldly if we doesn’t do our best to keep improving the sacred tasks He entrusted to us. Sometimes, criticisms could be something positive that we need to analyze carefully so as not to let down our desire, courage, focus in working with & for our Lord.
      May God bless us..

  2. Constructive criticism should always be embraced. When criticism is meant to hurt and not help I remind myself that criticism is the price we pay for accomplishment. When a respected colleague or friend offers criticism I am all ears. When an individual with a critical spirit speaks I place less weight on their words!

  3. Pastors, we must turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when it comes to praises and (wrong headed) criticisms. Of course, God has given us friends, elders, etc. to help us see our blind spots.

  4. I’ve been a pastor for nine years now after leaving Moody. What keeps me grounded is remember this truth. I am not as good as some people think I am. On the other hand, I am also not as bad as some people say I am either.
    Dr. Koessler you are right. Being a pastor is an awkward business. You are a leader, but paid by the people you are leading. In the business world you pay the people you are leading. Pastors don’t have security in their positions except that God is with them and fights their battles for them. We just tell the truth from the Word after prayerful consideration and let the chips fall where they will.

  5. Fellow pastors, whenever you are criticized for what seems good in your spirit and ethically accepted, do not be moved by what your crities say. Remember, in the end they will praise your work. Just remain faithful and focused.

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