In the book, Standing Fast…Ministry in an Unfriendly World, co-written by one of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Ed Dobson, the final chapter is entitled, Renewing Your Sense of Call. In this chapter, Dr. Dobson shares several examples of very critical and negative letters he received while pastoring a large church in Grand Rapids, MI. These letters, mostly anonymous, were harsh and defeating. Dr. Dobson goes on to share what he calls The Three Myths of Ministry, which he heard from Dr. Truman Dollar.
It is never as bad as you think it is! Even when things seem darkest, circumstances are usually not as hopeless or awful as they first appear. We should never let church politics or conflicts obscure our vision of the bigger things God may be doing in the church.
It’s never as good as you think it is! There are times in church ministry when everything seems to be going marvelously. That is sure true about ministry here at Grace church in recent months. That’s when you need to be careful. It’s may only be an illusion. As Dr. Jerry Falwell used to say, “I’ve never had two good days back to back.”
It’s never completely fixed! Ministry is a process; it’s people. To say, “I’ve taken care of this problem. It won’t recur,” is to live in a fool’s paradise. Problems can come back to plague you long after you thought they were resolved.
Dr. Dobson then goes on to share three ways to handle criticism in ministry:
Accept it as part of the package! The ministry is sometimes pressure, discouragement, disappointment, heartache, criticism and conflict. In Second Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” This is ministry reality.
Don’t believe everything you hear! A lot of criticism people throw our way is based on ignorance or misconceptions. When it’s appropriate, Dr. Dobson encourages us to educate people. When it’s not, it’s best just to forget the comments.
Ask God about it! Dr. Dobson says that he takes the criticism he receives to the Lord in prayer. “This is what they’ve said about me, Lord. Is it true? Help me to be honest with myself and determine what truth, if any, lies beneath their comment.” Dr. Dobson says that he actually reads to God the letters he receives that are critical of him. Sometimes he finds that God is trying to say something to him. Other times, God simply reassures him that he is on the right track and has no need to become discouraged.
David had the same conflicts. His way of handling it is similar as seen in Psalm 143:4-5. David says, “My spirit grows faith within me. My heart within me is dismayed.” So what does he do? David goes on to write, “I remember the days of long ago. I meditate on all Your works and consider what Your hands have done.”