While the speaker at a Wisconsin church Bible conference, I met a discouraged visiting minister who said he had just resigned as pastor of a church he had served for 11 years.
During his time as pastor, the church had grown from only a few families to a sizable congregation.
He had enjoyed his work there until one of the members began to criticize him; then he had allowed this grumbler to drive him to despair. Finally, tired of the attacks of his critic, he quit.
Hearing the former pastor's heartbreaking story reminded me of a paragraph in the book, "The Tongue Angel or Demon?" that has been played out again and again in too many churches: "Contentious tongues have hindered the work of God a thousand times over. Critical tongues have broken the hearts and health of many pastors." Here before me was living proof of author George Sweeting's accurate observation.
However, ministers aren't the only targets of cruel critics. Sadly, fault-finders exist everywhere, and they're always engaged in their favorite pastime cutting down all who don't live up to their exaggerated expectations.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "The human race is divided into two classes: those who go ahead and do something and those who sit still and inquire why it wasn't done another way."
When we find ourselves unable to please our critics, we are in good company.
Some grumbled when our Lord healed sick people on the Sabbath; others complained because they felt he spent too much time with sinners.
Judas was upset when Jesus allowed a woman to anoint his head with an expensive ointment, saying it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Judas didn't care about the poor, but linking his protest to the needy made him look good.
Those who focus on faults are always looking for ways to justify their caustic comments that injure innocent people.
Peter said we are most like our Lord when we take unjust criticism patiently, 1 Peter 2:20-21, but that's a tall order. Few aspire to follow the steps that led to the cross.
Opportunities to demonstrate the reality of our faith when under fire abound because there is never a shortage of critics. These negative nuisances are everywhere, continually searching for something wrong with those who are doing their best to serve the Lord. They always are the first to hear of anything wrong and feel it is their duty to spread the word.
For centuries, their cruel tongues have kept ministers on the move, contributing to what a major news magazine once called "the game of musical pulpits."
Are you a victim of critics in your church or community?
Lovingly tune them out.
Even the moon couldn't keep shining if it paid attention to barking dogs.
The discouraged Wisconsin pastor found help in realizing he had been listening to the wrong people. Many in his church had appreciated his ministry and been helped by it but he hadn't heard their compliments because he was so preoccupied with the cutting words of one who chose to focus on his faults.
Listening to faithful people would have kept him from being discouraged and enabled him to continue his important work.
He decided it was time to make a new commitment to his Lord and return to focusing on loving God and serving people as he had done before being devastated by criticism.
Let's stop listening to the wrong people.
Those who love, support and encourage us deserve our attention. They are gifts from God to enable us to live in the sunshine no matter what our critics say.
Roger Campbell is an author, radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist from Waterford, Mich. He has written more than 20 books and has had articles published in most major Christian magazines. He was a pastor for 22 years and has been a guest speaker in Alaska churches from Anchorage to Homer.
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