Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sometimes it's best to keep your mouth shut

Yesterday I pointed out that Hillary Clinton would struggle to get people to trust her because of her repeated lies to the American public. The lesson from that for those of us in church leadership is that we must be truthful and honest in all our dealings with our congregations if we want them to trust us and follow our leadership. Trust is a very fragile thing, and once it's lost it can be very difficult to recover.

In the interest of fairness we can look to Donald Trump for today's lesson. Trump found himself attacked at the Democratic National Convention by the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq twelve years ago. As a Navy veteran I appreciate those who serve our country, and I hold in highest regard those who pay the ultimate sacrifice. Having never lost a child I cannot imagine the pain this family feels.

Trump should have allowed the family to have its say and moved on and focused on his campaign. Few people remember anything said at a political convention a week after it's over. However, as is his custom, when he feels he's being attacked he has to go on the offensive. He made some unfortunate comments about the Khans that the media will now focus on for a few more weeks. No doubt we'll also see his comments aired in future ads by Clinton supporters. Some of Trump's supporters are now saying that he is making it tougher for them to continue their support due to lack of discipline.

Like Trump, some pastors cannot keep their mouths shut when they feel people oppose them. Certainly, there are times when we need to respond, but most of the time we need to just keep silent. When we do need to respond it's usually best to do so privately with the critic. To go on national media, which isn't friendly to him anyway, to make the statements he made about the Khan family showed very poor judgment on his part. It's also poor judgment when pastors and other church leaders make public responses when criticized.

A few years ago a pastor I knew got tired of one person in the church who opposed everything he did. He sent her an e-mail responding to her criticism. In the email he made some very unfortunate comments that were unnecessary including some that questioned her relationship with God. Of course, the family made copies of the email and showed it to everyone in the church. It cast the pastor in a very poor light.

Another pastor was determined to make changes in the structure of the church. When long-time members opposed those changes he took it personally. He also made unkind comments about the critics, and soon they left the church. However, many were offended by the way the pastor handled the opposition and many others left. Today, the attendance has fallen off by quite a bit. The pastor still blames the critics for what has happened and apparently doesn't see his role in what has happened. Instead of attacking the critics he should have worked with them to help make the church healthier.

Church leaders need to determine what battles to fight. You don't need to die on every hill. There are some critics you will never win over. Love them, but ignore them. I once read that the average pastor leaves his or her church due to seven people regardless of how many believe the pastor is doing a good job. I've got news for you, those seven people have relatives in any church you go to so you'll never escape them.

When you refuse to respond to your critics you'll never have to be the one who has apologize. If their criticism isn't valid, it will be revealed in time. But, if you get sucked into defending yourself every time someone says something negative about you, you will lose respect from your followers.

I was once asked at a pastor's conference I was leading why I thought pastors got stabbed in the back so often. I responded that I didn't think we got stabbed in the back as often as we shoot ourselves in the foot. Responding to every attack is unneeded, and responding publicly makes that mistake even worse. If we are going to be in a leadership position we need to have some tough skin, learn when and how to respond to criticism, and focus on the task God has given us.

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