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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Criticism in Leadership


Servant Leaders Conference at ETERNAL LIVING WORD Church on: Lessons from the life of King David - SEPT. '19

By pastor Vance Wood of LifeBridge on 2 Samuel 19:1-8
Watch the Facebook video of this teaching here.

When we receive criticism from others, we can often feel hurt, defeated, isolated; something that we’ve put a lot of effort into, some real thought, invested a lot of ourselves into something, and then people criticize it all. How’s that feel? It’s tough isn’t it? I think sometimes it’s pretty direct, it’s focused, it’s veiled: 


“Pastor, I noticed that your kids were playing in the library…” and they tail off. What’s the message though, “Maybe you should have better control over your children.”
“That’s interesting what you preached last Sunday; I’ve never understood it that way. I’ve always understood it differently.” What’s the message there?
          “So what version was that? I’ve never heard the Bible rendered that way before.” Little things, right? But how does that feel?
          It kind of digs a little bit, doesn’t it?

Francis Chan* recently said “We live in a time when people are very quick to speak. The Bible commands us opposite of that. With social media, there's just a lot more words. It almost seems like the goal on social media is to say something as loudly as you can for the shock value so that you catch people's attention. Yet that's not what Scripture tells us.
Scripture tells us with the abundance of words sin is not absent (Proverbs 10:19). Scripture tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry (James 1:19)."
* TTUF does not necessarily agree with Francis Chan on some of his views and perspectives.

The culture of relentless feedback. relentless criticism in which pastors work today has made it much more difficult for them to lead. "We live in a time when people are quick to criticize church and leadership, with this assumption that they actually know better. It's just a very, very difficult time for Christian leaders to lead.”

And let’s be honest, criticizing leaders is incessant and accepted in today’s world … not just in the church; in government, in business, in school, and in church, and families, criticism is present everywhere. And when do we just let it “roll off”? When do we just ‘blast em’?
People without all the knowledge, set themselves as wise, and blast away… “Thanks sister, really appreciate that!”

Which brings us to the question, as leaders in the church, when do we nuke someone and when do we let it roll off like rainwater? 
The Bible teaches principles in Psalm 105:12-15 and Ephesians 4:2-3, 15,25, 31-32; urging believers against bashing leadership. 

1 Timothy 5:19-20
Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others.”

NUKE!  Boom! So, go ahead, bring it! Say something!
But before we start launching missiles, I think we need to step back and let grace and mercy flood over us.  I believe the Bible has some counsel for us regarding criticism and I want to look at that today.

Let’s define Godly criticism; It is to give a corrective evaluation of another person and their service to the Lord with the intent of helping that person grow in faithfulness to God. This is an endeavor to help that person to become better.

With that as a base, let’s look in our Bibles at the scripture in 2 Samuel 19.
And let me preface this a little bit so you can understand what’s going on. Kevin shared, when David sinned, GOD gave him some consequences, and one of those was that someone in the kingdom, someone in his own family would rise up against him, and that happened. It was his son, Absalom. And he took the kingdom from his father.

2 Samuel 19:1-8
Word soon reached Joab that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom. 2 As all the people heard of the king’s deep grief for his son, the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness. 3 They crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle. 4 The king covered his face with his hands and kept on crying, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”
5 Then Joab went to the king’s room and said to him, “We saved your life today and the lives of your sons, your daughters, and your wives and concubines. Yet you act like this, making us feel ashamed of ourselves. 6 You seem to love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that your commanders and troops mean nothing to you. It seems that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died, you would be pleased. 7 Now go out there and congratulate your troops, for I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a single one of them will remain here tonight. Then you will be worse off than ever before.”
8 So the king went out and took his seat at the town gate, and as the news spread throughout the town that he was there, everyone went to him.”

Joab sounded pretty rough, didn’t he?
David is king. The king is all-powerful… the king doesn’t answer to anyone – he holds absolute power; no one speaks against the king unless he has a death wish.
You see at different times in the Old Testament that people who visit the king, they’d be in prayer and fasting before that visit; they’d be in fear before going and speaking to the king, because if the king didn’t like what you said, then it would be over! Off with their head!
Consider now how Joab spoke to the king: pretty direct, right? Those are some tough words! Joab spoke harshly to David “… we saved you… and you act like this?  I guess we are nothing to you… Now get up and be a leader!”

And at that point you wait to hear those famous words… GUARDS!!
But that didn’t happen did it?
King David got up and greeted the people. He responded to the criticism of Joab; which means that maybe there is a time to listen; and if so, when? And how?
I am going to share some thoughts to consider when facing criticism. Nobody likes being criticized; it just doesn’t feel good. We don’t like it, but unfortunately for those who are leaders, it is a fact of life.

To be able to respond to criticism with humility is an important life skill, which few people have. Few leaders have that skill. If we respond to criticism without careful consideration, it can easily lead to unnecessary suffering. Division, as in a church split. Broken relationships. Sin. It’s all out there.

1. Really Listen to the Criticism.
Proverbs 15:31
If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.”
It is possible there is some truth in what others say to you. So, the issue is, that we can’t be easily offended. Remember: the criticism isn't always about you. Remember: the criticism isn't always about you; it may sound like it, but it isn’t always. What can I learn from what’s being shared with me right now, this criticism?
Galatians 2:11
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.”
That’s one apostle confronting another apostle, opposing him for what he was doing. And I’m telling you right now that Peter listened! And it shows up later in Peter’s life.

David listened to Joab. In spite of the real harsh words – I think Joab was a little off-base personally, I think he was pretty harsh here. But he caught David’s ear. Joab said what needed to be said. And David listened to him without using his authority and his power to squelch him. He listened; and I think the issue for us is:

Are you secure enough in the call of Jesus in your life to listen? Because it can be hard to listen – especially hard when the same person keeps coming to you with the same complaint week after week. Maybe it isn’t the same issue, maybe it’s always just a little bit different. But here’s the key. . . there must be some truth to it. There must be something that’s driving this person to not be comfortable, either with your leadership or style of leadership or just the whole church. There’s a burr in their life and they’re trying to express it the best way that they know how.

Again, so the question is, are you secure enough to really listen to what’s being said and really listen, and then go home and let Jesus take that criticism off of you. It’s a skill that we need to learn.

2. Don’t Respond Immediately.
James 1:19
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

What happens once someone brings a criticism, is that we immediately become self-conscience. Already, we’re uncertain about things. And they bring this criticism to us, and we instantly go in self-defense. Right away, we build up a quick wall in order to protect ourselves and our emotions, is what we’re doing. And then we start talking – responding immediately to what’s being said, and sometimes we can’t stop. Then it goes from defense, to offense, then it becomes critical of the other person and it spirals out of control. So, don’t respond immediately.

David could have but didn’t eliminate Joab. He could have called the guards to take him out so that the king would never have to see him again. But he didn’t do that – he sat there: humble, contrite – because guess what? He listened and he knew that there was some truth in Joab’s words, even if they weren’t said in the right way. Honestly, it won’t always happen that way – people will say the right things but in the wrong way. Their heart might be in the right place, but they might not be able to express themselves rightly.

So listen, and don’t reply right away. Don’t get into an argument. Don’t play defense. Life is too short to get defensive.  And if they’re saying something way off base, rather than getting into it then and there, ask if you can meet with them another day later (soon) to talk it over with them.

3. Consider the Source!
Proverbs 27:9
The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.”
Recently I saw a quote that said, “Don’t take criticism from people you would never go to for advice.” It’s an issue of wisdom, and of trust.
Joab was David’s nephew, family.
Joab, for all his faults, was obviously a capable man of war and valiant on the battlefield. And he ought to be given credit for his loyalty to David for almost four decades. He was a capable, faithful warrior in service to the king. He was someone that David trusted, someone that was worth listening to. Joab also counseled David when David sinfully desired to take a census; if David had heeded Joab’s advice, he could have spared his nation the plague that befell Israel.

The source: who is talking to you?
Let me be clear, if the person says “people are saying…”
Criticisms are usually second hand, like “some folks are concerned… Some people are saying…”

It is an attempt to distort the truth. It is an attempt to conceal identities. It is an attempt to inflate the numbers. Everyone is talking about this! It’s an attempt to relay personal dissatisfaction in you. When facing anonymous criticism, you are asked to answer to ghosts. You’re really answering to no one particularly, just to ‘some people’.
Proverbs 15:2

Wise people use knowledge when they speak, but fools pour out foolishness.”

Who uses the Phrase “Some People are saying”?
1.  Gossips:  Gossip often is disguised as concern. Gossip is when we say things about someone, we won’t say to them. If you have a concern about someone that you aren’t willing to take to them, it should be forgiven or forgotten.
2.  Liars:  These are people who aren’t willing to speak the truth in love.  They twist and misuse information as a way to manipulate those they are speaking with. “Pastor, there are some people who just aren’t happy with the new service!”
“Really? Who – I’ve talked to a number of people, and I haven’t heard anything?”
“Well, some people are!
3.  Bullies:  They are famous for saying “people are saying.” They have personal and self-serving agendas. They seek to form power alliances with weak members in the church. They tend to have intense and emotional personalities. They are allowed to bully because church members will not stand up to them. They create chaos and wreak havoc.
4.  Rumor Mongers:  Did you hear??  I probably shouldn’t say anything but…  Rumor does not have a pro-social value. Rumor is intentionally malicious and socially destructive. Critical thinking is bypassed; emotional reasoning prevails. Facts are dismissed. The consequences of a rumor destroy the character of another… and that is the goal.

Proverbs 17:9 says
“…but gossiping about the sin breaks up friendships.”
How do you respond when you hear this phrase?
When you hear the “some people are saying” complaint, politely say that you are unable to respond until someone contacts you directly with their concerns. Ask them to have that person contact you directly, so that you can discuss the matters of concern personally. This is very effective because it stops the damage of this phrase.
When people are truly concerned, they will as I mentioned, come and share. You hope they do so in love, but at least you are not hearing it second-hand conjecture.
People who think they are religious but say things they should not say are just fooling themselves. Their ‘religion’ is worth nothing.”
The phrase “some people are saying”, is rarely used by anyone who has a genuine desire to share truth.  When people truly care, they honestly share, in love, whatever they are feeling.  Their intention is not to hurt or worry, but rather to initiate a conversation.
Ephesians 4:29
When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you.”

So consider the source – know who they are, why are they coming? Are they part of a group that has the same concerns? Someone in your leadership ministry? Or some one that you’ve really never had contact with before (a visitor)?

4. Never Forget You Serve an Audience of One.
Luke 4:8
“Jesus replied, ‘The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him’.”
Graham Cooke said, “We live for an Audience of One where the praises at our right hand and criticism at our left meaning nothing.” Your job is to please CHRIST, to make Him happy! And if you don’t do that, then it doesn’t matter what you do!
If you are faithfully living out the call of Jesus in your life:

- It doesn’t matter what others think of you – good or bad. You will always have people on both sides. 
- If God calls you to do something, do it for His glory and not yours.
- If you are always liked and praised, then you are not doing something right. What you are called to, do faithfully for the LORD.
- Don’t depend on pleasing people. Approval is always changing and in the grand scheme of things … doesn’t even matter. If you’re looking for approval then you need to get out of leadership – that’s not what you’re supposed to be in it for!

1 John 2:17

“And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”

5. Make sure Criticism Passes the Filter Test.
Remember what I said earlier about how Paul criticized Peter. . . and you kind of wonder, how did Peter deal with that years later, how did that play out?
In Acts 15 in Antioch some men began to teach legalism; so, the church sent Paul & Barnabas to Jerusalem.

It was there that Peter stood up and supported the teaching of Paul & Barnabas…   “These men are teaching the truth!”
I love the way Erwin McManus* says this: “Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it passes through the filter of Scripture.” If criticism passes the biblical filter, then you better repent. If it doesn’t pass the filter test, ignore it.
* TTUF offers a cautionary warning regarding Erwin McManus as he has been known to affiliate with known Emergent Church advocates.

Not everyone agrees that Joab had reason in this situation.  As I view this story in light of other scripture and in context, I think the criticism was valid. 
David needed to provide leadership and he had been failing. It was time to respond and live the calling of God in his life. Sometimes we need that in our lives; we need someone to come up to us and say, “You don’t seem to be fulfilling the calling of GOD that I know He’s placed on your life!” It’s hard to hear, but sometimes we need to be reminded of this.

When you receive criticism, check it against scripture; that’s why you don’t respond right away, because you need to verify that you don’t have a blind spot in some area. Guess what? Leaders have blind spots – sometimes we can’t see something that you’re seeing! That’s why we need a circle of leaders around us so that they can tell us what we’re not seeing.

Conclusion:
A leader is never beyond rebuke or correction, or exhortation. But I would advise you, to listen to the people who know you and love you: they’ll speak life and truth to you. Be sure you have people in your life that can speak truth and hold you accountable.
Don’t put yourself out on an island – remote, unapproachable.
There is a significant difference between helping someone improve and having a critical spirit. Biblical criticism is helpful, loving, and based on truth. It comes from love. Filter the comments with the Word!

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