Leadership is not a role for people who need the affirmation of others to feel good about themselves. Insecure people do not make good leaders.
Leaders will often be misunderstood and misrepresented. It simply goes with the territory. Those who are godly leaders do not look for or enjoy such treatment, but they learn to bear it with grace and wisdom.
This kind of mistreatment is especially difficult to endure when those you have faithfully led question your care or slander your character. More than a few leaders have thought about changing life direction when faced with this kind of unjust scrutiny and attack. I learned this lesson during my training for ministry and I am convinced it was a God-ordained experience to prepare me for a life of leadership.
After three decades of pastoral work, I’ve become convinced that this type of treatment is one of the prices of leadership — especially Christian leadership.
Considering the treatment Jesus received, we shouldn’t be too surprised.The New Testament book of Hebrews speaks of Jesus enduring hostile treatment by sinful people (Hebrews 12:3).This is mentioned for the purpose of encouraging Jesus’ followers not to grow weary and lose heart when treated this way.
I learned very early that such treatment will especially be part of the life of a leader. A leaders wife and children will also experience some measure of mistreatment. It’s simply a price one pays for spiritual leadership when following the steps of the Lord Jesus.
Reflect on seven guidelines for responding to misunderstanding and mistreatment:
1. Let God be your defender:
During a very difficult time of testing, a trusted mentor gave me invaluable counsel: “Don’t react to man, respond to God.” When being attacked, maligned and misrepresented, it is tempting to “take matters into your own hands.” Sometimes I have been guilty of doing this and I have always regretted it. God is a far better defender of my life and His ministry. The hard part is waiting for God’s timing when others seem to be “getting away” with their actions. Yet I have watched the ways of God on this matter and learned that He is able to bring low those whose hearts are exalted in arrogance. And it’s a powerful thing when God intervenes. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). Practice Psalm 62:8!
2. Distinguish the pastoral from the personal:
I have repeatedly learned that people will be angry toward me simply because they need a target for their frustrations. The reason I am the target is often because I am (in their eyes) the pastor. Assuming that I have power and influence, they target me because of the office I hold. In our culture, people like to “go to the top” when they have a complaint. They could go one office higher to Jesus, the head of the Church, but more often they head for your office! If you were “Joe normal” in the Church, you wouldn’t be under nearly as much scrutiny. But, as a pastor, such treatment goes with the territory! If you can’t take the heat—get out of the kitchen! Don’t take everything personally or you’ll go crazy.
3. Only engage in self-defense for the welfare of others:
Sometimes (as in Paul’s case with the Corinthians and those misleading them) it is important to argue for your own integrity. It appears that Paul did this only when he knew the potential risk to the spiritual stability of those under his leadership. The Church at Corinth had been invaded by false teachers who tried to drive a wedge between Paul and the Corinthian Christians. They did this to win the loyalties of the Church to themselves. They sought to discredit Paul’s life and ministry to establish their own position over the Church. To protect the Church, Paul engaged these detractors with some fiery confrontation. He always expressed hesitation about engaging in self-defense but did not shrink from it when necessary for the good of others (Read II Corinthians with this in mind).
4. Follow the example of Jesus:
The example of Jesus outlined in I Peter 2:21-23 has guided me for many years when facing mistreatment.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:21-23).
The tense of the original indicates that when Jesus endured mistreatment, he “kept entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” This offers insight into how Jesus endured the wrongful treatment during his trial and crucifixion. He was falsely accused, illegally tried, wrongfully beaten and killed. Instead of retaliating and uttering threats, he entrusted himself to the Righteous Judge of all the earth. I have tried to follow his example. Scripture reminds us that we have a High Priest who can sympathize with us in our suffering, He is merciful and faithful, even when others are not (see: Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16). I have learned to go to the throne of grace to find grace and mercy to help in my time of need.
Psalm 62:8 has been a lifeline for me. Here we are admonished to trust in God at all times and to “pour out our hearts before him.” When we do this, we find God to be a refuge for us.
5. Stay on course! Keep doing the right thing!
I Peter 4:19 brings to light the final principle I have learned. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” We cannot allow those who mistreat us to stop us from doing the right thing and ministering to others. Stay the course! Keep doing good! Part of Satan’s plan is to use others to be his accusers to discourage you from the good you are doing. We must resolve not to be consumed with the hatred others feel toward us. We must not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good (See: Romans 12:18-21). I have often instructed our congregation not to be so polarized over those who grow discontent that we fail to minister to those who humbly and gratefully receive ministry. This is a trap of the evil one! See it as it is! Refuse to let yourself be ensnared!
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:9-10).
6. Seek wise counsel:
We cannot handle trials alone. God desires to use others to encourage us when we are down. But we must seek the encouragement wisely. Be careful who you look to for support. It is not about finding those who will see things your way but finding those with the wisdom to see God’s perspective. Rest in the fact that the work belongs to God– not you! This will enable you to be more objective and more receptive to wise counsel—even if it involves admonishment for you. Keep the main ting in view—the glory of God!
7. Practice team leadership:
The New Testament envisions plural leadership for the Church. Practicing this is not only for the good of God’s Church but also for the protection of those who lead. When attacked, my fellow elders will often invite me to step back and allow them to handle matters. They have the wisdom to see that people operate with the “go to the top” mentality. Because we function as a true plurality in our leadership, we watch out for one another. A self-serving man will seek his own welfare and not the good of others. Such a man is not worthy of eldership in the Church.
By refusing people the sinful (and often prideful) pleasure of attacking me as the senior pastor, the elders show a unified front which calls people to focus on God and His Word not on a man. This is not blind loyalty but an effort to wisely protect the fellowship and those who lead it.
Share and discuss the seven guidelines with your leadership team.
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick Street
Millersville, PA. 17551