The congregation was not certain that the new pastor could do all that the previous, older pastor had done. The Pastor Search Committee decided to put him to the test. After services, everyone went out to the local lake for a picnic. After loading all of the picnic supplies into a large boat, the congregation climbed aboard and began to cross the lake to an island. Halfway across the lake a member stood up and said, "Oh no, we have forgotten the hot dogs. Someone will have to swim back and get them." Realizing he was being put to the test, the new pastor got out of the boat, walked across the water, and retrieved the hot dogs. Most of the congregation was stunned but one critic said, "See, I told you, they didn't even send us one that could swim."
Critics are everywhere. They sit so far back in the church, by the time they hear it, it's already a rumor. They weren't born again — they were born against. At the beginning of every meeting you feel like calling on them for a word of criticism just to get it over with. Their favorite TV character was Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. Their faces look like Lamentations. They always have that "I'm in pain" look. Maybe it's the side effect of having an artificial heart.
Actually, I always try to be positive with my critics: One came up to me last week and I said, "If I had two more just like you, I'd be a happy man." At first, he didn't know what to say. Then he replied, "Charles, what are you talking about? I'm always criticizing you. Why would you be happy if you had two more like me?" "Because I have twenty more like you. If only I had three, I would be a happy man!"
I wish the critics were more specific in their criticism, like: What kind of kite? What lake? Someone has said that any fool can criticize and condemn and complain, and most fools do. For every step forward, there is an equal and opposite criticism.
Many times as leaders, we feel like our organizational colors ought to be black and blue. In fact, all leaders are criticized. Lincoln and Washington, two of our greatest presidents, were the most criticized. Churchill received a standing ovation and a lady commented how flattering it must be to receive that kind of applause. "Yes," he said, "but also know that if it were my hanging, the crowd would be twice the size."
Every great endeavor has its critics. When Robert Fulton first showed off his new invention, the steamboat, skeptics were crowded on the bank yelling, "It'll never start! It'll never start!" It did. It started with a lot of clanking and groaning. As the steamboat made it's way down the river the skeptics were quiet. For one minute. Then they started shouting, "It'll never stop! It'll never stop!
What do you do with your critics? Pray that they will fry in their own grease? What about setting clever traps for them, like the guy who was so upset because his critic was always poking him in the chest. He decided to wire dynamite to his chest so that the next time he poked him, he would go up in smoke. That's not a good idea. Remember that critics who try to whittle you down are only trying to reduce you to their size. A critic is a legless man trying to teach track and field. Take the rocks thrown at you and build something. Don't be paranoid. Everybody's not out to get you. Don't quit going to football games because you think they are talking about you in the huddle. There is no coat that will insulate you from criticism. Prepare for criticism. The greater the work, the greater the criticism. Remember you only get shot at when you are close to the target.
The best way to handle critics is to remember the canal. The builder of the Panama Canal was besieged with criticism. When asked how he was going to handle the critics, he said, "With the canal." Don't get sidetracked if you are on the right track. Stay positive. One football coach says when you are run out of town, go to the head of the line and look as though you are leading a parade. And of course you cannot make everyone happy.
A new arrival in heaven was surprised to see a suggestion box along Main Street. He turned to a more seasoned resident and asked, "If everybody is supposed to happy in heaven, why is there a suggestion box?" The experienced tenant replied, "Because some people aren't really happy unless they complain."
P.S. Especially for Pastors — Speaking of heaven, I believe that all of the critics will be in one big church and they will have to rotate — pastoring each other. Why is that heaven? Because all of their former pastors will get to watch.
Our deepest sympathies go out to Charles and Penny Lowery at the loss of their two-year-old grandson, Jake Ewing, in a tragic accident, August 26, 2001. We pray that the Lord will comfort and strengthen Charles and Penny, and their daughter and son-in-law, Kasey and Brad Ewing, during these very difficult days. – Editor