Self-Defense: A Pastoral Art Form

  No — It is a fair criticism!

The heading reflects what is way too often a pattern of response to fair and just criticism.

Rather than humility, in response to what is legitimate criticism (and there is legitimate criticism), the ministry leader or pastor defends the undefendable!

There are a variety of “self-defense schools” and approaches. Nevertheless, they all thrive because of the lack of humility and the inability to give fair weight to the criticism and instead go after the person who offered it. Without listing them, we all know what that looks like and the typical words used to deflect from the failure — We used some ourselves!

Yes . . . .

  • Leadership does mean that there will be criticism. 
  • Indeed, if you are doing anything that matters, you will hit some roadblocks.
  • Without doubt, Satan is alive and well.
  • No one is perfect — What a cover story that statement is, and how often it has been used to hide behind!  We will all make mistakes — and some are serious and tragic ones (and then there is even more reason for humility).

But some mistakes and problems would require just some honesty and a little humility to resolve or make a difference. But, sad to say, as a retired pastor, they are in short supply when it comes to ministries and the local church. 

The proof for that statement, and my headline, is all too clearly on display over the past year and a half during Covid-19. Just peruse the numerous articles that speak about the decline in church attendance across the board of Bible-believing ministries.  It is jarring!  

Some terrible decisions, actions, and comments have been made.  Too often, following the criticism of those decisions and actions, there was little humility.  As so many posts and articles state, many are not coming back!  Not because of Covid-19, but because of the actions, decisions, or lack of action by ministry leaders and pastors during Covid, and an absence of humbleness!

Some problems in ministry and local churches are unforced errors. What happened didn’t need to happen! It happened because the pastor failed, and sometimes woefully failed in this-or-that decision or action. The situation would have been different were it not for the decision and action of the CEO of a ministry or the Senior Pastor.

 “You blew it!
You created the situation by what you said, did, or decided!
Stop blaming others, deflection, claiming you are the one hurt or injured!”

Accepting responsibility is replaced by going to the art form of self-defense. Disingenuous, shallow, and obviously defensive excuses are made to “explain” and excuse a terrible decision, wording, or action. [1]

Regrettably, the art form is more obvious to the listeners than most ministry leaders or pastors fully grasp.  Some ministry leaders and pastors actually believe that others believe what they are selling! [2]. No, those listening get it! [3] The explanation is strained, doubtful, flimsy, implausible, and/or absurd.  The action or decision is indefensible, while trying to be defended!

No, God’s people understand what is being said, and are not buying into the “explanation!”

√ Humility is what people buy into!

That is what they admire and respect.

Being humble is what is preached from the pulpit.

. . . . 

But that also takes honesty — with yourself and with others!

1. Yes — Been there — Done it! We all have. But have we grown up and out of it to where we can speak truth in our hearts — Psalm 15:2, and to where we can own our failures!

2. One of the most obvious and oft-repeated is something like this . . . . 

“We are not going to have services today-tonight-midweek because we want to give you an opportunity to spend time as a family.”

The fact is, just turning off the TV or spending less time on social media would accomplish that goal and have other benefits as well! We all know it is merely an excuse not to have another service and may even involve the leaderships’ desire to not prepare a message for probably such a small group of people who would still be there — yes, sad.

3. Those listening get it, even if they themselves find a justification in the excuse. They may have been part of the decision, failure, mistake, action, and rather than just saying — “We were wrong as well!” — and refusing to go along with the excuse-making, find some comfort in the explanation or excuse!  But most still know it is an excuse — and wince a little when it is repeated!

Or, they themselves may recall the failure in their own lives in the past, and instead of pointing the finger at themselves for such a tragic error in judgment or action, they find some solace in the explanations.  We all like to think more highly of ourselves than is true!  We are not as good as we think we are — as husbands, dads, parents, children, or pastors!

No, we need to come to grips with those failures and mistakes and admit we should have and could have gone at it differently than we did. There is a name for that — it is the word “confession.”

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