This may sound like another rather odd article, so bear with me! But it seems to me that the Christian leader can be damaged just as much from a lot of criticism as from a lot of praise. Let me explain. I have written often about how any Christian who is in the public spotlight, or takes a stand and gets a bit of attention, will often be deluged with criticism.
This goes with the territory as any pastor or Christian leader well knows. It is not pleasant, and we need to guard against it. All the constant criticism and negativity you get can easily wear you out, discourage you, or even make you want to give up altogether.
So it is obvious that our opponents and our critics can be really quite problematic. But I want to suggest that all of our friends, fans and supporters can also be problematic if we are not careful. That is, we can be tempted with so much encouragement and support to think God must be really thrilled with us.
Now often he may well be. But it is always possible there are things in our life and/or ministry that God is displeased with, wants to work on, or seeks to deal with. But if we are not careful, those nudges of God’s Spirit can be drowned out by all the praise and adulation we may be getting.
Please don’t get me wrong here: it is so very helpful and edifying to have those who care about you, support you, are loyal to you, and stand with you through thick and thin to be a part of your life. They are a Godsend, and we could not easily make it without them.
What I am trying to say is this: if we do not stay humble and close to God, all the positive reinforcement from our followers and supporters – as helpful and well-meaning as they may be – may blind us to possible areas that we need to work on.
That is, we have to be careful we are not surrounded with just yes men. Real friends will sing your praises when you deserve it, but will also point out your faults and offer much needed criticism and correction when required. But if we simply have a lot of supporters who only say good things about us, it is possible to hear what they are saying, and not God.
Do you get what I am saying here? There is always the temptation for any Christian leader or public figure to judge his ministry and his standing with God with the positive feedback he gets, and with the number of supporters. How easy it is to think God must really be with you if you have a big and growing church for example.
Now, a growth in numbers and widespread interest in your church or ministry may well be an indication of God’s favour and blessing. But not always. As I have written elsewhere, we are on shaky ground if we simply look at numbers as indicators of God’s affirmation.
Plenty of cults and heretical bodies have big congregations. Plenty of false teachers have massive followings. So numbers alone is not a great way to assess whether our work is fully of God or not. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/09/thoughts-about-megachurches/
As I said in that piece:
Is church growth automatically wrong then? No. Is it automatically right? No. The truth is, numerical growth in and of itself is no measure of spirituality, or of God’s favour. Indeed, often God tells his people to reduce numbers, not expand them. Consider Gideon for example in Judges 7. But in an age obsessed with numerical growth, with success, and with material measurements of wellbeing, we may be missing out big time on what God really has in mind for his church.
My point is this: just as we may get a faulty view of our work and ministry for God based on all the critics and their many criticisms, so too we may get a faulty view based on all our fans and their words of praise. Again, I am so very thankful for those who do tell me now and then that what I do is of some help, and that I may have been a blessing.
But if I only listen to those voices, and not also try to keep my spiritual ears wide-open to what God may be trying to tell me, I can miss out on God’s best. I may settle for the praise of men but not really get – certainly in the long haul – the praise of God. So we must proceed cautiously here.
Let me at least speak for myself here. I am so grateful for all those who do give me words of encouragement, who stand by me, who support me, and certainly for those who pray for me. I would not get far without them. But I realise the ability of self-deception never fully disappears, no matter how long you might be a believer.
I can get a false sense of security in listening to all these positive words, and simply assume I must be in the centre of God’s will. “Look at all these people singing my praises and rallying around me. I must be doing something right!” Well, hopefully, but not necessarily.
At the end of the day I am accountable to God and him alone, not all my many supporters. Indeed, I often go to God and lay my entire ministry on the altar. So despite all the praise of men, I still need to constantly seek out what is the good and perfect will of God for my life.
Thus two traps must be avoided here. If no one supports you or offers you any thanks for what you do, that does not necessarily mean that God is not with you and in what you are doing. Often when we do God’s will, it will be a rather thankless task, with no one offering any support.
But the opposite can also be true: you might have zillions of people saying how wonderful you are and what great things you are doing, but that does not necessarily mean God is with you and your ministry. Plenty of false teachers and cultists have large, enthusiastic followings.
So in all things we must keep coming back to God on our knees. Yes, having faithful friends and supporters is vital. But do not let them and their words alone determine how you proceed. Always check in with God and see what he has to say. That is always a safe place to be in.