We have already looked at 2 important tasks that godly leaders must be devoted to: visionary leadership and obedient action. Today, we look at no.3 – persevering and growing in the midst of opposition.
If there’s one thing that is guaranteed of godly and visionary leaders, it is that they will be attacked, complained about, spoken against, criticized unjustly and sometimes wholly despised. Thankfully, not usually all at once!
Leadership of God’s people can be challenging – just ask Moses (Numbers 11:11-12). A leader is called to walk ahead of others – which also means becoming a walking target for those behind you.
Furthermore, we know and expect opposition from the world we live in, which in our day is increasingly antagonistic and downright hostile to Christians, if not already persecuting. We can’t say we have not been warned, given Jesus’ words in John 15:18, 20:
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first…..Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” (NLT).
How should we then lead as Jesus-called leaders in this day and age? We must persevere in doing God’s will, despite the challenges outside and inside the church. What matters most is that we please God over man, to whom we are ultimately accountable (Acts 4:19-20; Galatians 1:10; Hebrews 13:17).
But let us also realize we are all yet imperfect leaders called to lead imperfect people! We see things from partial perspectives. We judge from flawed experience or prejudiced attitudes that can blind us. We may easily take offense or react to personalities, behavior and viewpoints that trigger unsavory responses. We cannot therefore take ourselves too seriously.
There is an anecdotal story of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was met on a narrow path by a Caucasian man walking in the opposite direction. The man pushed forward, glared at Tutu and said, ‘I don’t make way for gorillas.’ At which Tutu stepped aside, and retorted, ‘Ah, yes, but I do.’
Humorous reactions aside, Kingdom-leaders must grow in grace to deal with (sometimes unjust) criticism and to endure opposition. Here are 2 things I have learnt through much struggle, that has helped me deal with and grow from opposition and criticism:
- When criticized, directly or indirectly, seek God’s help not to immediately respond with commensurate anger or frustration or to defend oneself.
The fruit of the Spirit includes gentleness and self-control. We are instructed to learn to be slow to speak and to be angry (James 1:19).
The Proverbs are full of godly counsel regarding our reactions to what others do and say to us. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (see also Proverbs 15:1; 17:27). Reflect before you speak. Let silence and prayer become your default first reaction.
2 Seek the counsel and prayers of others
Leaders who try to manage criticism and opposition on their own usually end up regretting the things they do and say. I write from personal experience. I am proud and strong-willed in that way, and so it takes a lot for me to seek and ask for advice, counsel and help. But we so need the wisdom of the community of other disciples, and the readiness to receive wise instruction.
I am blessed with great counselors. My wife often speaks home-truths to me. I have had (and still do) wonderful mentors and peers who help me to see my faults and to help me be gracious in response when not in the wrong.
One lesson I have been slow to learn, is to hear out the criticism or challenge, and to consider carefully if there could be truth that I need to hear. A great suggestion I recently heard is, when criticized, to go to a trust-worthy friend, and ask this question: “Someone said this about me. Do you see this as well? Is there something to this?”
Hateful critics will seek to tear down, but godly leaders seek to build up and be peace-makers. There is no reason Jesus gives us for hurling stones back or to give as good as we get. ‘Bless, do not curse’ (Romans 12:14 and Matthew 5:44).
Pray, seek counsel, act in humility. In all things, flee to Jesus and learn from Him (Hebrews 12:3-4).