As the church I started grew, it was easy for me to give into the temptation of isolation. In my attempt to “go to the next” level, it was absolutely necessary to get out of some of the details. But isolation became a bad thing as I separated myself from real people and real problems. One of the ways this mistake manifested itself was in the way I handled criticism.
I assumed that every criticism was leveraged as an attempt to knock me down or attack the core mission of our church. Worthwhile critiques of my leadership, a decision, or a program were easily written off. There were times that I refused to listen to the people closest to me, not because of a clear calling from God, but because of a stubborn heart. It was easy to write off Godly feedback as grumbling complaints from church people, and refuse to deal with the issue. It was easy to think that people who didn’t agree with my ministry philosophy were off-base, didn’t understand the big picture or tempting me to get sideways.
In retrospect, I devalued the opinion of others. In the process of not-engaging my critics, I actually insulated myself from part of the responsibility of pastoring people.
COME DOWN FROM THE WALL
One of my favorite books in the BIble is Nehemiah, mostly because of the extremely practical leadership lessons. As Nehemiah led the rebuilding project, several of his detractors requested a meeting. Nehemiah refused to go to the meeting, sending a message that he wasn’t going to come down from the wall to engage in rhetoric. As we read the story of Nehemiah, we have the luxury of knowing the motives of Sanballat and Tobiah. The Bible says that they weren’t really interested in reconciliation or explanation…they actually wanted to keep him from completing the wall. In my experience, knowing the motives of good people who disagree with me is far more difficult. Maybe someone is trying to sidetrack me, or maybe they have a honest critique that should be heard.
Every criticism isn’t a call to “come down from the wall.” Every complaint isn’t an insult to the mission. I used a leadership principle from the book of Nehemiah as an excuse not to meet with people that needed (or deserved) my time. Nehemiah was right, but you can’t eat, sleep and do life entirely on the wall.
As a leader, you are going to set the direction for your organization. And there will undoubtedly be good people who do not agree with that direction. Part of your job is to walk the tightrope between focusing your organization on it’s mission and walking hand-in-hand with people who disagree with you.
Every well-intentioned Christian who wants to meet with the pastor isn’t a distraction from Satan. As a leader, be careful not to assume that people who disagree with your direction have an ulterior motive or alternate agenda. Sometimes, well-meaning people disagree, and while you may retain the necessary ability to make the ultimate decision, their opinion still matters. People who disagree with me aren’t sinister and I will refuse to become cynical towards anyone who questions my decision.
I’m not going to let critics dictate my calendar or communication, but I’m not going to assume that everyone who disagrees with me is a distraction intended to sidetrack me from what’s truly important. Confrontation isn’t always a distraction, as people in the Bible frequently altered their course of action based on the confrontation from another person. After all, I’m not the only one capable of responding to God’s voice.
I was an arrogant leader because I assumed that I knew what was best in every situation and refused to listen (and take) the advice of people wiser than me. Refusing to listen to critics wasn’t a sign of strength or focus, it was an attempt to isolate and insulate myself from the very people I needed to lead.
I’m surely going to mess this up again, and living in balance here is extremely difficult. But I’m going to try and do better.