Responding to Insults

26 Jul

Insults. If you are in the ministry get ready for them. I’m not talking about insults from the community. It’s not the watching world that usually gets to us. Insults from those within your congregation are the ones that will bother you the most. I remember vividly my first insult. I had just started preaching. I think it was my third sermon. At my home church it was the custom of the preacher to stand at the front door and speak to folks as they left. A cute little girl walked up to me and said “My mom says you’ll learn to preach one day!” As Rose Mary’s baby departed I resisted the strong desire to remind her mother of what an awful job she was doing as a parent. I would be lying if I said that remark didn’t hurt. I quickly learned that if I was going to continue in ministry I had better be prepared for snarky comments, insults and unfriendly sarcasm. Responding to insulting people is something we must learn to do. Here are a few examples of insults and how you can respond.
1. The sermon insult. It’s too long, too short, too shallow, too deep, too funny, too serious, too convicting, too controversial, etc. I think you get the picture. It is likely that if you are getting insults you are also getting compliments. File those compliments away in your mind. When someone says your sermons are “too” something reach into your compliment file. Say something like “I know that was a controversial sermon but there was a sister here today who shared that God spoke right to her heart through the sermon.” You don’t have to use the person’s name but it is ok to share with others how God is speaking through your sermons.
2. The dream job insult. “It must be nice to only work two days a week!” I generally respond to that one with “Here’s five bucks. Go get a new joke book.” Well, that’s how it works in my fantasies. Or I want to say something like “I’ll tell you how it feels to work two days a week if you tell me how it feels to be a jerk seven days a week.” But that’s not kind. We can’t do that. I would encourage you to keep up with what you do. There are times that I work 17-18 days in a row without a day off. I tell my deacons when I do. When assaulted with snarky comments I explain how difficult it is to prepare messages, preach funerals, counsel the hurting, minister to the needy, etc. I use specific examples of things that have been going on in my life. I try and turn the insult into a conversation about all that we in the ministry do. Sometimes I say “Would you like to trade places for a week?” I have never had a person agree to do that.
3. The comparison insult. Ministry leaders are often compared to others in the ministry. It is often a person who held our position in the church before we arrived. Sometimes it is a high profile leader in the public eye. Regardless of who we are compared to, inevitably we will be compared to others. It isn’t fair and often the comparison isn’t accurate. I have found with a little bit of statistical study we often find we are doing a better job than those we are compared to. Numerically anyway. Don’t take the comparison insult too seriously. It is usually the result of an emotional connection a church member had/has with a ministry leader. If you are constantly being compared to a previous staff member momentarily embrace it. Speak with those who are constantly comparing you. If you’d like, you can connect with the former staff member. Start a friendship if possible. Find out what they did that worked/didn’t work. You may even discover that the previous staff member was also compared to a predecessor. And you will love the look on the faces of those comparing you when you ask for the phone number of the one you are being compared to!
It is my practice to call former pastors before I take a church. I ask them a list of questions and try and get their sincere opinion about the church. It’s fun to watch church members as you begin to discuss your lunch date or telephone call with the former pastor.
If I had to summarize this blog I would say this: Engage the insulter. It works. Don’t just let them insult you and walk away. Talk to them. Encourage them to elaborate. Reveal contradictions. Remind them of what God is doing in the lives of other people.
In conclusion I would like to add that criticism should be taken seriously. God uses others to reveal our weaknesses. It could be that our insulter is trying to injure us but God uses them to instruct us. When our insulters are right it is a good practice to let them know it. Once again, engage the insulter. You’ll be glad you did….but they may not.

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7 Responses to “Responding to Insults”

  1. Recent Pastor July 26, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    That’s one thing I didn’t have to deal with so much. But the insults I did receive did hurt. Thanks for sharing this — some good ways to handle the inevitable!

  2. preacherkeith July 26, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Reblogged this on preacherkeith's Blog and commented:
    I only wish I had written this.

  3. Pat Pope July 26, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Insults were the worst and from some of the “pillars” of the church, no less. I can remember one man who was over benevolence for whom tact was not his strong suit, saying about a worship set that he didn’t like, “Prisoners in jail get better” and “I’m glad I didn’t bring anyone with me”. I mean, really? People like this, you learn that for them church is more about performance and outward adornment than true spirituality.

  4. Roberta Brosius July 26, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    I admire the courage and control you are using to respond to insults. As a recovering pastor’s wife, I remember how the insults hurt my husband.

  5. william July 27, 2014 at 2:39 am #

    What if your Pastor is elequent but is teaching you are saved by your performance

  6. Don Ruhl July 28, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    What I think is interesting, is that people would not make those three insults of Jesus, or of the apostles, or of the prophets. People might have done that then, but people would not do it now. Yet, if we are doing what Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets did, how can people insult what we do? They do not realize what they do when they say such things.

  7. john Morahan (@funds4nfp) September 23, 2014 at 1:37 am #

    One dear ;lady who, excited by the prospect that her son might come to Church after many years away, said ” so, let me know when we have a good speaker, and I will let him know”

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