I’ve written recently about how African pastors I met have been courageously speaking without being scared to offend politically powerful people within their congregation (Chinese version here). I want to follow up with a blog about situations when you speak truth and offend others. These days, you almost can’t preach anything dealing with serious issues without offending somebody. I was called plenty of names in my time as a preacher of the church, sometimes blatant to my face. Even the way you dress, you look or you speak, can bother somebody. Sick people have fragile emotions. If you travel the globe as often as I do speaking in different contexts, cultures and denominations, you’d get backlashes in multiples. Of course, the nasty comments from the annoying grapevine that eventually leak back to us also can discourage. Besides being reminded of the sinful brokenness of Christians (yes, even Christians and sometimes especially Christians), some can wallow in that discouragement for a bit too long. Here’s some good news to help you cope.
When faced with criticism, the first thing we often do is to look at what we did realistically. That’s best done on a Monday or a Tuesday after the Sunday sermon. Some may take longer. After our honest examination of the content and delivery, if we’re still fine with what we did, we should focus on a few truths that’s sure to help us to grow a bit thicker skin. First, someone else always has it worse off than you. Think about church history. John Knox the great Scottish reformer was exiled for speaking the truth, but he never shied away from speaking the truth even with the queen attending his church. Back in the day of John Chrysostom, people could tell about the theological orientation and spiritual health of the church by whether Chrysostom was in exile or not. Pope Leo put a price on Martin Luther’s head. Even now, people in various parts of the world are murdered and raped for speaking and believing the truth. These thoughts should make our annoyance seem trivial. Second, you aren’t called to be popular. Truth isn’t a popularity contest. It’s infused with properly nuanced questions and proper solutions, whether people enjoy the questions or adopt the solution or not. At the end of the day, courage is gained through having an accurate big picture. If we don’t want to be criticized, then either speak in mundane topics that entertain rather than change or just stop speaking altogether.
Sometimes, when we put things into perspective, it’ll give us the strength to face whatever critics throw at us in the coming days. I hope my readers find that strength.