Criticism is a hard thing to deal with. This past week as I was digging through some old files on my computer I found a file that I had labeled “problems.” I currently have a paper file labeled the same in my desk drawer where complaint letters are kept. Thankfully it doesn’t have too many letters in it…yet.
Going back to the other day, I knew that I shouldn’t open the file and look inside, but curiosity got the better of me and I did. Inside I found some letters from when I was a pastor in California. The memories of those occasions had mercifully faded, but the letters instantly brought back those difficult days.
As I reviewed the contents, I could feel myself growing anxious as I repeated in my mind the answers to the harsh and unfair things written in them. Although there may have been small bits of truth sprinkled throughout, these letters represented the worst of the problem issues in my ministry.
You see, whenever someone has come to me with an issue, although it would be easier to push off the person by ignoring them, or tell myself that I know better because God has called me as the pastor of the church, I know that this would be foolish. I have tried to give everyone a hearing who comes and brings a complaint—and often I have had to humble myself and ask forgiveness when I have been wrong. Sometimes I am partially wrong or there has been a misunderstanding. If that is the case, I then have an opportunity to set things right and correct the error-either in them or myself, or both of us.
But these files I have often marked times when a person had come with sinful intent in their heart. They may have been bitter, sinfully angry, or even divisive. Many times they may have also been too cowardly to even speak to me personally and had emailed their complaint. I kept those emails and letters as a record of their words in case the issues needed to be further addressed with discipline, or maybe several meetings so that we could work through the underlying issues that are sometimes at the root of the problems.
The old files reminded me of something else. I am reminded in times when venom has been spewed at me by those who at one time professed to love me and the church, that it is possible—even as a Christian—to become so bitter and angry that we become a pawn in the hands of our enemy. He uses such embittered Christians to sow discord and division in Christ’s Church.
Not every complaint or criticism should be viewed in this way. But when we have truthfully evaluated the complaints brought to us and see that the heart of the complainer has succumbed to the root of bitterness, we must put aside the complaint, leaving it to the Lord. And we must guard our own hearts against becoming bitter ourselves. Instead we must pray that the Lord would free our embittered brethren from their anger, and we must long to see the day when we will be reconciled—whether in this life or the life to come.