I had a strange encounter yesterday.
First a little background: About 5 years ago, a new family showed up at our church, having left their church across town. The husband/father was quite outspoken. I recall how he dominated the conversation in our membership classes, even making suggestions and observations that were critical of our method of operation. Because I did not want to make the situation more uncomfortable, I did not address it at the time. After about 6 weeks of attending, he requested a meeting with me in my office. In that meeting, he presented his resume and a long list of reasons why I should hire him to serve on our staff. Of course, my decision would not affect their decision regarding attending our church – God had brought them here. When I explained that we would not be hiring him, he left the office and I never saw him or heard from him again – until yesterday.
I noticed the family in our 11:00 service yesterday. As soon as the service was over, he made his way to me and began explaining who he was. I already knew. With a bit of fanfare, he brought his wife over and reintroduced her. He called his daughter and her boyfriend over. He said, “We have left our church and are now church shopping. I thought we’d give you a try”. And then he said, “I enjoyed your message but you left some things out…” He proceeded to point out what I didn’t say that I should have, how I omitted several points that revealed that I was overlooking some very important principles for the church. I could feel my blood beginning to boil.
I am open to criticism, in fact, constructive criticism is one of the greatest gifts God gives to leaders. But I need to hear from people who are invested in the work with me.
I stopped the man and said, “Let me get this straight. You haven’t been here in many years and you walk in the door telling me what I should preach?”. His answer: “Absolutely!”.
It was at that moment that God gave me an extra measure of grace. Rather than doing something I would have felt good about at the time but regretted later, I took a deep breath. I confess, I was really angry – but I restrained myself. I simply said, “I reject that” and I walked away. I went to talk with some other people.
I can think of times in the past when we were so desperate for new people in the church that I may have put up with that kind of behavior.
I know of times that I wouldn’t have said anything because I did not want to be rude.
I certainly know of times when I would have been much more aggressive in my response.
But I passed this test. And we don’t have to tolerate this kind of stuff in the church. It feels good to know that.
I am betting that this family will continue their church shopping.