Sunday, June 4, 2023
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When Sheep Bite

“If I could wish one thing for Christian leaders, it would be a thicker skin.”

That was some of the wisest counsel I ever received. It came early in my ministry.

Members of flocks might wish shepherds were more sensitive to their needs. But the reality is, when shepherds find their sheep can bite like wolves, they easily become too defensive to act in their own best interests, let alone that of their flocks. This is true not only of pastors, but Christian leaders of all sorts.

I wrote recently about our culture of cynicism. Christian leaders expect to be ridiculed outside the fold, but when it happens on the inside it can lead to alienation and burnout.

Scripture has much to say about cynicism. From the very beginning cynicism has been one of the adversary’s most effective tools. You can hear the mocking tone in the serpent’s question of Adam and Eve: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” The serpent skillfully makes God’s command seems utterly ridiculous, leading the woman to caricature God’s command further by adding something God did not say, “neither shall you touch it” (Gen. 3:1-3).

Cynicism reduces and reframes truth so we can more easily dismiss it and willfully go our own way. All of Adam and Eve’s subsequent sons and daughters have paid dearly for the serpent’s cynical bite into their innocence.

What can a leader do?

We must remember it was cynicism that hung a blameless savior on the cross, not realizing this “King of the Jews” could have stopped the process at any time. We who lead should not be taken aback when Christian ministry provokes echoes of that same cynicism.

We must not be surprised when cynicism surfaces within our own Christian circles. Our sheep, like us, are in process, are being transformed. Perhaps one of the most important lessons of the book of Acts is that sin, failure, rebuke and rebellion are the realities of the Christian church. God wants to use these things in the life of the church to help us all grow. Cynicism tries to shortcut that process and deny the truth.

In these times in which we live, Christian leaders must move counter to the tide. Proverbs warns repeatedly that anyone who takes on mockers “invites insults.” Mockers “resent correction, so they avoid the wise” (Prov. 9:7, 15:12). It is part of a leader’s job to challenge a culture of cynicism and to take the guff for it. The leader must set the pace and nurture a mutually supportive atmosphere within the ministry by resisting the temptation to ridicule and mock. Humor is a powerful tool in a leader’s hands. A few wry words can reduce tension and ease the friction in the room. Yet that humor can easily be used at others’ expense.

In the words of one of the world’s greatest leaders, “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need – words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you” (Eph. 4:29 NCV).

David Goodman
David Goodmanhttp://www.entrust4.org/about/staff/goodman
David was born on the mission field in Cameroon, Africa, spending his childhood in the Central African Republic, so he understands missionary life by personal experience. He and his wife, Nancy, have been married for 41 years and have three adult children. He has served in a variety of pastoral positions in local churches, and was for thirteen years the senior pastor of Winnetka Bible Church in Winnetka, Illinois. Not only has he worked in local churches, he has also been the International Vice President of T-Net International where he equipped and mobilized U.S. pastors to train pastor trainers in countries throughout the world. David also served as Senior Associate: Strategic Enterprise for TOPIC (Trainers of Pastors International Coalition) just before coming to Entrust. In September 2009, David assumed the role of President at Entrust, headquartered in Colorado Springs, CO. He is called to Entrust to serve a creative, collaborative ministry team that glorifies God in producing pastors and church leaders who lead others to fullness of life in Christ. David and Nancy enjoy the adventure of exploring new places, new ideas and other cultures. Entrust has been equipping servant-leaders for over 30 years by building training systems that are locally sustainable from the start. These systems are built with transferability in mind so that the training multiplies (2 Tim. 2:2)—taking seriously the fact that the church in parts of the world is growing faster than the leadership. Entrust reaches out to church leaders where the need is greatest. We currently serve in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and are pursuing opportunities in East Asia, India and Latin America.

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