This series looks at seven things preachers never say. Last time we thought about the burden of expectation. How about this for another:
2. Both sides of negative response can really sting, that is, both criticism and apathy.
As a preacher, there are hosts of factors at play in my ministry. There are tangible and intangible costs to what I do. There is the immediate and the long-term. As a preacher, I may spend hours during the week praying for the people and preparing to preach to them. As a preacher, I may be forfeiting a number of other paths I could have walked down in life. At times I will see the positives that come from being in a preaching ministry. Believe me when I say it is one of the greatest privileges imaginable. At the same time, some negative responses really can sting.
It hurts to be criticized. It hurts when people criticize your motives or lie about you to others. It hurts when the preacher is being roasted more than the joint of beef during Sunday lunch in every household of a congregation. It hurts when people throw stones and storm out of the door. It hurts when people’s grievances seem to inevitably hit the most visible targets in the church, which tends to be those who lead and preach.
Sometimes criticism is justified. But it still hurts when instead of coming to you, those with grievances decide to broadcast their complaints to others instead. It hurts to have to always be the mature one when others are being profoundly immature. When sheep go on the attack it can really hurt!
But there is another side to negative response:
Apathy also hurts. When you pour out your heart in prayer and burn the candle at both ends in preparation, only to be met with polite apathy, it stings. The polite comments that amount to “nice sermon” when you have just given everything you had to preach it can really sting. When year after year of preaching is met with the expectation that you will just be ready to do it again next week, but without much gratitude or apparent responsiveness, that stings.
We don’t preach for human affirmation. Preachers tend to be like parents – our goal is not to be liked, it is to lovingly give what is needed by the people we love. But preachers are also like parents in that both criticism and apathy can really hurt. We preach for our audience of One, but that doesn’t give us infinitely thick skin.