How to Persevere Under Criticism

by Mike Shannon 

I once saw a sign posted in a business that said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  That is good advice for anyone, but especially good advice for those who work in the church.  Many factors can potentially discourage us in church work.  There are many times we are prone to give up, but God’s work requires staying power.  Nehemiah knew that.  Nehemiah had staying power.

Sometimes we are filled with good intentions.  We begin a job, but when the boring and tedious parts come we walk away.  This is, I suppose, a common human failing.  However, our character is developed not in the exciting times but in the routine times.  The job itself can become discouraging, but if it needs to be done, and it is a job God has commanded, then we must persist. 

Sometimes it is not the boring part of the job, but the challenging parts that engender discouragement.  Critics often threaten us.  Nehemiah had such a critic in a man known as Sanballat, along with his co-critics Tobiah and Geshem.  It was not long after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls that Sanballat and company resisted him fiercely; they even laughed in his face.  He ridiculed those who worked with Nehemiah.  Not only did Sandballat conclude the job was impossible, he mocked those who tried to accomplish it, calling them “feeble.”  Their critics suggested that a fox could knock the wall down.  They tried to distract Nehemiah with requests for meetings.  They spread slander about Nehemiah and suggested nefarious motives, once even claiming he was trying to set himself up as king.  I suppose every church has a Sanballat.  When nothing else worked he resorted to threats, suggesting something bad just might happen, but Nehemiah simply would not relent.  When Sanballat asked Nehemiah to come and consult with him, Nehemiah calmly, but firmly, replied, “I can’t come down from this great work” (Neh. 6:3).

Critics are too often allowed to control the agenda.  The harshest critic, of course, is usually the one who has never accomplished anything.  The critic is free to find fault with everything because he/she has never personally taken the risk of trying and failing.  Generally, you will find that critics are rarely doers and doers are rarely critics.  We should be humble enough listen to genuine feedback, particularly if it comes from those who are wise, but we should never let the pathological critic force us to come down from a great work.

We can change direction, change strategies, change tactics, but we must persist in our mission.  Remember when Paul came to Corinth, he had many reasons to quit.  He was discouraged, lonely, in poor health, and faced sharp criticism.  In the midst of that discouragement God promised Paul that he was with him.  God sent him people to help him deal with his great task, and a great church was built in Corinth.  Since God does not quit on us, we don’t have to quit in His work. 

We must expect the discouragers to come, but we must be strong enough to resist their influence.  In spite of the chronic critics, we can succeed if we are determined God’s work should, can, and will be done.  No doubt, most of the jobs we will take on are not nearly as challenging as building the city wall in Jerusalem.  Think of what we could do if we just had a little staying power. 

Worst Communion Devotion Ever? (Pt. 2)

by Billy Strother

I am often asked by leaders, “How does one lead an effective communion devotion?” 

Just as there is no one way to take communion (glass or plastic communion cups are both good options; before or after the sermon are equally optional; there is no company biblically-mandated from which to order communion bread or juice), there is no one biblical way to offer a communion devotion.

But, since it is the weekly practice for most of us, I offer a few suggestions which may help someone asking you that question.

  1. Open with the mechanics of taking communion in your service. 
    Many will end their devotion talking about how to take communion, or never mention the mechanics at all.  Even mature church visitors may come from a church which does it differently.  Opening with “here is how we take communion” puts visitors at ease.  It also implicitly communicates “we want and expect visitors to be here” to the congregation.  Sharing the mechanics after the devotion breaks the dynamic spiritual flow of the devotion into prayer.  Share the mechanics first – holding elements or taking them when passed, walking forward to tables, etc.
  1. Prepare hearts, not heads, for communion. 
    The purpose of the devotion is to orient the hearts of those in attendance to a focus on partaking of communion.  The devotion should simply arrest the attention of those in corporate worship and then point their hearts to the elements on the Lord’s table, symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, the sweet and terrible sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross.  One cannot worthily examine themselves unless they take a fresh look at the cross.
  1. Retell a brief story or anecdote that’s personal or biblical. 
    People love stories.  I have noticed through the years that anytime I say, “that reminds me of a story,” that no matter how boring my sermon has been, people will give it another chance.  Two minutes is enough time to tell a brief personal story well.  It is enough time to retell a biblical story.  It is enough time to tell someone else’s story.  Anyone can ramble on forever.  It takes real work to hone a story down to the memorable.  Let’s face it, there is only so much shared time for a worship service in our culture.  Like it or not, that is the reality.  The two-fold purpose of the communion devotion is:  1) to arrest audience attention; and 2) to put Jesus’ work on the Cross in the spotlight.
  1. Anchor your story to the Bible. 
    Sincerely, your communion devotion need not be tethered to the preacher’s sermon text for the day.  But your communion devotion is well-served connected to a verse or two of Scripture (and not a long text—well, because of the time restraint we are under in our culture, if we desire to have a sincere influence for Jesus).
  1. Take it all to The Cross. 
    I have heard communion devotions which never mentioned Jesus or the cross or the elements.  That might be a devotion, but it is not a communion devotion.  An effective communion devotion takes our hearts directly to the symbols of the cross.
  1. Remember to pray for the elements and the hearts taking them. 
    More than once I have heard someone say, “I got so nervous, I forgot to pray!”  The small prayer at the end of the Communion devotion builds a significant bridge between people’s hearts and the symbols on the Lord’s table. 

Are you intentionally leading communion devotions as a church leader?  Speaking for myself, without a specific and deliberate plan, my next communion devotion is capable of becoming “The Worst Communion Devotion Ever.”

Worst Communion Devotion Ever? (Pt 1)

by Billy Strother

As a professor and preacher for over three decades, I have heard a great many devotions around the Lord’s Table.  I have given a few myself.  Mostly though, when preaching, I am a Sunday spiritual consumer when it comes to the devotion at the table, listening to other leaders. 
 
I have heard all kinds of communion devotions:  some so long they rivaled the length of the sermon; some which brought a tear to my eye; some spoken in a language foreign to me, but which still moved my heart; some which never mentioned Jesus or the cross, and some which really opened my heart to the moment of participating in table fellowship with the Lord in the moment. 
 
I do not remember the exact words of the best communion devotions I have heard over the years; simply that they opened my heart for the moment of table fellowship. 
 
But I do remember the worst communion devotion I ever heard.
 
In the fall of 1988, just minutes before my sermon, the leader selected to lead the communion devotion stood up at the microphone and cleared his throat.  The transcript of that devotion has been forever seared into my mind:
 
“Folks, communion is like that new number one song I just heard on popular radio by Bobby McFerrin.  When it comes to communion, like Bobby sings, ‘Don’t worry, be happy!’  That is what communion is all about.  The Lord does not want us to worry and he wants us to be happy.  Let’s pray!” 
 
And he did … pray.  I just do not remember the prayer at all; everyone was a little shell-shocked!  While the song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” won three Grammy Awards in 1989 (Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance), it really is about as antithetical to self-examination as one can get. 

Paul told us explicitly in 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 how we ought to approach the Table, and in verses 28 and 31, he specifically tells us to “examine ourselves.” 
 
That Sunday, I discovered that not all communion devotions are created equal.  The humble communion devotion is a big spiritual event.
 
I am often asked by leaders, “How does one lead an effective communion devotion?” 

We’ll explore that in depth next week.

Elders Cast Vision

by David Roadcup 

The ability to craft and utilize a compelling vision is one of the cornerstones in the life of an effective church.  

What is vision?  It is developing the ability to see what is not yet there.  It is seeing things as they could be through God’s eyes.  It is looking beyond where our church is at the present and asking, “What does God want to see happen in the life of our church in the future?”  The ability to proactively move to develop a workable vision and then communicate that vision to your congregation members, leading them to buy into that vision, is a crucial step to moving a church forward.  

A very important question:  What part does an elder play in determining the vision of a church?

First, we must ask another question: Who determines the vision of a congregation?  There can be a variety of views on this issue.  It is only logical to respond to this question in this manner:  in most cases the lead minister (senior minister, preaching minister, etc.) of the organization should be the “tip of the spear” when it comes to vision casting.  A good lead minister will always seek the Lord in prayer for the vision for his church.  In addition to prayer, the lead minister should consult with his staff and the elder team when setting the vision.  This process should always be a collaborative process initiated by the Lead Minister.  All key leadership individuals (paid pastoral staff and elders) should have input into the development of the stated, written and communicated vision.  

In bringing input and ideas to the vision casting table, let me encourage every elder to keep the following in mind:

  1. Vision should be determined through the direction of the Word of God and prayer.  All we strive to accomplish should be directed by God’s Word and prayer.  We know from Scripture that God’s will is very clear about our ultimate vision.  The Great Commission (Matt.28:18-20) indicates that our ultimate goal is to win those who are lost and outside of Christ, to immerse them and nurture them to a healthy level of spiritual maturity.  This work is to be done here at home and around the world in every country, city and village.  It is as clear as that.  Winning the lost and nurturing the saved, here at home and around the world, is our primary objective. 
  2. Key leaders create and agree on the vision.  The Lead Minister propels this effort.  He must lead in this area.  But as an elder, know that you should be able and encouraged to make a contribution to this process.  Here is an effective question that every elder should ask himself when vision-casting: If money were no object (if a church had all the money it needed – an unlimited supply), what would you like to see happen in your church?  What would we do when it comes to evangelism?  What would we do in terms of our youth ministries?  What would we do when considering our missions outreach and urban evangelism?  What would we do for the marriages in our congregation?  in other words, if the sky was the limit, where would we like to see our church in 5 years if we were truly accomplishing our vision and mission?  I truly believe that as the leadership team of the church, we should dream big!  We should ask the Lord to show up powerfully – undeniably – in our church.  
  3. We communicate the vision to the church.  The vision we believe God has given us for our church then needs to be communicated to the body through a series of sermons, the church’s bulletins, newsletters, etc.  We make sure that everyone in the church knows the vision of the church and will come on board in executing that vision through our staff, finances, prayers, buildings and ministries.  

Elders, as a main part of the leadership team, should participate in the vision casting of their church.  THrough prayer and collaboration, a Holy Spirit led vision can be clarified and accomplished!