How should we face criticism and attack in our ministry?
I just completed preaching through Nehemiah as part of an interim pastorate. We often recite the lessons of leadership learned from Nehemiah, and rightfully so, but something more specific struck me this time: how he reacted to criticism and attack. Nehemiah faced an extremely difficult context with enemies who did not want the people of God to focus upon the work of Yahweh.
In Nehemiah 4, these opponents were so angry and threatened by the building taking place in Jerusalem, they began to mock and question everything this leader was doing to guide the people of God to fulfill the Lord’s purpose. They did not question him privately with the hope of constructive criticism but in front of “brethren and the army of Samaria” (v. 2). All with a spirit of condemnation and the hope of failure.
Nehemiah would have none of it. He would not fall prey to or be distracted by their attacks and mocking. He was a faithful man of prayer who sought obedience to the Word of the Lord and understood his calling above all.
Nehemiah prayed for the Lord to remember them and protect them as they focused, worked hard in unity, and made great progress. “So, we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (v. 6). This progress pushed their opponents to become even more furious and to conspire together to attack and distract them from their God-appointed work.
And sadly, there were even those among Nehemiah’s own people who thought the task was too great, too difficult, and feared what the outsiders had to say and would do. They felt overwhelmed and were distracted from their called mission (v. 10-12).
Nehemiah knew he needed to strengthen the faith of his people. He equipped them and reminded them of their true source of power. He challenged them, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses” (v. 14). The people of God then all returned to focusing on the work of the Lord, and their enemies realized, when they could not draw their attention away, their plots had failed.
Persistence of Critics
But enemies and critics rarely give up that easily. In chapter 6, they then sought to tempt Nehemiah to stop his work. They wanted to distract him from his work by coming down and debating with him. Hoping to do whatever they could to stop the work of the Lord, they were persistent and sent message after message, asking Nehemiah to come down, sit with them, and waste time debating what they pretended they sought to discuss. They really just sought to attack, slow his work, and possibly even destroy him.
Again, the man of God would not be tempted by their trap. Nehemiah responds by asking, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (6:3) There was no time to leave the pressing work of the Lord to go down to them.
When they recognized they could not goad him into a private debate with them, they went public and threatened him, seeking to turn public opinion against him. They sent an open letter that was meant to be read by the other leaders and people. They accused Nehemiah of corrupt desires and attributed false motives in hopes of discrediting him and getting him removed.
Responding to Critics with Truth
But Nehemiah knew how to respond. He responded with the truth! When we speak the truth, God can be glorified and our fear of man can be replaced by our fear of Him. He responded, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.” For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” (6:9)
And God’s people moved forward, completed the work of the Lord, and thwarted their enemies’ plans. “So, the wall was finished…And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.” (6:15-16)
Nehemiah’s enemies sought to discredit, intimidate, and frighten. This man of prayer, however, saw through them and their tactics. He would not be distracted from the calling and purpose to which God had called him. That calling defined him. He knew why he was sent there and doggedly pursued that purpose. In the end, they all recognized God had done this work.
Perseverance of the Faithful
People around the world connected to our Global Theological Initiative, call me “The Bear.” Some think it is because of my appearance or personality, but that is not it at all, or at least, all of it. Others assume it is because I was raised in the Bear Claw Valley along the Bear Claw Creek, or went to Baylor, or once wrestled a wild bear back in Oklahoma—all of which are true—but still not the reason. It is because of a quote by missionary William Carey. “Although [Carey] faced almost insurmountable trials during his forty-year missionary career, he demonstrated a dogged determination to succeed. His secret? ‘I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.’”
A grizzly bear has one of the most powerful noses of any North American mammal. He can track his prey from miles away. His sense of smell is so powerful he just keeps tracking and plodding along. He relentlessly keeps coming for miles and miles. Nothing can stop him. One might never know he is catching you, but one night he shows up.
We will “persevere in any definite pursuit” and keep plodding forward in Great Commission fulfillment no matter what the enemy does or says. We have and are training thousands of positioned leaders around the world, in dozens of nations and hundreds of cities. Many of them live in challenging but incredibly strategic places. We equip vetted trainers of the current and future leaders of the global church.
We will not be intimidated, distracted, deterred, or drawn away by the messages of our enemy who seeks to stop the work of God. We never stop pushing forward. Like Nehemiah, we remain focused, stacking one rock at a time, and finding more. The walls will be built, and the work will continue.
There is too much at stake. The global church is at stake. The lost of this world are at stake, and we cannot reach them alone. We must work together with our brothers and sisters as fellow members of the global Body of Christ. We must seek the glory of God and strive to redeem the nations, not the glory of man, or to appease those who wish we would leave the work God has for us. Politics and pandemics cannot define us; God’s Word and Will must do that.
Sorry, enemy, I believe we will just remain focused and keep plodding forward in the worship and work of our King Jesus!
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 Ruth Tucker, quoting William Carey, A Biography by Mary Drewery. Jerusalem to Irian Jaya 2nd. ed, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 122