Church Planting, Leadership, Pastors

Handling Criticism

It’s been eleven months since we launched weekly worship services, and One Church has grown from three people to 200. Overall, the process has been one blessing after another with changed lives, growth, and exciting local and global missions. God has been more than faithful to us.

It’s also true that one of my biggest emotional adjustments since planting One Church has been adjusting to the level of criticism.

I’m sharing this post for two kinds of people:

  1. Leaders who are considering starting something
  2. Church planters and other leaders who are discouraged

Whenever you hear stories of growth, and everything looks rosy, you should know that those stories usually do not include the continual, daily struggles that occur simultaneously with the growth. Some planters were associate pastors previously, and the associate pastor is the most popular person in the world. Once, you’re in the lead role, look out!

People who know me, know that I’m pretty much a mild mannered Clark Kent kind of guy. I’m a huge nerd. I downplay my family’s financial needs and give myself pay cuts to save money in the church budget. My family has sold items that were dear to us in order to pay our bills. I’m usually too nice, and here is the reality:

  • In the past year, I have been called more names than in junior high and high school combined.
  • I have been accused of heresy several times.
  • 25 people left the church after one sermon they didn’t like.
  • One month after launching, one guy told me I’m leading people to hell.
  • A Young Earth Creationist ended his final email to me like this, “I have issued the warning I was instructed to give you. Now I shake the dust from my garments.”

That was before Thanksgiving.

Now, in the past three months, criticism has become a weekly reality for me. Every single week now there are one or more people who express to me that they are not happy about something in the church, usually something to do with me. It may be criticism of a sermon. It may be that they don’t like something about the music. They not-so-secretly want to control the church. There may have been a miscommunication, and apologizing is not enough. Regardless, the criticism is now a constant.

Of course, constructive criticism helps me and One Church. One Church is better because of people who genuinely care about the church and about me, and they contribute in many positive ways. It is easy to tell the difference between people who love you and people who don’t.

Honestly, however, at least half of the criticism you receive will not be constructive. It comes from people who are acting out of their own issues and spewing on you. They want power they have not earned. They want the church you planted to look like the church they just left. 

The Key to Handling Criticism

In my experience, the key to handling criticism is a prayer I heard from Craig Groeschel:

“God, give me a softer heart and thicker skin.”

In other words, “God, help me to love people even when they criticize me, and help me to know who I am in You, so that the criticism does not discourage me.”

Nope, that’s not easy. It is, however, necessary to succeed in church planting.

Pastors, Preaching

Bill Nye and the Creation Debate

Bill Nye Creation Debate

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” received some criticism from the scientific community for being willing to debate the founder of the Creation Museum yesterday.

His critics suspect that, regardless of the debate outcome, the Creation Museum has already won on the basis of increased publicity that legitimizes unscientific views that are soundly rejected by the consensus of modern science.

I hope they are wrong, but it’s possible that Nye’s critics are correct.

Bill Nye presented his points better than I expected him to last night. The founder of the Creation Museum is highly skilled and well practiced in convincing his audience. Nye calmly and respectfully presented the basic argument that science is based on evidence and pointed out that Creationism is not based on scientific evidence.

Nye may or may not realize that observable facts and human reason are not the foundation of the creationist position. Creationism is based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.

I view Genesis 1v1-2v3 as “high prose,” an artistically and mathematically beautiful hymn about God, the beauty of the universe and the dignity of human beings. A second creation account begins in 2v4 with a new name for God and a theologically and chronologically different telling of creation altogether. The author/compiler of Genesis makes no attempt to fool any of us and convince us that Genesis is a unified, scientifically tested theory on the origins of the universe.

Most Christians I know both love the Bible and accept the theory of evolution to varying degrees. Thinking Christians in America understand that the Bible must be interpreted. Roman Catholics all over the world see science and faith as compatible. The vast majority of Christians in the world realize that Genesis is simply not a science book.

Christian fundamentalists, however, believe that every word of the Bible originated with God. They view any scientific theory that contradicts a literal, scientific reading of the Genesis creation poem as an attack on their faith. This is the same thinking behind the Church’s condemnation of Galileo for asserting, against three verses of biblical poetry, that the earth revolves around the sun.

Galileo was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life because the Church interpreted ancient Middle Eastern poetry literally.

I grew up in a fundamentalist environment, and I share the following thoughts from my own experience of interacting with many fundamentalist Christians. Regardless of Bill Nye’s debate performance, when a fundamentalist is challenged in his or her belief, the fundamentalist’s faith actually grows stronger for at least three reasons:

1. Blind Faith

When a fundamentalist is challenged with facts or reason, the fundamentalist simply doubles down, because in fundamentalist religion, blind faith is seen as a virtue. If the fundamentalist continues to believe in spite of all evidence to the contrary, he or she is seen as being faithful to God. Increasing evidence to the contrary only fuels the fundamentalist’s faith (a false sense of certainty in spite of evidence).

2. A Common Enemy

Being challenged strengthens the fundamentalist’s sense of community and certainty, because the rational challenger (Nye, in this case) is demonized and gives the fundamentalists a common enemy. Nothing galvanizes a group like sharing a common enemy. In this case, creationists’ common enemy are “those godless heathen, secular humanists,” in other words, people who respect evidence and the conclusions of human reason.

3. Martyr Fantasy

Finally, being challenged only strengthens a fundamentalists faith because it gives the fundamentalist the ultimate payoff- it fulfills their apocalyptic martyr fantasy. A fundamentalists ultimate goal is be so “faithful to God” that she or she is persecuted or even martyred for his or her faith.

Even being respectfully and gently challenged by Bill Nye last night is enough to feed a fundamentalist’s martyrdom fantasy. In a creationists’ eyes, it’s the godless scientists verses the “pure” people who are “faithful” to God. Even though he lost the debate and looked foolish, in the eyes of creationists, the Creation Museum founder is now a martyr who is faithful to God in spite of “persecution” at the hands of a soft-spoken, bow tie wearing children’s TV host.

I hope Billy Nye was correct in debating a religious fundamentalist in such a publicized format. Hopefully, his rationality will awaken some younger persons who could outgrow the fundamentalism of their parents. Regardless, the Creation Museum and creationism will profit handsomely from the debate, and their fundamentalist faith may only grow stronger.