If you are going to lead anything you will face detractors. A “detractor” is a person who is more than discouraging; they are disparaging. Often detractors have very little positive to say about anything. Detractors vote “no” because somebody has to. Detractors are wet blankets on the picnic of grace.
Often the strongest detractors are those who are not serving but enjoy pointing out how those who are serving are doing it wrong. Some people are encouraging, some people are difficult; detractors are draining. Even though when you see a detractor coming your way you want to hide in the nearest janitorial closet, there are some things that you can learn from detractors that make you a better shepherd leader. Here are five ways to deal with detractors.
When you step into the arena of leadership you will stumble more than succeed, and get your nose battered more than receive congratulatory handshakes. There will be decisions that you make that will divide. You will have convictions that cannot, and will not be compromised that will not be embraced by all. While leadership will always have its share of critics, there is some criticism that as a shepherd leader you need to learn to dismiss.
When unjust criticism is offered it does not automatically mean that you have to receive it. Anonymous letters should not even be read. Learn to receive and quickly dismiss conversations that begin with “everyone is saying” or “a lot of people are talking.” Receiving and holding unjust criticism from detractors will entrap you in a pit of despair. Learn what needs to be quickly dismissed and never picked up again.
Not all criticism is unhelpful or harmful. There are some critics in your life that will help you become a better leader. Positive criticism will help you to see issues in a new way. Refusing to invite critique can be just as poor of a leadership decision as listening to the detractors. The art of distinguishing what criticism needs to be received and what criticism needs to be dismissed is continuously being learned.
One of the difficulties in dealing with detractors is that there is often an element of truth in what they are saying. They may be wrong about 99 things, but right about that one. Detractors may be selective in choosing and interpreting their facts. They may communicate with a dismissive attitude and they may express smugness in their manner of speech, but something can be learned from their negativity.
The shepherd leader will find great benefit in discussing the issue the detractor raises with a trusted person. There is a warning here, you must be extremely wise to only discuss the issue and avoid the natural desire of condemning the personality who raised the issue.
Discuss the issue with a trusted advisor by saying something along the lines, “This issue has been brought to my attention, what do you think about that? Is there something here that I may not be seeing?” This conversation will result in one of two scenarios. Either the issue will be dismissed or a new insight will be gained. An insight that will help you become a better shepherd leader.
We are products of our environment. Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” The environment that we surround ourselves in will shape our thoughts, our interpretations and our perceptions of who we are and often what the Lord is doing. If you spend too much time only with a detractor you yourself will begin to speak, think and act like the detractor. Proverbs 13:20 reads, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” We are influenced by what we choose to surround ourselves with.
You cannot avoid detractors, but you do not have to spend all your time with them. Do not become guilty of believing that they are beyond grace or change. Pray for them. Speak graciously with them. Attempt to win them over with compassion. But guard yourself against harm from the companions you choose. Be kind in their company, then depart quickly.
Many detractors have an issue that they are convinced must be everyone’s issue. Some detractors have even been called by God to ministry but for some reason have rejected that call. Their attitude and difficult nature now may be a result of their disobedience. Some detractors have chosen to live on the cul-de-sac called nostalgia where everything was better in the past and nothing should change. They have not changed in 30 years – you have the pictures to prove it they are still wearing the same clothes they wore 30 years ago – why should they change now.
Be diligent. Diligently spend time with the Lord and his word. Diligently allow the Lord to foster convictions in your heart as to what he desires to accomplish in you and through you. Diligently bathe yourself, your church, your friends and your detractors in prayer. Diligently run the race. Diligently finish the course. Diligently live out your calling to be the best shepherd leader you can be where you are.
Lastly, be diligent that you do not become a detractor. Many pastors are often isolated making it is easy to become a detractor. Easy to complain instead of celebrating, easy to be discouraged than to be an encourager. Pray that the Lord will put people in your life to keep you from becoming a detractor.
While you may want to hide in the nearest dumpster when you see them coming, God can even use the detractors in our lives to grow us up into the image of Christ.