Religion Magazine

A Letter to the Pastor Taking (un)Friendly Fire…

By Caryschmidt
A Letter to the Pastor Taking (un)Friendly Fire…

What story will be told ten years from today?

Early this morning I took a look back. I read a long document from seven years ago journaling the turmoil of God’s disruptive will in my life. At the time, I was recovering from cancer, and God was plowing up my heart and calling me into a blurry, fearful future. That document is three pages, and it details deep personal fears, discouragement, weakness, and paralysis. It also details God’s clear direction and instruction.

Do you know what I see from this vantage point, years later?

I see lies that Satan was telling me—in my own head and through negative voices. I see the danger I was in—that of potentially disobeying God and missing so much. I see how irrational my fear and hesitation really were. I see how weak I was and how patient God was.

I see a Lordship struggle, and I remember Jesus asking me over and over, “Who is your Lord?”

From here, it’s all so clear. That once paralyzing fog is long gone. (Not to say there haven’t been foggy seasons since.) God has been extravagantly faithful. He has gone before us and made crooked places straight. He has proven Himself real, present, reliable, trustworthy, loving, and faithful. He has proven Himself to be the best Lord and the gospel to be full of His power!

He will do the same for you. 

What does all of this have to do with (un)friendly fire? (You know—that kind of scornful criticism that comes from other Christians outside your present ministry world.) If you attempt to do anything for Jesus, this scorn will soon arrive—dismissive, under-the-breath, “set at nought” statements (Romans 14:10) that so lovingly backhand you. These slights can be such a distraction and discouragement.

To the pastor under fire—someone, today, is going to try to dissuade you from following Jesus. Someone is going to criticize your biblical obedience, spin it as negative, dismiss it as “ill-conceived,” and scoff it as insignificant. Someone is going to hurt or cast you off. Someone will despise you. Someone will warn a friend about you, whisper a half-truth, hijack the narrative of your ministry, and work it to their own benefit.

(Side Note—helpful criticism rooted in biblical wisdom from multiple loving, objective, godly, and close-knit relationships in your life is always vital. I’ve written much about this. What I’m speaking about here is something else entirely. It is from strangers, or so-called “friends,” who have unreasonably cast you aside. It is rooted in expedience and extra-scriptural opinions.)   

Do you know what this is, in reality? If you boil it down to its essence…

It’s a Lordship test.

Who do you most care to please? Who do you most fear? Who do you follow? Who will be granted the authority to direct of your life, your ministry, your leadership? Practically speaking, who will be in control?

The greatest control freak in your life is you. Self is your biggest battle. Jesus will wrestle control of your life and ministry out of your own hands first. (He does this with me every week.) But secondly, He will pry you and your work from the hands of others. The next greatest control threat of your life/ministry is other men. Fear of men and their opinions—fear of the criticism, rejection, dismissal—will hold you hostage from following Jesus. Amazingly, Jesus will providentially lead you into this storm if only to help you survive it with Him as Lord!

A older pastor-friend of mine was a close friend of Lester Roloff’s. Six years ago, he told me the greatest advice Lester Roloff ever gave him was this: “Don’t ever let your ministry be held hostage by the opinions of other men.” That man urged me, in the early days of my own foggy journey, to follow and obey Jesus, regardless of what it cost relationally or ministerially. There is a cost to declaring Jesus as Lord. Part of that cost is (un)friendly fire. You’ll soon be dodging bullets from other Christians. Strange, isn’t it?

I doubt Lester Roloff was implying that one should not have godly counselors or mentors. I’m sure he wasn’t casting away any heed to biblical accountability or helpful, loving critics. No wise leader would ever allow himself to become so walled-off and isolated from helpful feedback, accountability, or godly counsel. (I won’t extend this post with the very long list of older, godly, unbiased counselors and mentors in my life.) 

One of the great dangers of this (un)friendly fire is that it may tempt you to isolate yourself or to quit. You will want to close up, dig in, retreat in shell-shocked fear of hearing or receiving hurt. This will prevent healthy relationships as well, and you’ll miss out on biblical advice or counsel that is not self-serving or laced with the counselor’s private agenda.

How many men do I know that have been “smacked down” by (un)friendly fire so many times, they prefer to bury their heads, take no risks, build no relationships, and heed no wise counsel. They’ve come to believe that ministry makes authentic friendship impossible. This is a sad, crippling lie. How many authentic friendships and wise mentors I would have missed in life if I had taken this tempting approach.  

Back to my point of (un)friendly fire. I serve in a secular, post-catholic part of the country. When I transitioned here, I was naive to think that secularists would be hurtful and Christians would be rejoicing. In reality, the most unkind people on this journey have been Christians, and often leaders. (To quantify—not all. Not even most or many. It’s just a small number, but they like to make noise, and they tend to be relentless.) I have been surprised and disappointed by the (un)friendly fire.

But I have not been disappointed by Jesus.

Why write you this letter?

First, I don’t even know who you are. But I know how you feel. It stings. It saddens the heart. It’s disillusioning. It can make you feel alone and maybe want to quit. It can make you question your call, question your Lord, and feel a bit disoriented on the journey. Truth is there are many spiritual leaders in this same spot. (“…There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24)

Second, it’s a trap. It’s like sludge or quicksand on an otherwise great road. Satan wants you to get “stuck” in what others think or say so you lose the delightful joy of what God is doing around you! He wants it to get into your head. He wants it to slow you down, discourage you, and cause you to doubt what Jesus is doing. (“…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7)

Third, it’s an illusion. You are not alone. There are many Christians and leaders and those in your own church who are cheering you on! You are not dismissed, discounted, or devalued to Jesus or His work. You are not “rejected” by your Lord. You are not who others say you are; you are who Jesus declares you to be. He knows the truth, and that is enough. (“…For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5)

Fourth, it’s a distraction. The only real power your slanderers have is the power you give to them. You don’t answer to them. They don’t stand in judgment over you. You will never bow before them. They do not provide for you or own you. They have no authority. You have a Lord, a judge, a provider, and an authority—and your accountability to Him is real and weighty. Understanding Jesus’ loving authority in your life is both liberating and sobering, for it’s wonderful to follow Jesus, but it’s weighty to consider that you will answer finally and ultimately to Him. (“And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8)

Fifth, it’s not real. Distant opinions are deceptively meaningless. Do you know what’s real? The church family you love today. The lost soul to whom you give the gospel to today. The guest that will trust Jesus this Sunday. The hurting family you will pray with today. The encouraging lunch or phone call you will have later this week. The gospel opportunity to which God has called you this moment—that’s your powerful reality. It’s an opportunity and a stewardship that you can’t afford to miss. (“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25)  

Sixth, it will keep you from real relationships and real victories. The temptation to go underground is real. It seems it would be easier. After all, who needs the risk? Who wants to constantly be pulling (un)friendly arrows out of their back? But think about it. If the slander silences you, what happens to those you would have served—those you would have loved? What happens to the real friends, counselors, and mentors that God would have brought into your life? What happens to all the victories Jesus had in mind when He said, “Follow me”? Don’t let bad actors keep you from finding true friends. Trust me, true friends are out there, and they feel a lot like you do—eager for authentic friendships!

Jesus owns you. He directs you. He judges you. He encourages you. He strengthens, enables, calls, and constrains you. Jesus has all authority in your life and in His church. He is your good Lord, and He will never fail you as loving, faithful, and true.

Advice to My Younger Self  

How I wish I could drop backward in time to speak to my younger self. You know what I would say? “Cary, God has you—every detail of your life is in His hands. Trust Him; follow Him! Don’t fear!”

So, I ask you again, “What story will be told ten years from today?”

What would your future self say to you? What storyline is on the verge of disruption right now, this moment? What beauty is God weaving in your life? What adventure is He taking you on that will work together for ultimate and eternal good? 

Don’t miss it because you are focused on ducking or escaping (un)friendly fire.

The fog of this moment will lift. God will lead you forward and accomplish His purpose in you, and He knows the record. Refuse to get caught in the political sludge. Refuse to be discouraged by hurtful Christians. Greater is He that is in you! (1 John 4:4)

Being “unwanted” is not a bad thing in God’s economy. Paul was unwanted (or at least viewed as a misfit) by James and Christians in Jerusalem—and that tension thrust him to Tarsus and eventually into the Gentile world with the gospel. John Mark was unwanted by Paul—and that tension thrust him down a road that resulted in his authoring one of the four gospels. Jesus has a way of blessing your obedience and fulfilling your joy, regardless of the fact that others have dismissed or spurned you. 

Faith Him. Follow Him. He is good, and He’s got you!

Take heart, Pastor “under-fire.” Pause long enough to see if there is any biblical value to the criticism. Maybe you need to tweak something. But whenever God reveals that it is merely distracting slander born of envy or expedience, step “over it,” not “in it,” and move forward.

Ten years from now, you will not remember today’s (un)friendly fire. It will have long since been silenced and crushed by the fruitfulness and joy of following Jesus as Lord.

Let Jesus win the Lordship struggle. No one else is worthy, and your future self, and those you loved, will someday thank you.

“I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.” Isaiah 45:2–3

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