For as long as I have been in the ministry I have asked the Lord for a balance between a tender heart and a tough hide. It isn’t an easy balance. In fact, the latter is more difficult to cultivate than the former.
In order to be fully engaged in ministry, job number one is to have a tender heart. The challenge is developing a tough hide.
Wanted: A Tough Hide
Those of us in ministry are big targets. We make great lightning rods! Know what I mean? We are dead ringers for criticism. Every passionate pastor, every Christian leader, and every Christian author I know can list a litany of things that have been said and done against them—many of them unfairly.
Few handle criticism well. But we’d all have to agree, there was one man who handled it with grace and grit.
Two Ways to Balance Being Tender and Tough
In Acts 24, Paul is on the witness stand before Governor Felix while a shady lawyer named Tertullus pontificates through some trumped-up charges. As you read along in this chapter, you will notice Paul waits for the smoke to clear and then calmly steps up to offer a defense. Paul’s words illustrate seven ways to maintain a tender heart and a tough hide while enduring criticism. I’ll mention the first two now and devote next week’s post to the remaining five.
1. Paul refused to get caught up in the emotion of the charges. That’s the first mistake we usually make, isn’t it? Everything in us prefers to lash out, to protest, to defend ourselves, to cry, or simply walk out. Paul refused to overreact. His opening line is disarmingly pleasant, “I cheerfully make my defense.”
Cheerfully? By now the man ought to be royally ticked off! Even though labeled as “a real pest” and a ringleader of a cult (see Acts 24:5), Paul graciously acknowledged the opportunity to make a defense. Refusing to let his emotions take the lead, he stayed controlled and courteous.
When we lower ourselves to the overcharged emotions of accusers, our anger is triggered. When that occurs, straight thinking caves in to irrational responses and impulsive words. Paul didn’t go there. Neither should we.
2. He stayed with the facts. He said, in effect, “You can check my record. Twelve days ago I went up to worship. You can ask those who were there.” He reported, “Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me” (Acts 24:12–13).
The apostle never blinked. He calmly stood his ground with stubborn facts. That strategy not only kept him on target, it enhanced his credibility in the eyes of Governor Felix.
And Then There’s You—and Me
What about you? How do you deal with judgmental remarks, those unkind put-downs made to your face or, worse, behind your back? When a congregant mocks your teaching on biblical parenting, when that couple in a small group questions every decision you make, when you find out a fellow Christian (or pastor) you thought was your friend has been spreading rumors about you, how do you respond?
Are you tough and tender or do you become brittle and bitter?