Piranhas are predatory fish that eat other fish. They look like most other fish, except for their scary teeth. This morning I am thinking about some of the church bullies I have pastored in the last thirty years and am wondering how I could have responded better to their biting criticism of me.

Here are four ways to protect yourself and your church from predators.

  • Start with realistic expectations about the outcome

Criticism is a curse, not a gift, but the critic does not see it that way. He or she really thinks they are helping people by constantly pointing out their mistakes.

A mocker doesn’t love one who corrects him; he will not consult the wise. (Proverbs 15:12)

  • Guard your heart without closing it  

Only God can change a critical heart. As people of faith, most of us are optimistic that something we say will change their mind or heart. Dude, you can’t even change your own heart, much less a critic’s heart.

Charge them before God not to fight about words; this is useless and leads to the ruin of those who listen. (2 Timothy 2:14)

  • Stop talking when your critic stops listening

Sometimes it is best to kill the conversation before it kills you.

When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19)

Initially respond politely, then ignore them. If that doesn’t work, then block them. A conversation is based on two way communication. Once that is over, it is time to turn off the mic because it doubles as a shovel.

  • Discipline them in order to restore them

Stopping a conversation doesn’t always work, so be prepared to escalate the response if the critic starts sowing discord in your church or place of employment. Managing God’s household well sometimes involves discipline, which is a form of discipleship.

My friend Don Pucik wrote these wise words in Deacon Magazine: If someone wants to find fault in a pastor, he will always be successful! When an individual’s complaints and criticisms turn into personal attacks and hostile accusations, you need to stand with your pastor, providing visible and verbal support. Church bullies cannot be ignored. If you refuse to engage and confront the inappropriate and sinful behavior of an antagonist, the conflict can quickly escalate with catastrophic damage to your pastor, his family, and the church.

As a parent, I knew that whatever I allowed in my home was being condoned. Janet and I had a zero-tolerance for disrespect, which was, of course, tested. Do you think your faith family will be any different?

Church discipline is not for the faint of heart or for those who seek a quick solution. It must be done in community (Matthew 18:16), but most of all it must be done in love. You will have enemies, maybe even in your church. Jesus instructed us to love and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Some of us will even have to pastor them.

photo: Benjamin Miller. Freephotostock.biz