4 Posts from January 2009

Cultivating a Tender Heart and a Tough Hide—Part Two

Last week we examined Paul’s defense before Felix and discovered that Paul’s words illustrate how to maintain a tender heart and a tough hide while enduring criticism. We saw the first two of seven ways that Paul did it: he refused to get caught up in the emotion of the charges, and he stayed with the facts. Now, let’s examine the five remaining ways to cultivate a tender heart and a tough hide.

Number three: Paul told the truth with a clear conscience. He stated, “But this I admit to you . . . I do serve the God of our fathers . . . I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience . . . both before God and before men” (Acts 24:14–16). There is nothing like a clean conscience. It not only helps you sleep well, it keeps you thinking clearly. You have no fear that some skeleton will rattle when an investigation begins . . . because there is no skeleton!

Number four: Paul identified the original source of the criticism. Few things are more maddening than shadowboxing when you’re dealing with criticism. One of the worst things you can do is to spread the venom to a number of other people—your children, your parents, your friends, or a group of other Christians—rather than going to the original source of contention and addressing it. You need a tough hide to do that. It takes guts.

Number five: He would not surrender or quit. I love that about Paul. He’s like a pit-bull on your ankle; he won’t let go! Take a moment to read 2 Corinthians 11:23–33. Beaten, bloodied, shipwrecked, harassed, endangered, run out of town, and falsely accused, Paul didn’t give up, let up, or shut up.

Number six: He did not become impatient or bitter. For two years Paul had been waiting for this trial. Did you know that? Yet we see no sign of bitterness. No impatience. No grudges. No ranting against the Roman authorities. Paul believed God was firmly in control of both people and events.

Number seven: He stood on the promise of God. You know what flashed through my mind when I read this passage in Acts 24? A song I’ve sung in church since I was just a kid in Sunday school: “Standing on the Promises of God.” Someone has said that there are over 7,000 promises in the Bible. Have you claimed even one this past week? How about two? Do I hear five?

How did Paul handle criticism? He refused to get caught up in the emotion of the charges. He stayed with the facts. He told the truth with a clear conscience. He identified the original source of the accusations. He refused to surrender or quit. He became neither impatient nor bitter. He stood on the promise of God. Is that great or what? And it’s all from the Bible.

My fellow pastor, you can do every one of those seven. If you want a tender heart and a tough hide when enduring criticism, you must do them. So must I.


Cultivating a Tender Heart and a Tough Hide—Part One

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.

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. 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 blog to the remaining five.

Number one: 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.

Number two: 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.

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?


Church Leaders and Their Roles

The local church has begun to assume the lengthening shadow of a business—and the church has no business being a business. Biblically, the church is not a corporation. You won’t find the word board in the Scriptures. That’s a corporate term. You won’t find the word chairman either. We need to take these things seriously!

So let me encourage you to do some original work regarding the role of pastors, elders, and deacons in the church. Be sure you’re doing your study from the New Testament, because there was no church in the Old Testament. You won’t be able to start until Acts 2—that’s where the church begins. Acts gives you a model of the church, but it doesn’t talk about how a church is ordered, what we often call “church government” (that’s another corporate term). Revelation doesn’t address it either. You and I need to be good students of the letters of Paul if we hope to understand the church.

When you go to the Scriptures, you discover how unique the church is. The church is not an extension of the state. The church is not a political precinct. The church does not resemble a corporation, nor should it. The church is a local assembly made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ.

And church leaders? We are servants. No one is elevated above the level of servant. No one. The senior pastor is a servant leader. So are the other pastors on staff. Deacons and elders should be servant-hearted people. The better the servant, the better the leader.

As a pastor, your role is to equip saints for the work of ministry. That’s your goal. You’re to build into the lives of believers. You certainly do evangelism, but that’s not your major goal. Your major purpose, as given by God, is set forth in Ephesians 4:12: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” You are regularly assisting the body to go deeper and to think broader and more visionary about a world that’s lost its way. Your flock needs you to equip them for that. God has called you to it.

John Piper wrote a penetrating volume you should own, called, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Let me close this post with just a few words from Piper:

We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. [I love that!] Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1). But our first business is to pant after God in prayer. Our business is to weep over our sins (James 4:9). Is there professional weeping? Our business is to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14); to pummel our bodies and subdue them lest we be cast away (1 Cor. 9:27).1

Good words.


1 John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 1–2.

Video: The Horror of Conceit

Let’s start off this week—and this New Year—with an essential reminder for ministry. Grab a cup of coffee, and for the next half-hour allow me to share with you a message I delivered recently at a Dallas Seminary chapel service.

The horrifying results of Uzziah’s conceit always remind me that God alone gets the credit for any success we may enjoy in ministry.

I want that same success for you.  


Message copyright © 2008 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.
Audiovisual production copyright © 2008 by Dallas Theological Seminary.