One of the most aggravating things about being in ministry is dealing with people whose primarily goal in life seems to be to prove that they are better than me in some way. I will admit that this is something I have dealt with my whole life–even before my ministerial journey began.
In elementary school, kids would try to pick fights with me because they figured that smart kids couldn’t fight. They were unaware that my mother had enrolled me in karate. Things didn’t get much better by high school when people would ask me about my SAT score so they could lie and claim theirs was higher after finding out I had been accepted to Yale. (This one guy’s SAT score reportedly jumped by over 200 points during his first year of college to keep up with mine.) Being in ministry is just another excuse that some insecure people in my environment us to bother me.
At this point in my life, I should be an expert at handling situations like these. Unfortunately, I am not. Having my ministry unfairly critiqued gets to me from time to time because it is so personal. Having my ministerial ability questioned is even worse. Nonetheless, I find myself in situations where both occur pretty often.
The first time I really noticed that ministers are magnets for the insults of insecure people was right before I preached my first sermon. I had been asked to pray in public at my home church. It was something that I had managed to avoid for several years because of my dislike for public speaking. Besides, people who prayed before the congregation came across to me as master speakers whose oratorical talents enabled them to construct complex works of art in their conversations with God. I was far less creative.
When the day finally came, I faced another problem–something had triggered my asthma. (At least that’s what I thought. I later found out that I had bronchitis.) All I knew was that I was having more trouble speaking than usual. Needless to say, the prayer was not my finest moment and people went out of their way to let me know it. The nice, constructive critics suggested that I figure out how to project better so that people would hear what God had given to me by the time my sermon came around. They were also genuinely concerned when they found out I was sick. In contrast, the malicious critics went on and on about how they can never hear me when I speak in general. Thankfully, I had identified these malicious critics as people who had been gunning for me for a while.
At this point in my ministerial journey, I have a pretty good handle on who the malicious critics are. They are the people whose criticisms are only designed to make themselves feel good. They usually make sure they have an audience when they make their statements just like the kids in elementary school who used to pick fights with me. In addition, their criticisms tend to always be based around things that they are known for in their communities thereby giving them the ability to raise their own profile while simultaneously lowering mine. In other words, they are attention-seeking bullies.
I still haven’t figured out the best way to deal with these malicious critics. Sometimes, being around them feels like a catch-22. I can’t beat them up like I beat up the elementary school bullies who learned first-hand from me what karate was useful for. Likewise, I can’t get away from them like I got away from the people who were jealous of my academic accomplishments because most of these malicious critics are attached to churches I frequent. At the same time, I know that responding to their malice with malice would be detrimental to my personal character and would also give these people more ammunition to use against me in their efforts to make me look bad.
From time to time, I try to remind myself that malicious criticism is generally rooted in jealousy, which means that there is something I am doing with my life that at least some people consider to be noteworthy. It is difficult to accept that some people consider me to be successful already because I still have a few years left of this PhD program and enough student loans to add up to a mortgage. (After reevaluating my finances, I have even decided that going straight to law school out of this PhD program would not be a good financial decision, though I still may do it someday.) Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for all the things that God has allowed for me to do thus far in my life. I am just painfully aware that this is only the beginning. If people are jealous now, I can only imagine what kind of nonsense I will have to deal with in the future when I actually start reaching my goals.
For now, all I can do is pray that God will enable me to be still while he deals with my malicious critics.