J. Willard Marriott made a powerful observation when he said, Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees. All disciples of Jesus are called to face the strong winds.
In my early years of ministry I felt on too many days that I was nothing more than a professional target. Criticism abounded. I don't know how God did it; but He alone taught me that such is tremendously valuable terrain.
I first saw it in II Cor. 12:7-11. Paul was given a thorn in the flesh to keep from exalting himself. I was given a thorn-bush orchard. The purpose of the thorns--from this text--is to break us from boasting of self-effectiveness. Power is perfected in weakness drives Paul to admit a major fact; I am a nobody.
Thorns are critics. In the system of God, thorns bless.
The very reason most preachers quit is the very reason we ought to stay. The reason members walk out is the exact reason why each should walk back in. Thorns are God's classroom professors. If we will submit to discomfort and even agony, we will find ourselves in the midst of God's productive wonder.
I ran across a paragraph of Calvin Miller. He wrote, Today's preachers rarely hear any good news about themselves. How can such dehumanizing stress ever be overcome? I wrote in the margin beside these sentences in red ink Not me!
Why Not me?
I learned the secret of going to school from the critics. I learned they are valuable; a mighty part of our labor. We need them. The result is that I am not dehumanized. I am not neglected. Instead, I have a constant barrage of words of love and life coming at me from hearts of constant appreciation.
Am I just lucky? No, God taught me to sit still and endure the thing in life I hated more than anything. He taught me to turn the temptation to whine into the reason to praise. He taught me to grow from the winds rather than shrinking.
Criticism is our blessing. We are never more than nobodies. Power is never perfected outside of weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, the I am strong.
Being strong because we have head-knowledge, political clout, or monetary means will never work in church leadership; not ever. This is faking out the church. The true power of God will only come through us when we sit still and take the abuse. It is within those parameters that we will find My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.
If I might offer one piece of advice to young preachers today it would be that when you feel neglected--even tarred and feathered--these are the precise moments to give praise and glory to God. These times are rugged like the cross and poised for God's resurrecting hand to enter. Dare to let Him enter.