How To Deal With Criticism, by Joel Beeke

I recently listened to a conference message by Dr. Joel Beeke on how to handle criticism, with a particular emphasis on pastors. I really appreciated his insights, which were wise, practical, and biblical.

Below is a summary of his talk. While not all of what you read below is necessarily verbatim, I believe that it nonetheless captures what Dr. Beeke had to say to pastors, who must face all kinds of criticism in their callings.

Beeke recalled how he was asked to address this topic at a conference in Africa some years ago. While researching it, he recalled being “stunned” at how little it has been addressed.

“More than any other topic I have addressed in all my life has hit such a nerve” as this one, he said.

“Brothers and sisters, we don’t know how to deal with criticism.”

“We need to know how to criticize people constructively, and how to receive criticism constructively.”

The problems with criticism are obvious: it promotes backbiting, and thinking evil of those who criticize us.

Beeke then asked a question: if 80% of ministers or more say that their greatest problem of coping with criticism, don’t we need some biblical guidance on how to solve this problem?

He then provided 11 practical guidelines, mostly from his experiences, on dealing with criticism in the ministry.

  1. Consider Criticism Inevitable

“He who stands up in the front will inevitably get kicked in the rear.” – A Dutch saying

People have strong feelings about everything—especially God, which is probably the most important thing in their lives.

“Sometimes in church life, our task is keep everyone equally dissatisfied.” – Beeke’s father

It is inevitable that some will not like you if you are a pastor. Others will hate you.

“If we said and did nothing, we wouldn’t get criticized. But then, we wouldn’t be doing the Lord’s will, would we?”

2. Consider the Source

Who is criticizing you? An office bearer, an unbeliever, a fringe member of the church?

80% of my criticisms come from 20% of my members who are the least dedicated to the work of the church. Don’t ignore their criticisms, but ask, how important is that criticism?

The more we sincerely welcome constructive criticism, the more we will benefit from it.

Welcome people as they express their concerns, but don’t respond obsessively to all of them.

If 2 in a congregation of 700 complain, that’s one thing. But if it’s 50 out of 200, then pay attention.

3. Consider Timing and Prayer

If I respond to people as soon as they criticize me, chances are I will respond with self-defensiveness.

“When I receive a criticism,” Beeke notes, “I ask them to let me pray on it for a day or two before responding. My responses are less self-centered, and more understanding. Doing this shows respect to others.”

In the long term, pastors will become more well known for your reactions than your initial actions.

“Truth has a way of vindicating itself. Sometimes, you have to wait longer than one or two days before responding to a personal criticism.”

Luke 21:19: “In your patience, possess your souls.”

4. Consider Yourself

Critics are often God’s gifts to guard us from self-satisfied and self-destructive tendencies. The Holy Spirit uses our critics to keep us from exalting ourselves. It’s true that critics—especially our worst ones—almost always exaggerate their cases. It’s true that they are seldom entirely right.

But often, they are a little bit right.

The worst thing you can do when criticized is to latch on to the exaggeration.

For instance, a church member might say, “You’re always late for appointments!”

Don’t get angry and say, “I wasn’t late last week,” and walk away, leaving you and the other person angry.

All the person probably meant was, “Pastor, could you please make an effort to be on time more often?”

A kinder, slower response will let both of you walk away in good spirits.

Let yourself be more vulnerable.

“Every minister must develop the hide of a rhinoceros, and the heart of a child.”

There is a fine line between letting every criticism bounce off of you, versus letting every criticism bleed.

One way to work it out: having accountability partners (wife, fellow minister, etc.). Report the criticism objectively as possible. Don’t accent the criticism, and make it into a pity party.

By all means, never be afraid to say, “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” And, “I forgive you,” immediately and unconditionally.

5. Consider the Content

What are they criticizing you for?

Goal: Every time I get criticized, I need to deal with it.

But deal with it, make any necessary change, and move on!

If a change doesn’t need to be made, tell the person. Be direct, and tell them why, as firmly and kindly as the situation will allow for, and move on!

“Don’t let criticism fester. Move on!”

The goal in every criticism is to deal with it constructively. Never become angry. “Turn the other cheek,” Jesus said. As a minister, you cannot give it back equally to a member of your congregation; that’s a disaster waiting to happen.

You may need to patiently explain why you aren’t taking a critic’s advice. But in some cases, especially when you’re dealing with a difficult critic, it might be better not to explain, as this can lead to over-explaining. The critic may conclude that you are defensive.

“Fight God’s battles, and God will fight your battles.”

By all means, don’t take every whisper seriously.

“A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” -Proverbs 18:19

There may come a point where, if a relationship is ruptured and it’s eating you up, you’ve apologized and they won’t forgive you, you just need to move on.

Once you’ve dealt with a criticism, don’t let it fester. Then, go bury yourself in your work again.

6. Consider Scripture

There are wonderful texts that encourage us in Scripture. Tape them to your computer, and memorize them.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” -Isaiah 54:17

7. Consider Christ

Look to Jesus in the face of mounting criticism.

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” -1 Peter 2:21-23

If Christ, who was perfect and innocent was mocked, what can we imperfect pastors expect?

Remember, we are followers of Jesus, and fellow-sufferers. That’s true of lay people and pastors.

“Expect people to say terrible things about you beyond all reality…and then, remember Christ.”

Say to yourself, “No matter how badly anyone has treated me, they have not treated me as badly as I have treated Christ. And if Christ has forgiven me, why shouldn’t I forgive my brother or sister when they have said false things about me?”

From our heart, it should be easy to forgive, because we have been forgiven so much more.

“Don’t get angry, but get down on your knees and thank God that they don’t know by half how bad you really are.” -Puritan Pastor

When criticism gets me down, it drives me to the Lord, and anything that drives me to the Lord is worth the price.

8. Consider Biblical Saints

One Example: Nehemiah had so many people attacking him. Many of his workers were not skilled and/or committed. How did he respond? He committed his cause to God in prayer.

His strategy: Pray, remember, revise, but don’t abandon.

He revised his plans without abandoning his vision.

Many times in pastoral ministry, it’s three steps forward, four steps back. You can bring up a vision, and if it’s strongly criticized, let it rest for time; perhaps bring it up a year later, and it may go well. In making you wait, the Lord may be taking away your pride, and reminding you to lean upon Him.

9. Remember Love

Love the one who criticizes you. Try to get to know them better. You can’t criticize those whom you don’t know.

Instead of avoiding your critics, go out of your way to meet them. Don’t shun them, but welcome them.

When something has been dealt with, don’t ever bring it up again.

“Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death warrant every time you read the Lord’s Prayer.” -Charles Spurgeon

It’s hard to criticize someone you’re praying with. Pray with them if you can. Do it lovingly. Let your prayer be the very reason why the critic wants to tell you.

Of course, sometimes the criticism is so bad, you should feel bad for him.

Put away anything that hinders love (1 Peter 2:1). As the saying goes, “Kill them with kindness.” As the Bible says, “Heap coals of fire upon his head.”

10. Consider Long-Term Vision

No president was both so respected and so reviled as Abraham Lincoln.

A friend came to him to say that the criticism has gotten very bad.

Lincoln responded, “When it gets dark, the dogs will bark and bark at the moon.”

His friend said, “So, how does that story end?”

Lincoln responded, “There is no rest of the story. The moon just goes on shining.”

His point: he knew he was right, he had long-term vision and that people would be barking at him, but he was clear in his conscience.

As pastors, we can too easily waffle at “barking parishioners” when we know we’re in the right in accord with God’s plan, mind, and vision.

To attain temporary peace with a few disgruntled members, we are prone to abandon valuable long-term valuable vision. Don’t do that! Don’t be intimidated by the minority to say, do, and be nothing. Don’t lose heart, and don’t give up.

“Never, never, never, give up.” -Winston Churchill

11. Consider Eternity

This is the ultimate, long-term vision.

On the other side of the Jordan, our faithful Savior will be waiting for you, saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Even though you have many faults and wrinkles, He loves you and will take care of you, and at the end of time, all criticism will be past. There will then be perfect unity, and perfect worship. No denominations, no divisions, Luther and Calvin will see eye-to-eye. Our believing critics will embrace us, and we will embrace them. There will be perfect, visible, and complete oneness.

Three things to consider about criticisms when weighed against eternity:

First, we will understand that all of the criticisms we received here were to prepare us for Emmanuel’s Land.

Second, we will see that all of the criticisms we received were but a light affliction when compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us.

Third, in Heaven, we will be more than repaid for every affliction we endured on Earth for the sake of our faithful, perfect, and best friend, Jesus Christ.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” -Matthew 5:11-12

Dr. Beeke recalled a woman in his congregation who had a very difficult pregnancy. Finally, she had her baby. When she did, she told him, “Now that my baby is here, I have forgotten all about the pain.”

So it will be with us at the end of time.

“The bride eyes not her garment, But her dear bridegroom’s face;

I will not gaze at glory, but on my king of grace.

Not at the crown He giveth, but on His piercèd hand;

The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

When can you start complaining? When we have given as much for Christ as He has given for us. That day will never happen.

Look and live Christward, and say with Paul, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

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Book Review: The Person of Jesus by J. Gresham Machen

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) was one of the most influential Christian intellectuals of the twentieth century. While he may have been on the losing end of important battles in his day (the re-organization of Princeton Theological Seminary, being suspended from the gospel ministry), he was nonetheless a warrior whose courage and stamina enabled him to stand strong where the battle was hottest. This was evident in his writings that defended Christ’s Virgin Birth, the Apostle Paul’s God-given apostolic authority, as well as his masterpiece, Christianity and Liberalism.

Because of the continued attacks on Christianity in our day, Machen’s writings are as relevant as ever. Which is why the Church owes Westminster Theological Seminary a debt of gratitude for its publication, The Person of Jesus: Radio Addresses On the Deity of the Savior.

Based upon radio addresses given by Machen in the 1930s, this short book (101 pages) offers a biblical and succinct defense of the person and deity of Jesus Christ against attacks that were being waged against Him then, and which continue to this day. Machen makes able use of the Scriptures, as well as the Westminster Standards in defending the faith.

As is typical of Machen, he fearlessly takes on his opponents, and exhorts Christians to stand firm:

“Every true man is resentful of slanders against a human friend. Should we not be grieved ten times more by slanders against our God?”

Machen begins by defending the Trinity, and shows how God, through the inspired Scriptures, “allowed us sinful creatures a look into the very depths of the being of God.”

He then spends the next two chapters defining and defending the deity of Christ, where he points out the folly of denying this critical doctrine.

“Do you not see what kind of worship of the moral life of a supposedly purely human Jesus,” he writes, “a Jesus who is regarded merely as the ideal man—do you not see what such worship of such a purely human Jesus really means? It means that the man who engages in it has committed the ancient and terrible sin of worshiping humanity. It means that he has worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, and that is a sin indeed.”

In defending Christ’s divinity, Machen then turns to the Sermon On the Mount. Here, he notes the irony of many liberals who, while denying Christ is God, nonetheless profess their love of this sermon. Do they not see, Machen wonders aloud with his readers, how Christ so clearly states His divine authority? Do they not recognize that only one of His stature could recount, “You have heard that it was said…” about some teaching of God’s Law, and respond with, “But I say to you…”?

Unlike the prophets of old, Machen notes, “[Jesus] does not say, ‘Thus says the Lord.” No, He says, ‘I say.’”

After examining what Jesus said about Himself, Machen turns his attention to Christ’s miracles and resurrection. He discusses how critics have sought to dismantle these supernatural events while holding on to a more friendly, “historical” Jesus. But as Machen notes, if you were to free Jesus from all of the miracles in Scripture, he “would not be worth believing” because He would be just another man.

In fact, Machen concludes, “The outstanding result of a hundred years to separate the natural from the supernatural in the early Christian view of Jesus is that the thing cannot be done.”

Lastly, the author turns to the resurrection, whereby Christ conquered sin and death for His people. Machen demonstrates from history and the Scriptures how Christ’s resurrection had to be, and why it matters:

“You say, my friend, that you have never seen a man who rose from the dead after he had been laid really dead in the tomb? Quite right. Neither have I. You and I have never seen a man who rose from the dead. That is true. But what of it? You and I have never seen a man who rose from the dead; but then you and I have never seen a man like Jesus.”

All in all, The Person of Jesus is a very helpful little book for both new and mature Christians in defending the Christ of the Scriptures.

I highly recommend it.

A Masterpiece of Exegesis on Ten Texts Dealing With Sanctification

A favorite topic of Reformed theologians since the days of Luther and Calvin has been justification. And rightly so; after all, what could be more important than discussing how a sinner is made right with God—by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone—and confronting the many errors that have challenged this essential doctrine?

But equally important is sanctification, which is the lifelong process of growing in grace and dying to sin. While I’m not suggesting sanctification has been ignored, it has historically gotten far less attention than justification.

In recent years, though, theologians have returned to studies on sanctification. And one of the finest is Sinclair Ferguson’s treatment of it, Devoted To God: Blueprints For Sanctification.

His thesis, found on the first page of the introduction, is straightforward:

“It takes a long time to read the Bible, longer to know it well, and even longer to master it. But what if we were to take one of the central themes of the Bible—like holiness, or sanctification—select important passages on that theme, and then try to gain some mastery of them?”

In the next ten chapters, Ferguson takes his reader through ten passages that deal with sanctification, with the motif that these are blueprints that one would use to build a house or other structure.

Chapter 1: Ferguson takes us to 1 Peter 1:1-9, which emphasizes “the secure foundation on which the Christian faith is built,” namely, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (verse 2), and “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Chapter 2: In what may be my favorite chapter, the author exegetes Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:1-2 to “not be conformed to the patterns of this world,” but to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Here, he teaches the meaning of “gospel grammar” (i.e,. imperatives and indicatives), and their role in the Christian life. Also helpful is his section on worship, and how that impacts our sanctification:

“We come on Sunday morning out of a world that has sought to squeeze us into its mold. We add to that our own spiritual lethargy. But then we are fed in God’s presence by God’s Word, read, sung, spoken, and prayed. We are sanctified through the truth…Our thinking has been recalibrated in a Godward direction; our affections have been cleansed and drawn out in love for our Lord; our desires to serve Him are purer, our affections for God’s people are greater, and our wills are more submissive to His Word. The more we are thus fed the more we want to be fed and to feed.”

Chapter 3: Ferguson raises the question, “What does God do in order to bring us to the Christlikeness which is His ultimate goal?”

The answer is found in the critical doctrine of union with Christ, as set forth in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

What is the importance of union with Christ? Ferguson presents the answer:

“If there is to be both justification and transformation for sinful human nature, then the resources for both must come from one who has shared that nature, and in it lived obediently for us, and then, in further obedience to his Father, died in our place for our sins and broken the power of death in his resurrection. Only a Savior who accomplishes this double obedience for us can resource a full and real salvation in which we are not only forgiven but also counted righteous, and then are transformed into his likeness by the Spirit.”

Chapter 4: The author dives into what may be the most crucial passage on sanctification in the Bible (and hence the most important chapter in this book), Romans 6:1-14. The focus here is on how we are dead to sin in Christ.

“As believers we possess a permanent and irreversible new citizenship. We are ‘in Christ’—this is who we are. He once died to sin and now lives forever to God. We are inseparably united to him in this. It is what constitutes are ‘national identity’ and ‘spiritual ethnicity.’ To continue living the old life in sin would be a denial of who we really are.

“The challenge? Until we grasp this teaching we do not yet fully understand what it means to be a Christian.”

As an aside, my Baptist brethren would do well to be challenged by Ferguson’s brief treatment on infant baptism vs. baby dedication.

Chapter 5: Ferguson tackles the tension of living in the spirit vs. living in the flesh, from Galatians 5:16-17.

He writes, “If you are going to resist the desires of the flesh (negative), you will need to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and walk according to his disciples (positive).”

Chapter 6: The practical ramifications of living in light of our union with Christ are considered, as Colossians 3:1-17 is the focus.

Ferguson outlines that passage thusly in what he calls “powerful gospel logic”:

  • “All the privileges of union with Christ are made over to us in Christ.
  • Our new identity is determined by what Christ has done for us.
  • Through faith we become new men and women in Christ, people with a totally new identity.

“Since this is so,

  • “We must get rid of everything that is inconsistent with that new identity—all that belonged to the old life in Adam.

“And in addition,

  • We must grow in the graces that are the hallmarks of our new life in Christ.”

Chapter 7: The mortification/putting to death of sin (Romans 8:12-13) is considered. Ferguson notes that in this passage, we have a practical application of Philippians 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Ferguson adds, “We do not say, ‘If God is working in me, then I can just sit back and relax.’ No, we say, ‘Because God is working in me I must work out what he is working in.’”

Chapter 8: Dr. Ferguson explores the question, what role does love play in obeying God’s Law?

“Not only does love not abolish law,” he explains, “but law commands love.

“The explanation for this is clear enough: love provides motivation for obedience, while law provides direction for love.”

Chapter 9: Hebrews 12:1-14, which calls believers to run with endurance and also speaks to God’s discipline of his children, is considered.

Ferguson discusses why this is necessary:

“It is always a shock to our pride when we discover that we are sinners—and not merely people who occasionally sin. By nature we excuse our sins as infrequent aberrations when in fact they are revelations of our deepest nature. Sin is not superficial to us, a mere flesh wound. It is a deep distortion, a twisted hostility towards God and his reign over us. And although believers now belong to the new creation in Christ, we still live in the old one, and in the same body. So long as that is true, sin remains and entangles us, and needs to be unmasked, untangled, and thrown off.”

Chapter 10: In the closing chapter, perhaps the most comforting verse for Christians, Romans 8:28, is exegeted and discussed.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,  for those who are called according to his purpose.”

As Ferguson states, the practical ramifications are both staggering and reassuring: “[T]he Christian lives from the future to the past. He or she sees time in the light of eternity and therefore views affliction through lenses tinted with glory. Nor is the relationship between the two merely chronological—suffering now, glory then; it is casual: ‘This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.’ It is as though struggles, suffering, trials, are, in the Spirit’s hands, the raw materials out of which he creates glory in us.”

The volume closes with five appendices on related topics, including “The Trinity In The New Testament,” and “The Fourth Commandment.” While these appendices skim the surface of deeper topics, they are nonetheless useful.

In sum, Devoted To God is a marvelous work that will add significantly to the study of the biblical doctrine of sanctification. While it may be a little too detailed in parts for the average layman (especially the section on Romans 6), it is on the whole a very accessible read, and will aid any reader who wants to know more on this topic.

I highly recommend it.

Should Christians Vote For Donald Trump?

The primary season is over, and it’s pretty clear who the major party candidates are going to be: Donald Trump for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats (even though Bernie Sanders is currently making her claim difficult).

So then, who should you vote for as a Christian?

Statistics show that most — though certainly not all — believers vote Republican. But can you vote for Trump (and some would even insert “how” between “But” and “can”)? After all, the qualms that many people have about his ethics are well-known.

Additionally, those who know me know where I stand.

That said, I want to be very clear about something: I am not telling others how to vote, and I am not speaking on behalf of my denomination, presbytery, or any local church. I believe that is an area left to each Christian and their conscience.

Here’s why I say that: this is an area where Christian liberty comes into play. What is Christian liberty? For the uninitiated, it’s summed up in the Westminster Confession of Faith (my denomination’s statement of faith and perhaps the greatest man-made summary of what the Bible teaches), chapter 20, paragraph 2:

“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.”

For our purposes, here is the key aspect of Christian liberty that we’re going to focus on: the freedom that you have as a Christian from man-made rules that are contrary to God’s Word. 

So for instance, suppose your city passes an ordinance that forbids evangelizing, and telling others about Christ. What does the Bible say about that? We know that believers are called to be “ready for an answer” for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).

And when Peter and the other Apostles were told to stop evangelizing, he said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Therefore, if a civil government were to tell you to stop evangelizing, you would be duty-bound to disobey!

But let’s return to our current conundrum: if someone tells you that you must vote for Candidate X, what should you do? You should look to the Bible and see if there is anything that would say you have to go along with that. If there is nothing that says you should vote a certain way (and I don’t see a single Bible verse telling us to vote for any specific person), then you don’t have to listen.

Someone might then say, “But if you don’t vote for Candidate X, then Candidate Y will get elected and cause terrible things to happen! Besides, Candidate X said he’ll do good things if we vote for him.”

To the first part, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring; only God does. And Christ told us specifically not to worry about tomorrow (Mt. 6:25-34) — and that’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about current events; rather, for the sake of this discussion that we shouldn’t let fear be the deciding factor.

As to the second part, that’s certainly a factor. If you believe a candidate will do what he says, and if you conclude that his record is consistent with what he is promising, then by all means vote for him.

But one thing we should not do as Christians — and one thing the local church should not do — is tell us how to vote. This would be legalism, a man-made rule in an area where God is silent.

So then, how should you vote this November? I’m not going to tell you that, but I will say this: as you and I sit under the Word as it is read and taught, this will inform how we make our decisions in life, including who to vote for.

It’s true that Christians can — and will –come to different conclusions on it, and that’s all right. And I would certainly encourage you to discuss it with your fellow believers, your elders, and your pastor. See what biblical insights they have on the situation, and let that play a part in how you will (or won’t) cast your ballot.

But at the end of the day, the question you have to ask yourself is, can you stand before your maker with a clear conscience after making your decision?

A Final Warning

Lastly, a lament: it has been saddening to see the extent to which friendships have ended because of this election.

At the end of the day, and no matter what we conclude about voting for Donald Trump, we need to remember that this is not an issue that pertains to salvation. Of course, we should pray for our country (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We should also vote according to our consciences as they are informed by God’s Word, and recognize that this is an area of Christian liberty, where our brothers and sisters may indeed come to different conclusions on this issue.

But above all, we need to remember the words of the classic hymn: “Blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love.”

The bonds we share as Christians are far greater than the results of any particular election cycle.

Book Review: The Conviction To Lead by Albert Mohler

Albert Mohler has strong bona fides when it comes to leadership.

Two decades ago, he was a 33-year-old, little-known newspaper editor who applied to become president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He was something of a dark horse candidate, but the board of directors chose him.

His task was daunting: the board chose him to steer this seminary away from a decades-long trend towards theological liberalism. Against all earthly odds, he succeeded.

To my knowledge, Mohler has not talked much about his stunning success in turning around Southern Seminary—and I have heard him speak or preach on numerous occasions. But because he has accomplished all that he has (including writing several books, maintaining an extensive blog and a daily podcast), Mohler has become a well respected figure in modern Christianity, and with good reason.

But God’s providence notwithstanding, what qualities did Mohler possess that enabled him to succeed not just as president of a seminary, but to become such a widely recognized Christian spokesman and leader? What does he have to say about leadership that he could pass along to others?

By his own account, many of his close friends had pressed him a long time to write a book on leadership. And so, he finally sat down to write one.

The result is The Conviction To Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters. As the subtitle indicates, the contents feature 25 leadership principles. These range from very practical and basic leadership qualities like conviction, passion, management of an organization, personal time management, and effective communication to more modern necessities for leaders like the right usage of social media in this digital age.

What is especially important to Mohler is that the leader must know what he believes, and why. He states, “Our intellectual habits must be aligned with Christian truth and knowledge.”

As one who has been there, Mohler also understands that it is not enough to have convictions and desires; the effective leader must be able to both communicate the direction of the institution he is leading and get his subordinates on the same page.

“The great aim of leadership is to lead followers continually into a deeper and more comprehensive love for what is most real, must true, most right, and most important. The thrill of leadership is in seeing this happen, and long-term success depends on it.”

He also provides practical guides to help his readers as they make important decisions:

1. Define the reality. Leaving nothing out, answer these questions: Whose voices need to be heard? What will the consequences be?

2. Identify the alternatives. What are all of the options in front of me? At this point, outside advice can be helpful.

3. Apply analysis. On a sheet of paper, list the alternatives, and the pros and cons of each. How do the alternatives fit within my organization’s mission and purpose? Do I have the talent and commitment to proceed with these alternatives? Logistics, budget, personnel, and commitment should be considerations of the final decision.

4. Pause for reflection. This is not delay, just reflection; a chance to pray and deeply contemplate the decision: did I leave anything out? Does it feel right in head and heart? Am I ready to own this decision, and stand on it? Given my convictions, is this a decision I can be proud of?

5. Make the decision, and make it count. Effective leaders see their decisions through.

6. Review and learn. Good leaders learn from their decisions, and the process of making them.

From time to time, Mohler brings up how he implemented the 25 leadership principles when he became president of Southern Seminary, and then transformed it into a bastion of orthodox Christianity. But neither does he beat the reader over the head with his triumphs—a sign that he practices what he preaches.

It is difficult to find a shortcoming in The Conviction To Lead. The closest I can come to finding one is that it can be too general, and not specific enough. In other words, it feels at times like this volume is not specific enough to one type of institution—whether it be a business, church, or institution of higher learning. So if one is looking for how to implement leadership principles in a specific organization, then they will have to purchase another volume that is more narrowly focused.

But that’s relatively minor. On the whole, The Conviction To Lead is a very solid book on leadership from one who has done it, and continues to do it.

I highly recommend it.

A Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, Part 2

“I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” -Psalm 39:9

When so many of us read a verse like this, it’s almost never in isolation. We typically come across a passage like this when we are reading the Psalm as a whole, as when we do our daily Bible reading. We really don’t stop and ponder the meaning of it.

This is where the Puritans proved to be such a blessing. Like many of his contemporaries, Puritans like Thomas Brooks force us to stop and ponder a verse like this more deeply than we would otherwise. These godly men could take a passage of Scripture that is passed over far too often, and like squeezing water out of a sponge, they got far more out of it than initially meets the eye.

Indeed, Brooks’ entire treatise that we are considering, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, is an exposition of this verse.

The word for “dumb,” Brooks notes, means mute. It signifies that the writer’s mouth was bound shut. Why? Brooks answers, “He looks through all secondary causes to the first cause, and is silent: he sees a hand of God in all, and so sits mute and quiet. The sight of God in an affliction is of an irresistible efficacy to silence the heart, and to stop the mouth of a gracious man.”

The author is David. Brooks notes that as we reflect on this verse, we should not look at him as the mighty warrior king, but merely as a fellow Christian who is silent due to affliction under God’s hand. From this, Brooks concludes, “[I]t is the great duty and concernment of gracious souls to be mute and silent under the greatest afflictions, the saddest providences, and sharpest trials that they meet with in this world.”

But what type of silence is this? What motivates our muteness under affliction? Brooks offers seven possibilities:

First, it is not a stoical silence. That is to say, a silence motivated by austere strictness which Brooks calls “a sinful sullenness, is not the silence here meant.”

Second, it is not a politic silence. In other words, silence due to shrewdness or diplomacy.

Third, it is not a foolish silence that is motivated simply by not knowing what to say.

Fourth, it is not a sullen silence that comes from irritation or gloomy behavior.

Fifth, it is not a forced silence.

Sixth, it is not a despairing silence. Such a person “hath a hell in his heart, and horror in his conscience. He looks upwards, and there he beholds God frowning, and Christ bleeding; he looks inwards, and there he finds conscience accusing and condemning of him.”

Rather, the silence, or muteness, to which Brooks (and David) refer to is “a prudent silence, a holy, a gracious, silence.” In short, this type of silence before God has right and God-honoring motives.

What does this silence before God include? Eight things, by Brooks’ count:

1. This silence “includes a sight of God, and an acknowledgment of God as the author of all the afflictions that come upon us.”

So says the text: “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.”

Brooks says, “The psalmist looks through secondary causes to the first cause, and so sits mute before the Lord. There is no sickness so little, but God has a finger in it, though it be but the arching of the little finger…The sight of God in this sad stroke is a bridle both to his mind and mouth, he neither mutters nor murmurs.”

2. This silence “includes and takes in some holy, gracious apprehension of the majesty, sovereignty, dignity, authority, and presence of that God under whose afflicting hand we are.”

In other words, the hurting Christian is silent before God because he has a right sense of who God is.

Habakkuk 2:20: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent.”

3. This silence, “takes in a holy quietness and calmness of mind and spirit, under the afflicting had of God. A gracious silence shuts out all inward heats, murmurings, fretting, quarrellings, wranglings, and boilings of heart.”

4. “A prudent, holy silence takes in a humble, justifying clearing and acquitting of God of all blame, rigor and injustice, in all the afflictions he brings upon us.”

“God’s judgments are always just; he never afflicts but in faithfulness. His will is the rule of justice; and therefore a gracious soul dares not [find fault unnecessarily] nor question his proceedings. The afflicted soul knows that a righteous God can do nothing but that which is righteous.”

5. “A holy silence takes in gracious, blessed, soul-quieting conclusions about the issue and event of those afflictions that are upon us.” This conclusion is based upon Lamentations 3:27-34.

In short, a Christian is silent when under affliction because he knows that they happened under God’s watchful eye.

Before moving on to the sixth item which the Christian’s silence before God concludes, Brooks offers five “soul-stilling conclusions” from the Lamentations passage to bring this point home:

a. That God’s providences work for our good.

b. The afflictions went upon us in God’s providence shall keep us “humble and low.”

c. The rod shall not always be upon the back of the righteous.

d. As Lamentations 3:32 states, “But, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” God does not forget us in our sorrows; instead, Brooks says, “Go will turn their winter’s night into a summer’s day, their sighing into singing, their grief into gladness, their mourning into music, their bitter into sweet, their wilderness into a paradise.”

e. Lamentations 3:33 states that God “does not afflict willingly.” God does not take delight in our afflictions; “it is a grief to him to be grievous to them.”

“God’s hand sometimes may lie very hard upon his people, when his heart, his bowels, at those very times may be yearning towards his people. No man can tell how the heart of God stands by his hand.”

6. The Christian’s silence before God in their affliction “includes and takes in a strict charge, a solemn command, that conscience lays upon the soul to be quiet and still.” As Psalm 37:7 states, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”

7. “A holy, prudent silence includes a surrendering, a resigning up of ourselves to God, while we are under his afflicting hand.”

Such a Christian, says Brooks, offers up this prayer to God: “Lord, here am I; do with me what you please, write upon me as you please; I give myself up to be at your disposal.”

Or as Luther said, “Lord, lay what burden you will upon me, only let your everlasting arms be under me.”

8. “A holy, prudent silence takes in a patient waiting upon the Lord under our afflictions until deliverance comes.”

In short, there are good reasons for Christians to be silent when they are afflicted because they happen under God’s providence. We remain under His watchful care, and He does not forget His own.

Steps to Making an Important Decision

1. Define the reality. Leaving nothing out, answer these questions: Whose voices need to be heard? What will the consequences be?

2. Identify the alternatives. What are all of the options in front of me? At this point, outside advice can be helpful.

3. Apply analysis. On a sheet of paper, list the alternatives, and the pros and cons of each. How do the alternatives fit within my organization’s mission and purpose? Do I have the talent and commitment to proceed with these alternatives? Logistics, budget, personnel, and commitment should be considerations of the final decision.

4. Pause for reflection. This is not delay, just reflection; a chance to pray and deeply contemplate the decision I am about to make: Did I leave anything out? Does it feel right in head and heart? Am I ready to own this decision, and stand on it? Given my convictions, is this a decision I can be proud of?

5. Make the decision, and make it count. Effective leaders see their decisions through.

6. Review and learn. Good leaders learn from their decisions, and the process of making them.
-From The Conviction to Lead, by Albert Mohler