June, 2009 marks my completion of eight years as a Preaching Minister (I absolutely despise the commonly used title, “Pulpit Minister.” I certainly do not want to spend my life ministering to a pulpit!)

     In those eight years here are some things I have noticed about full-time ministry:

  • No one will write; not very many can write. But, EVERYONE is an editor.
  • If you tried to incorporate all of the “suggestions for your ministry” made by well-meaning church goers you could not get out of bed in the morning for fear of violating the suggestion of someone.
  • It is really, really, really hard to take vacations. It is even harder to take days off.
  • It is even harder to find friends to whom you can bear your soul.
  • And, finally, the absolute hardest thing about full-time ministry is trying to imagine doing anything else with one’s short life!

     Speaking of receiving criticism with grace, here’s a piece I read on the blog of a man whom I think personifies what it means to be a follower of Christ. I’ve met very few people in the world who have helped me love Jesus as profoundly as Jim McGuiggan. Here’s what he says about criticism:

Efficiency expert spoke at a large corporation to younger executives. When he was done he said, almost in passing, “Be sure you use this information well and don’t try it around the home.” One of the men later asked him why he said that and the expert told him this. “I did a study of my wife’s routine while fixing breakfast. She made a lot of trips to the refrigerator and the stove, the table and cabinets-most often carrying only one item at a time. So I said to her, ‘Honey, why don’t you try carrying several things at once. That’d make more efficient use of your time.’ ” The expert finished putting the rest of his papers in his brief case, as if he had finished, don’t you know. The curious man finally asked him, “And did it save time?” The expert told him, sort of sheepishly, “Actually…it did! It used to take her twenty minutes to get my breakfast. Now I get it myself in seven.”

I hear a lot about “constructive” criticism and I believe in it. But I notice it works better when people assure you they want it, assure you, with a blood oath-say, by opening one of their veins right there in front of you and bleeding long enough for you to say in a matter-of-fact tone, “Okay, I think you mean it.” It’s even more assuring when they open an artery. But even then, when you’ve waited long enough that it requires a major transfusion of blood (like seven or eight units-make that a couple of pints), offer your criticism with the right tone. As if every word that escaped your lips was dragging a hefty piece of your liver with it and you were reluctant to turn it loose. Furrow your brows and look as if you were excavating a deep mine shaft to try to come up with something negative. And add caveats by the barrel full. Use phrases like, “But on the other hand…” Or, “Many experienced and wise people would take issue with me here…”

The only piece of advice I’m giving here (and not everyone would agree with me, don’t you understand-in fact most would be against me)-I’m just saying, it might be best to keep your mouth shut!

     Well, I don’t know Jim McGuiggan personally all that well but I think he’s on to something when it comes to building trusting, loving, open relationships. Oh, I’ve met Jim McGuiggan once or twice, I’ve read all of his books, and I’ve listened to his preaching a lot. 

     From his books and his preaching I do know that he is confessedly insecure. But, aren’t we all? Someone likened the human personality to an egg – they both must be handled with much care. So it is. So it is.

     Many people tell me that they have “a thick skin.” Frankly, I’ve never met a person who really did have thick skin that I thought had any clue about what it means to be human (but, many people disagree with me on that).

     And so I think Jim is on to something. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we ought to spend our time and energy encouaging one another. For me, constant scrutiny and critique is just not that encouraging.

     And one other thing – while I’m thinking about it – if I could make a rule, one rule in the entire universe, this would be it:

Never, never, never communicate criticism using email. If you don’t have the relationship that allows for face-to-face communication with your target, say over coffee, or shooting some hoops, or drowning a worm together, you certainly do not have the relationship required to form the foundation for a helpful critique of that person’s life or ministry.

Email is fine for communicating facts, figures and dates. But, it is a poor substitute for the warmth, grace and dignity required to nurture human relationships.

What do you think?