The Value of Mentors–and Critics!
by Doug Stringer
Courageous, transformational leadership must be rooted in the values of God’s kingdom. Dr. Edwin Louis Cole once said, “The characteristics of the kingdom emanate from the characteristics of the King.” You see, above all else, we’re called to reflect the nature of Jesus Christ, our Savior and King. Society will not be impacted by persuasive arguments unless they are presented by people who model genuine Christlikeness, and this is even more important if we are leaders.
What traits did Jesus demonstrate to His disciples? While many leaders throughout the centuries have reached for thrones to build their own kingdoms, Jesus reached for a towel to wash people’s feet. (See John 13:1– 17.) That same heart of humility and servanthood is what it will take today to bring long-term transformation to the seven key areas of our culture.
The Bible says you are called to be an ambassador of God’s kingdom. (See 2 Corinthians 5:20.) Whether you’re a good ambassador or a bad one, your example will make an impression on people; and when you accurately reflect kingdom values, you will leave a lasting legacy, changing individuals and institutions for the glory of God.
But make no mistake, the core values of God’s kingdom and His Word are under fierce assault today. The Bible describes timeless and nonnegotiable principles and values, but we live in an increasingly secular and relativistic culture. It has become fashionable to discard absolutes in favor of a mindset reminiscent of Israel in the days of the judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
So how are God’s people supposed to live in times like these? First, we must recognize what is happening in the culture around us. As an old Bob Dylan song once de- clared, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” And the changes are not minor in nature—they are foundational.
King David asked a profound question of how we should live in days like these: “If the foundations [of a godly society] are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3 amp). First, we must ensure that our own spiritual foundation is strong. Like the wise man who built his house on rock instead of sand, we must listen to God’s instructions and obey them. (See Matthew 7:24–27.)
Mentors in Difficult Times
We shouldn’t be surprised by the times that are now upon us. The Bible clearly warns us about the “perilous times” that will come in the last days:
Men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1–5)
Paul wrote these words to his spiritual son Timothy. After warning him not to be swayed by the godless culture around him, Paul commended Timothy for following his “doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions…” (2 Timothy 3:10–11). In other words, the antidote to following people’s bad examples is to find godly mentors like Paul and follow their Christlike examples.
What about you? Do you have a positive role model and mentor in your life? Someone who both encourages you and holds you accountable? A person who can boldly say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 niv)
God has graciously blessed me with some outstanding mentors, and I am eternally grateful for the rich deposits they’ve made in my spiritual life as a Christian leader. But today, as in Bible times, spiritual fathers and mothers are rare.
Look at how Paul described his fatherly love for the believers in Corinth:
I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.
(1 Corinthians 4:14–16 nasb)
Paul made it clear to the Thessalonians that being a spiritual father or mother is entirely different than being just a good preacher or Bible teacher:
Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:8 nasb)
You see, it’s all about relationship. Paul had genuine affection for people. He didn’t just preach to them; he also gave them his life.
If you don’t presently have such a person in your life, I encourage you to make this a matter of urgent prayer. Having a mentor to train and equip you will be a huge safeguard as you continue your quest to bear more fruit for God’s kingdom, and he or she will help you finish well in the course He has set before you.
Dealing with Critics
Just as mentors can be a tremendous blessing and inspiration in our lives, critics and naysayers can bring us great discouragement if we let them. But it’s impossible to go through this life without having any critics. Rather than alarm us, this should actually encourage us! Jesus told us plainly,
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12)
The good news is that if God is for us, we have nothing to fear from those who oppose us. (See Romans 8:31.) However, the world takes note of how we behave when we’re criticized or under attack. When we’re treated harshly and unfairly, they look to see whether we manifest the character of Christ or respond according to the flesh.
Of course, there’s something much more important than whether people are impressed by how we react to hardships. I’ve learned that how I respond during adversity often determines whether God’s blessings in my life are expedited or postponed. Whenever I start to complain about some trial I’m going through, the Lord tells me, “Doug, remember that your attitudes and responses have consequences.” Over the years, I’ve seen that every adversity is an opportunity for God to show Himself greater.
I’ve also learned that my adversaries often become my advocates when I keep a right spirit. I remember a time when I was transitioning out of the fitness business because God was leading me to establish a Christian activity center. I had great passion for what God had done in my life, and many people were coming to the Lord.
However, not everyone was thrilled by the direction God was taking me, especially since the transition was coming at great personal sacrifice. I had given away my car to a Teen Challenge, a drug rehab ministry. And after ministering to a woman on the verge of suicide, I ended up giving her my furniture. So, with few earthly possessions left, I was basically living out of my suitcase at my fitness studio.
One day, a young pastor pulled up in his new, expensive sports car and disdainfully told me, “Those who are really in God’s will are blessed with abundance.”
As his car screeched off, I found myself very grieved. “Lord, is it true that I’m not being blessed?” I asked.
Later, the pastor called me and continued his barrage of criticism. “God is never going to use this crazy idea of yours,” he said. “In the Bible, you never see the apostle Paul starting Christian activity centers or anything like that.”
I tried to explain to this young man that I was just trying to reach people for Christ, but he continued to criticize me and for some time he remained an outspoken critic of mine. God used that experience to teach me a huge lesson that I’ve tried to live by all these years: Instead of harboring an offense against my adversaries and critics, I must bless and pray for them.
So I found the grace to pray for that young pastor, saying, “God, I pray that You’ll open his eyes and see Your purposes here. In the meantime, help me to be what You want me to be, and help me to see any truth in what he is saying.”
The good news is, the Lord doesn’t hold us responsible for how other people treat us or how they respond to our advice. But He does hold us responsible for how we respond to them. Are you dealing with critics in your life? If so, I hope you’ll remember that every life experience can serve as a life lesson and become part of your life message, so don’t let your trials go to waste!
Overcoming Evil with Good
When God teaches you an important lesson, it is seldom for you alone. He will almost always give you opportunities to share what you’ve learned with others.
After the Lord showed me how to deal with critics, I’ve been able to help and encourage other leaders who have faced similar situations. One of these leaders was Shaun, a friend in Australia who was connected with our ministry. Our parent organization had ordained him as a missionary and he had re- turned to his native country. He and his wife had started a small Bible study that grew into a multiethnic group of several hundred.
One day when I was visiting him, he told me how the pastor of one of the largest churches in his city was publicly railing against him and his small congregation. My friend was pretty distraught, as you might imagine, and he was initially skeptical of the advice I gave him.
“You need to take the high road,” I said. “This defining moment will either limit or expand the future of your ministry. In fact, in addition to forgiving him, you need to start praying blessings over him. Let God vindicate you.”
“Doug, you don’t get this,” he replied. “This man has a lot of influence, and he is speaking against me to anyone who will listen. He’s undermining both me and my ministry.”
At that point, I shared with my friend a powerful principle that I learned in David Wilkerson’s book Have You Felt Like Giving Up Lately? Wilkerson pointed out that it’s always the wrong person on the Cross. For example, Jesus was completely innocent and without sin, yet He was the One who had to bear the sins of others. Wilkerson also noted that if we hold on to the sins of other people, we will in essence hang on the Cross, feeling miserable, bitter, and wounded, while the other people go about their business. But if we make a decision to release and forgive those who say or do things against us, we are set free, once again able to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives.
We all have faced injustice or unfair criticism at some point on our journeys, so we all must learn this vital lesson. Look at what the apostle Paul says concerning this:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17–21 niv)
As you allow these verses to sink in, I encourage you to pause for a moment to allow the Lord to search your heart. Is there someone you need to forgive and release? Are you willing to allow the Lord to be your Avenger and Healer, even if you have been deeply hurt? Even in your pain, will you reach out to them in love and kindness and bless them in any way you can?
Taking the High Road
My friend Shaun had a chance to act upon these verses in very practical ways. While I was still visiting him, he received some startling news: Serious sins had been discovered in the life of the pastor who had been so critical. He was publicly humiliated and had to step down from leadership in his church.
At first, my friend was tempted to gloat. “Well, see what I’m talking about, Doug?” he told me. “He’s finally getting what he deserves.”
“Oh, no, no, no!” I responded. “Remember, we were just talking about taking the high road.” I encouraged him to reach out and give the man a call to find out if he was genuinely broken.
“Doug,” he protested. “Don’t you realize what he has done to me? And on top of that, he hates me, and there’s no way he’ll listen to anything I say.”
“Take the high road,” I insisted. “Reach out to him. You’re not responsible for how he responds but how you respond.”
Although he was mad at me for giving him such difficult advice, he later reached out to the pastor and called him. Rather than reject this overture, the pastor was so moved that he and his family sat under my friend’s ministry for two years. He was ultimately restored to ministry and went on to pastor another church.
Meanwhile, God blessed Shaun in amazing ways. At the time of my visit, he had several hundred members, but his congregation numbers grew to around three thousand, and the impact of his life and ministry has expanded around the globe.
I’m convinced that the outcome would have been much different if Shaun had chosen to hold on to his offense. That pastor probably wouldn’t have been restored to ministry, and Shaun’s church would never have grown past two or three hundred people. Thank God he took the high road!
“CRITICS AND CRITICISM WILL COME AND GO, BUT CHRISTLIKE CHARACTER WITH COMMITMENT, CONSISTENCY, AND COURAGE WILL OUTLAST THEM ALL.”
“DISCOURAGEMENT AND DISAPPOINTMENT BRING DISILLUSIONMENT, WHICH THEN BREEDS COMPROMISE AND DISTRACTS US FROM OUR INTENDED DESTINATION OR OUR DESTINIES.”
“ALLOWING THE OFFENSES OF OTHERS TO KEEP US WOUNDED CAN HINDER US FROM ACCOMPLISHING GOD’S INTENDED PURPOSE AND DESTINY IN OUR LIVES.”