When the Back-Biters Bite at Your Leadership

March 27th, 2017

Being in a youth leader role shines a spotlight on a life in a way that rivals a political candidate. Even the simplest actions can be interpreted as ulterior motives by followers. There are points when leaders are responsible for giving the wrong impression – absolutely. But what do you do when you catch wind of a rumor circulating about you that is completely unfounded?

I served as a youth pastor at a church in Indiana during a time of drastic transition. Although my wife and I have so many wonderful memories and relationships from this time, the (merited) lack of trust from the people for their leaders posed multiple challenges. The most memorable of which came from the most peculiar conversation I have had.

I received a phone call from an elder. Though it wasn’t out of place for him to give me a call, the alarm in my head instantly started going off. And rightfully so.

I answered and offered a cautious “Hello?”

“Hi Jonny, ***insert 3 minutes of small talk.***”

Then he turned the corner.

“Listen, the reason I called is because I heard some news about you and wanted to bring it back to you.”

Oh boy, time to start thinking over my last five sins and which one has been exposed.

“To be honest, I’ve heard this from three people.”

And it only takes TWO witnesses to be guilty according to the Bible – I’m screwed.

“Just so you know, I don’t believe this is true.”

At least he’ll visit me in jail, what a guy.

“I heard that you… are… a stripper.”

There was a long silence on my part. I responded with the only thing one can in such a position – I laughed uncontrollably. Then I asked for clarification. After getting a couple more details, I dipped into my prime spiritual gift – snarkiness.

“You know, I think that this is only a problem because there are ladies out there that are HOPING I’m a stripper.”

“I tried telling you all I need a raise! Bivocational pastors are all the rave, but I want to be about the people.”

“I think I’ll call my stripper ministry ‘Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.’”

We had a good laugh for a bit. He said he was going to handle it from there. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife. But after telling her the story, I actually heard it out loud. How sad is this? What kind of people believe this of me? Not only am I overweight and quite unattractive, but there was one nagging question that stuck with me: how is it that my character didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt with these people?

Odds are that you have had to sort through gossip that made its way back to you. Few things can send a leader into a tailspin so quickly as a harmful word circulated in secrecy. It could be…

            This ministry is all about him and he doesn’t care about anyone else’s input.

            She isn’t as good of a leader as ____.

            I think _____ isn’t coming because he can’t stand you.

            ____’s  parent doesn’t think you provide enough depth in your group.

How should you respond when these types of “insights” are hurled into your back?

Realize That Even Church People Are People

I’ve heard the phrase “You’d expect better of a Christian” quite often. It’s true that we should be able to assume that love and empathy are vital attributes being lived out by a disciple of Christ. But there’s one word in that statement that poses the problem: should. All bets are off when dealing with people, even people within the Church. Each individual is a unique compilation of hurts, hang-ups, strange experiences and baggage. There isn’t a single person that is without a blind spot that Christ is eagerly waiting to redeem.

[bctt tweet=”There isn’t a single person that is without a blind spot that Christ is eagerly waiting to redeem.” username=”ys_scoop”]

When your defenses are up due to someone’s loose lips, fight the urge to be combative. Rather than seeing this person as a threat, choose to be filled with the same gut-wrenching empathy that Christ had in Matthew 9:36. He was so moved by people’s lostness – being “sheep without a shepherd” – that it messed with his heart.

How would your own mental fortitude be bolstered if you observed your offender as someone who is being harassed by an attitude of discontentment that has not yet fallen to submission to Christ? When you change your view of your adversary, restoration has a chance.

Do Your Part – If Any

Many times I have found that bouts of gossip that have circulated were partly my fault. Should they be talking behind my back? No, we know that. But before you get all Matthew 18 on their keister, ask yourself these tough questions:

            Is there a partial truth in this that I need to sort through?

            Does this statement capitalize on an insecurity I’ve thought about myself?

            Have I mistakenly given the wrong impression?

            Is this a sign of an unrelated problem that I have not addressed?

The degree of honesty to which you engage with these questions will be the extent of self-awareness you will have. Honest self-awareness is always the goal.

Once you are enlightened to anything you may need to take ownership, use that as the lead-in for an apology or a chance to discuss the issue with your offender. The goal is restoration, not justification. Do your part to humbly engage in a tough discussion that can begin the road to healing.

Plan Your Defense

This is not a cry for an alibi. It is also not about putting together a plan of attack. This is simply giving the chance for God to have your back in ways that you can’t fabricate yourself.

At some point, the words in the Bible have to be true of lives. If God will “fight your battles for you” and “keep you safe under His wings,” I can’t think of any more practical way than when people make an assault on your character. Nehemiah’s handling of Sanballat’s attacks is the prime example of this. When they spread the rumor that Nehemiah was trying to secede from the Persian Empire, this was his prayer:

“O God, strengthen my hands.”

It wasn’t to reign down fire on his enemies; it wasn’t to make all things better; it was a prayer to give him the strength to keep pushing through and do what God has called him to do.

That same prayer is available to you.

When discord feels like it’s spiraling out of control, pray that God will do what only He can do so you can do what He has called you to do. Other people cannot and will not nullify the mission that God has hand selected for you.

We live with flawed people and we take some serious gut-shots because of it. In spite of this, shepherd them well.

Jonny Radcliff is the Student Ministries Director at Storehouse Church in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He lives nearby with his wife, Sarah, and two kids, Laelle and Levi. His almost ten years of ministry have been spent in Indiana and Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Grace Theological Seminary. It is Jonny’s hope that his efforts will help youth leaders all over the Philadelphia area operate as one unit. For more info, check out www.youthminlifers.com.   


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