In the heat of personal criticism, have you ever crossed your arms and concluded, “Their opinion just doesn’t matter”?
The rub is that – while we hate to admit it – opinions do matter. In fact, they matter a great deal.
Saying someone’s opinion doesn’t matter, whether it’s of you, of something you’ve done, or of something people expect you to do, is tantamount to saying a thumbtack inside the bottom of your shoe doesn’t matter. You can dismiss it all you like, but eventually that little prick is going to demand that you deal with it.
Lately, however, I’ve been noticing that it’s not so much what opinion I’m considering, but whose opinion I’m considering.
I care a great deal about what God thinks about me. In fact, I dare say his is the only opinion that matters.
But then failing to mention that I care a great deal about my wife’s opinion of me would be irresponsible. She sees me through mature eyes on my best days and my worst.
Then there’s my children. They see me through far more innocent eyes, which causes me to consider their opinion of me with humble fear, lest I betray it.
With all the outside eyes on me as a Christian, however, there has been a noticeable shift. I was talking this over yesterday with my friend, partner, boss, and Pastor, Kirk Gilchrist.
For most Christians raised in first-world environments, I think it’s safe to assume that we traditionally care a great deal about what other Christians think about us. At least we pastors do. That’s why so much of our lives are spent mulling over complaints, criticisms and critiques. Pastors, for example, are the only breed of leaders I know who feel personally responsible when people that hate them leave their organization. Any CEO would be grateful for said member’s departure (probably taking some joy in firing them), whereas a pastor endures deep, inner turmoil over it for weeks, if not months and years.
And yet, first-world, Christian Pastors and their congregants – and I realize I’m speaking broadly with tremendous room for exceptions – tend to be an odd bunch who “have each others’ backs” when their respective congregations are fledgling and small, but turn on one another the moment any level of success is attained. I should know: I’ve been living in and around pastors and churches at various levels of “success” my entire life, just as I am a pastor in a church. Nor am I immune to the shortcomings. Just this morning I read an article on the successes of a ministry that got its start by – in my mind – “stealing” some of my resources. Instantly the Holy Spirit set upon me in tremendous love, asking, “Is it your ministry or mine? And does it advance my Kingdom, or are you upset that it didn’t advance yours?”
Perhaps it’s maturity. Perhaps it’s a lack of grace. But the people whose opinions that matter to me the most is shifting.
From Christians to not-Christians.
Brad Ringer of Pure for God Ministries was teaching in one of our discipleship classes a number of years ago and challenged the students to substitute the generic terms for “unsaved people” with what Jesus himself referenced as “those who are perishing.”
“When I say someone is ‘lost,’ how do they appear to you?” Brad asked. The students thought about it, as did I. Only a vague, meandering, bumbling subject presented itself, one which I reflexively associated with Christian-speak and my proverbial “mission field.”
“But if I tell you this same person is ‘perishing,’ what do you see?”
The students started chiming in with words like dying, suffering, at wit’s end, poor, hopeless, and destitute.
It’s those people, those who are perishing, whose opinions matter the most to me right now.
While the religious, Christian opinions that currently surround me and my office are those of disputing pet doctrines, jealousies, and endless semantics – all of which I expect will always be near if other leaders’ lives throughout history are to be any harbinger – it’s how the perishing world sees me that is slowly moving to the forefront of my heart-view.
I’m craving interaction with perishing people more and more. And as much as I’m desperate to see them come to know Jesus, I’m curious to know just what they see in me. Because someone who is truly perishing cares not about my affiliations, my successes or my doctrines. They only care about surviving. And I’m either someone who can help them swim to the life boat, or I’m someone who is complacent enough to be numb to the fact that they’re drowning all-the-while insisting they admit that I’m a good swimmer.
My father, Peter, sent me a quote this week by the late John Wesley, notable preacher, revivalist, and theologian:
You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most. It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance.
Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the Kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.
When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.
When you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see you burn.
It is the pricks of the perishing that I desire to be my most constant reminders of the need for divine conduct.