Handling Criticism: Lessons from Nehemiah

Criticism is part of life. If you are in leadership, you will be criticized by some for what you do, while others will criticize you for what you don’t do. The issue is not how to avoid criticism, but how to respond in a godly, Christlike manner. A few years back, I was doing a study of the book of Nehemiah. I noted how Nehemiah responded to his critics. I came across my notes yesterday and decided to share them.


Chapter 2

Any time you step out to do a new thing and/or to express compassion for others—Expect Opposition! (10)

Reasons for criticism—legitimate; displaced; negative spirit; personality conflict; threatened by change

Destructive criticism is meant to: hurt or humiliate and belittle; manipulate or control; blame or create guilt; get attention

Constructive criticism is meant to: help improve or make us aware; express concern or caring; keep communication open; clear the air; motivate us to make positive change

To avoid criticism: say nothing; do nothing; be nothing; avoid risks; please people rather than God. However, if you do these things, you’ll still be criticized.

Chapter 4

Criticism can take on many different forms:

  • Anger (1, 7)
  • Mocking (1, 3)
  • Ridicule (2, 3)
  • Conspiracy (8)
  • Discouragement (10)
  • Intimidation and fear (11-12)

Proverbs 27:5-6 – Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

The response to criticism can vary:

  • Pray (4, 5, 9)
  • Trust God to settle the score (4, 5)
  • Revise your plan (9, 16-18). Learn from it.
  • Remember God’s provision and protection (14)
  • Stay faithful to the task (15, 21). Move on.

Avoid defensiveness and defenselessness. Discover if there is any truth in the criticism. Pray for your critics (Luke 6:28). Model grace—show others how to respond to criticism. Minister to your critics. Separate the criticism from the critic. Forgive. Silence (Matthew 26:63).

Chapter 6

If criticism fails, the opposition may resort to deception, false accusations, rumors, and intimidation (1-2, 4, 6-7, 10-11, 13), all of which aim at discouraging and distracting us from what’s most important (9).

Nehemiah responded to his critics by:

  • Positive refusal to be distracted (3-4). Sometimes you should meet with critics and sometimes you should ignore them.
  • Confronting their lies (8)
  • Praying for strength (9)
  • Refusing to be intimidated (11)
  • Letting God handle the retribution (14)
  • Staying focused on the task (15)

God is more concerned with our response to criticism than with the criticism itself.



May the Fourth be with you … at Awana

It was Star Wars Night in Awana at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. Kids and leaders dressed up as various characters from the movies. We had a Star Wars version of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace because they wouldn’t bow down to Darth Nezzer (Nebuchadnezzar). It was another fun night of Bible learning and games.


Doppelgänger in Distress

When the phone rings at 3:50AM, it can’t be good news. When the call comes from ER, you put on your pastoral hat and head for the hospital.

The phone rang at 3:50AM. It jarred me awake, and I answered groggily.

“Is this Mark Wheeler?” the voice asked.

“Yes, it is,” I responded.

“This is April. Marky was in a serious accident. He’s been asking for you. I’ve been trying to find your phone number for two hours. I’m sorry to call so early.”

“That’s all right. I’m glad you called. Who did you say was hurt?”

“Marky was in an accident. His back is broken. He’s been asking for you. We’re at __________.”

“I will be there as soon as I can. Tell me again who was in the accident.”


“OK. I’m on my way.”

After that cryptic exchange jolted my adrenaline, I jumped in the shower, quickly got dressed, hopped in the car, and headed for __________. On the way there, I remembered another such phone call at 2AM that resulted in a trip to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where the daughter of one of our church members had been killed in an automobile accident. On the way to the hospital, I prayed for grace and the wisdom to know how to minister to the family.

After parking and finding my way to ER, I tried to explain to the attending nurse who I was looking for. Not knowing the family name, I explained the details of the accident and injuries. The nurse said he knew who I was talking about and asked my relationship. I explained that I was their pastor. He summoned another nurse who led me back to the ER room where the family was.

The nurse pulled back the curtain of the exam room. I stared at two women who I did not recognize and they stared back at me. They told the nurse they had not called me.

Outside the room, I spoke to a different nurse at the nurses’ station. I explained the situation and asked the patient’s name.

“Mark Wheeler.”

The nurse went into the room to talk with the women. Afterwards, she came back and explained what happened. “Marky” Wheeler had been in an accident. April called his father, Mark Wheeler, to let him know. Instead of reaching him, she got my number. Right name, wrong number.

There is an April in my church, and I assumed she was the one calling me. She asked for me by name. The fact I didn’t recognize the name, “Marky,” and had to ask three times who was injured, well, I just chalked it up to being groggy.

Back home by 4:30AM, I made a pot of coffee, prayed for the family, and had a good laugh with my wife about a case of mistaken identity.

It’s going to be a long day. SIGH.

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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in Ministry


Star Wars Day

May the Fourth be with you … (a little Star Wars humor courtesy of Brewster Rocket)

ride sharing on hoth 1 ride sharing on hoth 2

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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in Fun, Star Wars


(More) Things to consider in picking a new name for a church

As I’ve posted previously, our church is in the process of changing the name of our church. Last month, one person sent me a letter offering one perspective on things to consider in the process. Today, I received another letter offering a different viewpoint. While neither viewpoint is necessarily right or wrong, they offer contrasting perspectives and should be prayerfully considered in the process.


Dear Pastor Mark,

In your blog, On Target, you recently posted a letter you received that shared some thoughts regarding choosing a new name for First Central Baptist Church. I totally respect the writer’s opinions and am glad he felt he could be open with you about his thoughts. Without reiterating his comments, but using the same headings, I’d like to offer my points of view on this important decision for our church.

Leave no remnants of the past

Steve Green sings these beautiful words: “Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.” My life has been shaped by many people in this church who have walked before me.  Included are Sunday School teachers, choir directors, musicians, pastors, senior saints, prayer warriors, and people who have served in a wide variety of ministries. I also think about the missionaries and pastors who have been sent out from our church and are currently reaching people for the Lord all over the world – and they’ve been launched from the firm foundation at First Central. These people have certainly impacted more lives than mine.  So I’m not being sentimental when I say, we should build on the foundation that was carefully and prayerfully laid for all of us at First Central. “Oh, may the fire of their devotion light our way.”

“Leave no remnants of the past.” – I’m new to quilting, but I know about remnants of fabric, the leftover pieces of sewing projects. Many beautiful quilts are made from those remnants!  I think we should keep some of those beautiful remnants that make up the history quilt of our church.  Although we have agreed to drop the name ‘Baptist’ from our name, “First Central” is a well-known remnant of our former name and is well respected within the Chicopee community.

“…We should start with a clean slate.” – The meaning of starting with a clean slate has the implication that everything needs to be erased because things are wrong, or inferior, or inaccurate, or headed in the wrong direction. We’ve recently erased the word “Baptist’ from our name.  Not because that word was any of the things I just described, but because it was decided that ‘Baptist’ could interfere with our outreach. Our name came from the merging of two churches in Chicopee many years ago: First Baptist Church and Central Baptist Church.  I don’t think using the words “First Central” will interfere in any way with our commitment to reaching the lost.

Keep it short and simple

I agree. Even though our church name was officially “First Central Baptist Church,” most people simply call it “First Central.” The new name should be easy to remember.

Do not incorporate local geography

If we’re trying to reach the lost, we should make it easy for them to find us! People are more likely to recognize our church as ‘”that pretty brick church with the electronic sign that’s near the falls” than by its name. If our church should outgrow our current building and we need to move to a new place, that’s wonderful! At that point we can decide to carry the name with us, or decide on a new name.

In the final statement of the letter says, “It is important that the name not reflect where the church is or has been, but rather where the church can be.”  In the thirty- plus years I have been a member of this church with my family, First Central is, and has been a beacon of light in a dark world. God’s word was and is clearly preached, people love and care for each other, people are saved, baptized, and encouraged to grow in their walk with Jesus and to serve others.  I pray this can and will be our future as well.

Thank you for your willingness to listen to and consider different but respectful points of view. I hope you will share my thoughts on your blog as well.



Succeed at what matters


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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Quotes, Tim Challies


The best preachers are plagiarists


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Posted by on May 2, 2016 in Uncategorized


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