Joshua: How do leaders handle opposition?
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite community: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them! ” While the whole community threatened to stone them, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the tent of meeting. Numbers 14:6-10
God was right. The spies saw that the land God had promised to give them after their departure from Egypt was truly as good as He had said. The land offered them plenty of room and an amazing abundance of food and resources.
But it had another abundance too—plenty of strong people living in it who would not give it up without a fight.
That is why ten of the twelve spies told the people it was a lost cause. Trying to enter the land God had promised would result in death—theirs, not the people living in it. But Joshua and Caleb had reached another conclusion. The people in the land were great, but God is greater. If they trusted God, He would provide for them.
How did the people respond to the dissenting opinion of Joshua and Caleb? They wanted to kill them. Talk about opposition!
Joshua and Caleb didn’t waver from their trust in God, despite the brutal nature of their opposition. In the end, they entered the land when the other ten spies, and all of the people who wanted to kill them were dead. Joshua and Caleb saw God’s provision up close and personal.
As ministry leaders, we will face opposition and even though it most likely won’t be life-threatening, sometimes it may feel like it. So how can we handle opposition in a way that honors God and brings Him glory? Here are five lessons about handling opposition:
- Consider the root of the opposition. Sometimes the criticism we hear is not really the root issue we need to consider. A teacher who is critical about moving to a new curriculum may not have a problem with the new materials, but in reality feels unvalued because she helped choose the previous curriculum and was not part of the decision-making process now. In that case, sharing the vision and strengths of the new resource isn’t going to help. Try to get to the root issues of the opposition which at times may require that you simply ask someone what they are.
- Seek wisdom and counsel from others. A good leader will consider all criticism, but that can be hard at times, especially when the person being critical is doing so in a negative and adversarial manner. Surround yourself with people you trust and give them permission to speak truth to you in love. When someone is critical or opposing you, go to this team and ask for their feedback and wisdom. There will be times when the critical person is right, even if they are sharing their criticism in the wrong way. You may need help seeing that in the heat of the moment.
- Love and pray for those sharing criticism with you. When someone shares criticism in the right way, pray for him and thank God for his feedback and the way he shared it. Thank God that he cared enough to share criticism. When someone shares criticism in the wrong way, pray for him too! Ask God to move in his heart and your heart. Pray for God to help you love that person with grace.
- Appeal to the gospel when defending yourself. There will be times when someone opposes you or something in your ministry and you will need to defend yourself and your ministry. Be sure to anchor your defense on the gospel. For example, if someone is critical of the curriculum you use, don’t appeal to your experience in kids ministry or how many educators support it—take that person to the gospel. Explain why that curriculum advances the gospel in and through your kids. Always take your stand on the gospel. The gospel is a hill worth dying on.
- Know when to “walk away.” Romans 10 is incredibly helpful when it comes to managing conflict and opposition. In this verse we read that when it is possible we are to live at peace with others. That caveat is critical! It means there will be times when it is not possible because the other person does not want to live in peace. Do all you can to reconcile with the person, but recognize there may be a time when you simply have to “walk away.” That doesn’t mean you can ostracize the person, but it does mean you continue to pray for reconciliation and shower them with love and grace, yet with firmness when necessary.
Next time—John the Baptist: How do leaders handle success?
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.