Harbor Mid-City

The Dogpile Effect

Photo by John Shardlow via flickr (Creative Commons)

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-11

We live in a dog pile society. Everyone has an opinion on everything. Their own opinion is superior to everyone else’s. And nothing gets us talking faster than repeating or adding to someone else’s opinion.

It’s the dog pile effect. It takes a mountain, makes a molehill, then it makes Mt. Everest. All in the name of “just talking.”

As if the collateral damage was worth it?

The annoying thing about the whole dog pile method is that, at the end of the day, it’s typically over things we don’t actually care about or effect us.

And while we all join in, and get injured by, the dog pile– we do it to other people! (It’s true that hurt people, hurt people.)

National politics? Office politics? Denominational politics? Church politics? Sure, I’m up on the news but I don’t really care enough to say… hurt a friends feelings by saying his opinion is stupid.

The bottom of the dog pile hurts

Broken bones. Broken dreams. Broken lives.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a big, fancy nationally known person or the guy handing out flyers at the grocery store. When criticism mounts, when accusations fly, when things get repeated to the point that it’s assumed to be true even before you take a serious second to think… all of that adds weight to the dog pile.

Stop it

O, that we would be different! That we would seek to understand before volleying an opinion. That we would differ in opinions in a way that honored, loved even, others.

There are things in this world that are worth destroying. But one another is not one of them.

Christian Living Church Leadership

Your Ministry of Discouragement

Having just spent a week with Christian leaders I came home with a raw heart.

Surely, I came home tired.

But I also came home perplexed by our unique ability to discourage one another.

Speaker shoes

When I went to my first convention in 2002– the whole thing was weird for me. It all seemed larger than life. The speakers, bands, seminar leaders, and myriad of volunteers all seemed bulletproof. I’d never seen anything like it and…

They are not. They are no different than you or I.

Now that I sit in different rooms during NYWC I see the event through their eyes as much as the eyes of those who have driven from all over the country to attend.

Imagine their perspective. For most, coming to convention is the highlight of their year. They are eager to present. But they are also eager to reconnect with lifelong compatriots, catch a friends seminar, or even to just be with people who remind them that they aren’t crazy. For many first-time speakers and artists it is actually an affirmation of years of hard work to be invited to speak. It’s a really big deal.

And so they do their thing. (Teach, lead worship, or even perform their talent) They are all the way into it. Their heart is there. They’ve given themselves to countless hours of preparation. They bought a new shirt. They got their nails done. And for a good chunk of them this is the largest audience they’ve ever spoken to. They are feeling big time because it’s one of the few places in youth ministry where we gather to acknowledge big time people.

And when they complete their task– most are both eager for feedback and too raw to receive feedback constructively. That’s why we’ve created spaces for them to just come and relax. For most, their hearts are just too raw and they need some time before and after.

This really isn’t any different than when I’ve taught or preached. (Thankfully, I’ve never been in a band!) You leave the platform feeling exposed, you seek out feedback, you want to know that what you did or said moved people or helped somehow or was just good and not bad.

It’s a raw state that anyone who speaks or performs experiences.

Inevitably, as folks bump into me, they want to know what people were saying online while they presented. If I’m on my A-game, I’ll have selected and saved a few tweets to share. I’m careful to show them things that will affirm. But folks are savvy and they know that if I’m showing them 1-2 things that there are likely a lot more. So when they ask, I suck at lying, so we look at them all.

And it’s depressing. You can feel the shoulders slump as they are shown a mirror they weren’t quite ready to look into.

There are lots of tweets quoting people. Awesome.

There are lots of tweets about how people feel as a person is singing or speaking. Awesome.

And there are lots of tweets about flippant things as people try to say something smart so that they can get re-tweeted. Not awesome.

It’s not awesome. It hurts. It sticks. And it bitters the entire experience. No one wants to read that someone thinks their hairstyle sucks. Or the color of their shirt is wrong for the color of their skin. Or that they look kind of like a celebrity.

It’s as if we get so caught up trying to out smart-aleck one another that we forget that these are real people who will likely read about themselves on Twitter, or Facebook, or Google. Yeah, when you @reply a person on Twitter it is very likely they are going to see it! Geez, you think?

That’s the problem. We don’t think. We forget that people are not objects. We forget that this is real life. And we forget that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

This isn’t about convention, it’s about you

In the same breathe lets acknowledge some truth. Anyone who speaks at convention knows that criticism, even over silly things, is part of the game. It shouldn’t be but it is. And they all get over it.

And just like when a student comes into our office and rips on us for 20 minutes… we all know that flippant negative remarks aren’t about us. They tend to be about what’s in the heart of the critic rather than style of the critiqued clothing.

Think about this for half a second: Who called you to a ministry of discouragement?


As I was thinking about this yesterday, I wondered how many people would like the same treatment this week? How would they like it if they taught a Bible lesson on Wednesday night in full knowledge that while they were sharing all of their pupils were having a dialog about their words and trying to one-up one another on Twitter or Facebook.

What would it be like to teach on Sunday morning, have people shake your hand as they left, and then read that there was a rowdy debate about whether or not you’ve gained some weight.

You would feel horrible. You would cry out to God, “Why have you called me to minister to these people? Why do I deserve this? I share the message you’ve laid on my heart and all they care about is where I bought my shoes!

And yet we do it all the time. Not just at events like NYWC, we do it all the time… all the time! We post some smarty-pants comment about a person not knowing or caring that this same person is going to see our tweet, click on our profile, and think… “Youth pastor at First Baptist, eh? What a jerk!

My plank is just as big and as weighty as anyone else. But being common doesn’t make something correct.

You are entitled to your opinion

I think there is an important distinction to mention here. There is a distinction to be made between a flippant remark, something sarcastic or a dagger about someone’s attire, and comments made about content. I’ve never known a person to not appreciate feedback on content. Even if it’s in strong opposition to what’s been presented. That’s on-topic and relevant. And I’ve also witnessed some incredible dialog as the result of comments made on content.

On top of that, when you pay to attend something you feel empowered to judge it. You watch television for free and when something isn’t to your liking you just change the channel and get over it. But when you pay to see a movie that you don’t like and you feel a responsibility to tell other people.

I get that. And I affirm that. You’re entitled to like or not like something. But you aren’t at liberty to tear down for the sake of making yourself look good. It is one thing to not like a movie. It’s an entirely different thing to make fun of someone who came to encourage you.

Change is needed

As I sat and thought about this phenomenon while coming home yesterday, I just couldn’t get two things out my mind.

First, a passage of Scripture I memorized long ago.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. Ephesians 5:1-7

Second, a song we sing with children.

O be careful little mouth what you say

O be careful little mouth what you say

There’s a Father up above

And He’s looking down in love

So, be careful little mouth what you say

O, that we would be a people known for lifting people up instead of tearing them down.

Church Leadership Weblogs

How to respond to critics of your ministry?

So you’re minding your own business and doing your thing. Then the phone rings and a friend calls saying something like this, “Did you know that someone in the church wrote about you on their blog? They didn’t say nice things! What are you going to do about it?

I can understand. For one thing, I’ve been contacted by my fair share of people who aren’t happy about something I posted here on my blog. I’ve even been contacted by the concerned party who was just worried that I might blog about something. On the other hand I’ve seen my fair share of criticism. I’ve been blasted many times on blogs, facebook, myspace, forums, and of course the old fashioned way… church gossip.

So… what’s Adam’s strategy for dealing with public criticism? I’ll let you in on my secrets. But just keep these secrets between us, OK? I wouldn’t want any f my critics to know how I will respond.

Secret #1 I see everything. Thanks to the wonder of the internet I am typically alerted automatically within an hour of something posted about me, my family, or things I care about. That means I am almost never surprised by a phone call like I mentioned above. Almost always I’ve already read the critique and decided what I’m going to do! There are both paid and free options for doing this… unless you’re Joel Olsteen the free options should do the trick.

Secret #2 I ignore almost everything. That’s right. Even the worst criticisms are worth ignoring. Let’s say someone didn’t like what I said in church and they blog about it. Is that swipe really hurting me? Not really. I don’t perpetrate myself as perfect. And I’m big enough to take a couple of shots. I’m also not concerned about “online reputations” too much. If I ran around with a chip on my shoulder about every negative thing being said about me, my people, or my work… I’d end up looking pretty stupid wouldn’t I? Here’s the dirty secret of criticism online: A link is a link. Google could care less if it’s a positive link or a negative link to your blog. All links help your online reputation.

Secret #3 When a lie resonates, invite a discussion. In my life, about 1:100 criticisms do get responded to because that same lie or critique is starting to pop up on other blogs, discussions, articles, or other places. In other words… if I ignore a criticism 99% of the time it will go away quickly. That’s really the beauty of the internet! There are so many blogs out there that 99% of posts really aren’t remarkable. People read blog entries so fast that chances are no one even noticed the critique. But that 1% of bad things said will get picked up by other bloggers. When that happens I need to think about a response strategy. When I do respond my first step is always to invite a person saying something publicly to contact me privately. I give them my name, the link to the critique, my phone number, and personal email address. If that blog has an email I send them a message there. If not, I leave a comment inviting them to discuss the criticism privately. Some disagree with that, but I prefer to discuss a criticism privately.

Secret #4 I vent about it, privately. I don’t care how important you are… getting slammed hurts. Even the trivial “who, said what? hahahaha!” ones hurt a little. As a pastor you put everything you’ve got into your ministry so any critique seems intensely personal. I fight my self-righteous attitude to say something here on my blog or to call and demand a person take it back. Further, most pastors don’t realize that they are in the public eye… you may be the most famous person most people in your church know! Here’s the trick. You need some outlets for that anger… and the people around me know full well what this is like. I will read something, make a “huh” little laugh and then talk to one of the people close to me about it. Try it, it helps. that way if I end up responding it is never out of anger.

Secret #5 Truth always wins. The fact of the matter is that you will do some dumb things. I know I’ve said, written, and done some incredibly idiotic things. If you only ever do safe things you will never be criticized. But the good news is that if you’re a good guy, you’ll always be a good guy. You can’t please everyone and it’s not worth trying.

Secret #6 There is an ounce of truth in every criticism. That’s why I read them all. WIth an understanding that all criticisms have something to teach me, I think I’m getting a little bit smarter!