When Those Closest to You Just Don’t Get You, Part 2

By Mark D. Roberts

September 7, 2016

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Mark 3:21


A group of people standing in solidarity togetherIn yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we focused on the sad response of the family of Jesus to his ministry of proclaiming and enacting the kingdom of God. I shared the story of my friend Brad, whose family has not supported his choice to follow Jesus in his life. I mentioned that I have been blessed with a very encouraging family, something I too easily take for granted.

But, I have experienced disapproval from people I have considered close colleagues and friends. I have struggled to remain faithful as a leader when people I care about – and who seemed to care about me – became critical, not only of my work, but also of me personally.

When I was the pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, my congregation and I had a clear sense of mission to reach out to our neighbors with the love and truth of Christ. As a result, the church grew in size as well as maturity. I felt pleased about how God was working among us and sensed that the congregation did as well.

But, in my fourteenth year at Irvine Pres, I began to receive intense criticism from some members of the church. Numbered among these members were people I considered friends and valued partners in ministry. Several of my critics were elders with whom I had worked closely and prayed deeply for years. Their criticism took quite a personal turn, focusing on me and my inadequacies as a pastor. But what they were really most unhappy about was the changing of the church from a relatively small, intimate community to one that was larger and growing. One of my strongest critics said in a meeting, “I want to be able to stop by the church at any time and know that my pastor is ready to see me.” The fact that I had a staff to manage, sermons to prepare, and scores of people to meet didn’t seem to count. This person wanted me to be available right away whenever she needed me.

I was not used to such sustained and personal criticism. It hurt. I wondered if I had been steering the church in the wrong direction. But, as I talked with many church leaders, I felt certain that the mission we had been given was right. This meant our church would grow and that, in some ways, I would therefore be less readily available to every individual member. So, though I struggled with the disapproval of people who mattered to me, I nevertheless kept our church on course.

I wish I had had access to Tod Bolsinger’s book, Canoeing the Mountains, when I was going through my ordeal. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be published until ten years later. In this book, Tod explains that resistance to culture-changing leadership is to be expected. People will be unhappy because of what they have lost. (In the case of my critics, they lost a sense of intimacy from being in a smaller church and the assurance that their pastor was immediately available to them at all times.) Leaders should expect the kind of resistance I experienced at Irvine Pres. Tod offers lots of wisdom that would have been helpful to me at the time. But, perhaps most importantly, he affirms what I determined I should do. “The leader in the system is committed to the mission when no one else is,” Tod writes, “For the leader the mission always trumps.”


Have you experienced something like what happened to me at Irvine Pres? How did you respond? In what ways did you reach out to God for wisdom and strength?

What helps us stay on course as leaders when we face criticism, especially from those who are close to us?


Gracious God, thank you for experiencing leadership in human relationships. Thank you for knowing how it feels to be unsupported and rejected. Thank you for being with us as we go through the challenges and disappointments of leadership.

Dear Lord, please give us strength to endure, courage to stand firm in the face of opposition, and wisdom about how best to lead. Surround us with those who will love us, support us, and tell us the truth we may not want to hear about ourselves. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Discipleship in Process (Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52; 8:14-21)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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