"When Sanballat heard that we were building the wall of Jerusalem, he was very angry and upset. He started making fun of the Jews. Sanballat talked with his friends and the army at Samaria and said, 'What are these weak Jews doing? Do they think we will leave them alone? Do they think they will offer sacrifices? Maybe they think they can finish building in only one day. They cannot bring stones back to life from these piles of trash and dirt. These are just piles of ashes and dirt!'” Nehemiah 4:1,2
When Nehemiah began to rebuild the broken down walls around Jerusalem a few naysaysers began to say "nay!" They yelled "nay!" to Nehemiah's vision of restoring Jerusalem to it's former glory, "nay!" to bringing the scattered Jews back to Jerusalem and "nay!" to helping this city on a hill shine the glory of God to the nations like it once did.
They mocked, conspired, accused and, ultimately, planned an assasination on Nehemiah and an attack on the city. How Nehemiah responded to these naysayers gives us some strong clues and cues on how we can respond to the naysayers in our ministries.
Oh yeah, you will get naysayers in your ministry by the way. That's something most seminaries don't teach. But it will happen...probably several times over the course of your ministry career.
And, by the way, the more you seek to build a Gospel Advancing, disciple-multiplying ministry, the more the naysayers will nay. There's something about a ministry that is advancing God's kingdom that brings out the Debbie downers and the negatives Neds in droves.
So, as you seek to build your ministry according to God's Acts blueprint, here are 5 simple and effective ways to deal with the naysayers that will inevitably attack you:
1. Pray them quiet.
"Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders." Nehemiah 4:4,5
Every time Nehemiah's naysayers attacked him with words Nehemiah took it to the throne room of God in prayer. He asked God to shut them up and shut their efforts down. He asked God to intervene on his behalf. He took their threats seriously enough to ask God to take swift and decisive action.
The book of Nehemiah is sprinkled with Nehemiah's prayers. Many of these prayers are intercessory prayers on behalf of the Jews and in response to the verbal (and potentially physical) attacks of their enemies.
Is your life and ministry sprinkled with prayer? Are you consistently in his presence, bringing your requests, praying on behalf of those you are ministering to? Are you asking God to shut down the plans of the naysayers and advance his kingdom agenda through you and your team?
Make intercessory prayer a habit. It's like an Air Force that protects the battleground of your ministry efforts. And recruit others to join you in prayer.
2. Don't waste too much time responding to the naysayers.
"But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. 'What is this you are doing?' they asked. 'Are you rebelling against the king?' I answered them by saying, 'The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Nehemiah 2:19,20
Nehemiah tried to quickly shut them down and their false accusations of his efforts. He made it clear that he and the Jews had a historic right to the city. In the same way you and I have a historic right to make and multiply disciples.
In Matthew 28:18-19 Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations...." Talk about a historic right? 2,000 years ago the King of kings and Lord of lords gave you and I the right to share the Gospel with everyone everywhere!
Kindly, gently and firmly affirm this right to anyone who tries to keep you from doing this in your ministry. Lovingly remind them that you are called to carry out the last and lasting mandate of Jesus...no matter how much resistance it brings.
3. Make sure the leadership of the church is fully behind you.
“If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?' And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me." Nehemiah 2:7-9
Long before Sanballat and Tobiah began their attack on Nehemiah he had strategically gotten a permission slip from the King. Not only did the King give him permission to build the wall in Jerusalem, he also graciously gave Nehemiah the provision and protection to carry it out.
Early on, talk to your church leadership about your vision, philosophy and strategies. Make sure there is full alignment upfront (and, just in case, request a copy of the notes from that particular meeting!)
This pre-emptive step is crucial to keep the "nays" at bay when things go astray.
4. Pray and take defensive action when things turn ugly.
"But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat." Nehemiah 4:7-9
Nehemiah and crew prayed to God and posted a guard when the threat of a military attack turned from possible to probable. Later on in this chapter we find out that all the laborers armed themselves. They had a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. All the Jews kept building the wall (although slower) and, at the same time, kept a vigilant eye out to the horizon for the impending attack.
When you know that things have moved beyond just words to action, it's time to play defense. That may mean calling a meeting with the church leadership. It may mean documenting all that has happened up to that particular point. It may mean getting the power brokers of the church involved.
This is when we must be both wise and shrewd. I call shrewdness wisdom's streetwise cousin. If you don't, like Nehemiah, deal shrewdly at these critical times, you could potentially lose all forward progress up to that particular point.
You could also lose your job.
5. Put the focus on celebrating God, not gloating over the naysayers, as your ministry vision gets accomplished.
"When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God." Nehemiah 6:16
"Nehemiah said, 'Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
God used Nehemiah to accomplish a very specific mission, building a wall around the city of Jerusalem. God wants to use you to accomplish a very specific mission, multiplying disciples in and around your city.
Nehemiah didn't allow the naysayers to stop him, neither should you. But, when God comes through, don't gloat over them. Instead, celebrate all that God has done and put the focus on Him, not them...or yourself.
Hopefully, these handful of hints from the book of Nehemiah, will help you, as they've helped me, deal with the naysayers in ministry.