Saturday, November 22, 2008

Curse of Cynicism

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.
Romans 12:3

My pastor-husband and I had been in full-time ministry for over twenty-five years, when suddenly I found myself not quite as "inspired" about ministry as I had been in previous years. At first, I blamed it on my age. Then, I thought that I must surely be experiencing burnout, but as I did some soul-searching, I discovered that I was under the curse of cynicism. Thinking cynics were typically found in the media or on the six o'clock news, I was shocked to discover this disease in the crevices of my own soul. After several months of walking through the "cynicism fog," I discovered that I was not the only Christian leader to experience this debilitating malady, but have found the curse of cynicism is epidemic among church leaders and laity alike. Cynicism is not prejudice. It enjoys giving a fatal bite to anyone, from the babes-in-Christ to the most seasoned saints, but especially delights in attacking those in leadership.

Webster's describes a cynic as a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions. There are "kissing cousins" of cynicism; unbelief, bitterness, discontentment, despondency and keen faultfinding. These thieves will rob a soul blind of any joy, peace or purpose, as they ride piggyback into a cynic's heart. If allowed to inhabit the heart of a leader, cynicism will neutralize the effectiveness of that leader and cripple them; leaving them feeling empty and useless. If the enemy of our soul sets a trap for us, when we are in such a weakened state, we are most likely to plunge off into the deep end. We all can certainly attest to knowing or hearing of some great leader, who seemed to start out with such sincerity; then years later they are completely shipwrecked. What happened? Was it some hidden addiction? It seems that the curse of cynicism breeds all types of evil in the heart.

Cynicism's Citadel

Cynicism has certain destructive generals in its citadel. They attempt to disguise themselves, but when under the searchlight of the Holy Spirit, they can be easily recognized and identified.

Pride is the avenue which opens the heart's door to the curse of cynicism. Loving our opinions more than we love the flock we are called to serve or the co-laborers we are called to work with, create a suspicious, critical, faultfinding spirit that kills any ounce of big heartedness in the Christian leader. We must have a strategic line of defense. Begin by stomping your foot on any negative assumption that would contaminate the human spirit. This can be much more difficult than it appears, because when cynicism in leadership meets cynicism in laity; a power struggle begins that can split a church wide open.

A prosperous church in the Midwest installed a new contemporary pastor to lead their growing flock. At first, it seemed the new minister could do no wrong, but the honeymoon was soon over when his more modern methods clashed with the traditional views of his elders. Lines were drawn. The elders' tongues railed against their new shepherd. "He's got an ego the size of Dallas. We've got his number. We're not giving him an inch more of power. We're going to teach him a lesson."

A similar spirit seized the young pastor's heart. He became obsessed by constantly questioning the ulterior motives of his board of elders; pointing out to all who would listen just how wrong they were. "They aren't supposed to lead the flock, I am. I will not compromise or they will take advantage of me. I know what they are thinking."

This conflict continued to escalate and neither side was able to see that instead of being part of a solution; they were part of the problem. After two years of this wrangling, it ended with a huge church split. The pastor resigned and many left the church. This happened over five years ago. That same church has had three different pastors since the cynicism curse, but it has never been able to recover. The saddest part of all of this is that this same scenario is happening in churches all across the country. Cynicism can never cast out cynicism. Humility is the only sure antidote.

Poisonous suspicions, that consume a leader about those we are called to serve, will lead us to a slippery end, where we will never reach our full potential in Christ. We need to cultivate an attitude of support rather than suspicion for those precious souls God brings our way. We must refuse to feed on unloving thoughts about others. Slam the door shut on these dark imaginations, as soon as they make an appearance.

People-consciousness is a sure indicator that the curse of cynicism is attempting to wreak havoc in the soul of a leader. We have been created by our Creator to be God-conscious. As we fall deeply in love with Him, He will give us great compassion for those we are called to serve. We cannot afford to take our eyes off of Him for one second, because the minute we do, we can become preoccupied with judging others; whispering behind their backs and questioning their intent. Our eternal focal point must always be God alone. We must, as the old saints admonished us, "Let go and let God be the judge of others' motives." When a Christian leader is able to do this, they will experience a deep freedom in Christ, which they have never encountered before.

Perfection in relationships is impossible this side of Heaven. We must be realistic in our expectations of those we are called to serve; giving them the benefit of the doubt. Believe the best in others and if they fail, give them a break. To be an effective leader we must overlook and forbear much. Cynics will be more than happy to announce that they can see through people, but a servant-leader will see people through.

We live in a world of skeptics and cynics, but we serve a God who is for His people and His essence is love. His love is a sure remedy to break the cynicism curse. As leaders we know that pulling together with one heartbeat always precedes winning together. Let's get back to basics; loving God and loving one another. As we criticize less and love more, the cynicism curse will be completely broken and lives will be changed forever.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35 NIV

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