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Spurgeon on Leadership: Responding to Personal Attacks

By Larry J. Michael, Ph.D.


Every leader has experienced some type of personal attack. Whether it be an attack on oneís character, conduct, motives, decisions, abilities-it all can be very hurtful. A leader must rise above those attacks, in order to survive and remain faithful to his calling. But, what should be oneís immediate response when you feel youíve been wrongfully attacked? The immediate temptation may be to defend yourself, and react in an emotional manner. But it may be wiser to take the higher road, and let your life speak for itself.

C. H. Spurgeon seldom responded to personal attacks. A good example of that is the time that his famous pastoral colleague, Joseph Parker, of the City Temple in London, wrote an open letter to Spurgeon that was published in the newspaper in 1890. The letter issued from a disagreement the two men had over Parkerís frequenting of the theatres in London. Spurgeon was not amused by such worldly practice for a Christian leader As well, Spurgeon frowned upon Parker welcoming the recognized liberal pastor, Henry Ward Beecher, into his pulpit.

As a result, Spurgeon ceased cooperating with Parker in evangelical endeavors. Parker felt rebuffed, and responded unwisely in a public manner. There was a lot of comment in the public press. But, Spurgeon never addressed the letter in a public fashion. For him, the matter ended there. He just let it goÖ Sometimes we as leaders need to do that. Just let it go. A response may not be merited.

While Spurgeon did not generally respond to personal attacks on him as a person, he did on occasion respond to personal attacks on the Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He saw a distinction between the two, personal reputation and public office, as his position reflection the reputation of Godís servant who office represented a higher calling.

Such was the case in the early part of his London ministry when the newspapers derided his immediate popularity, and castigated him with every vile description possible. He was lampooned as a country bumpkin from Essex, whom the media elite considered uncouth and vulgar. He was caricatured in cartoons as a charlatan seeking fame and fortune in the city.

Spurgeon took advantage of the situation and rallied his congregation to support him in the wake of the vilification he was receiving. It turned out to be a positive force for the gospel, as many people were drawn to hear him out of curiosity, and in the process, came to faith in Christ.

Interestingly enough, Spurgeon became somewhat amused at the ridiculous nature of the criticisms in the press, and compiled a scrapbook of the news clippings entitled "Facts, Fiction, and Facetiae." He enjoyed showing them to visitors. At least he did not take himself so seriously, and was able to see the humor in it all. But, the criticisms did hurt, and he felt the sting at times. He wrote privately to his wife and lamented the false accusations. But, he charted safely through those stormy waters, and went on to become the first mega-church pastor in modern times.

In a similar vein, we have the biblical example of Nehemiah, who returned to Jerusalem to lead the Israelites in the rebuilding of the city walls. There were enemies who opposed this noble effort, and did everything they could--from open mocking and ridicule, to false rumors and even entrapment, to stop Nehemiah from finishing the project. But, Nehemiah refused their attempts to distract him from his goal.

On one particular occasion, after his critics repeatedly called for a meeting, Nehemiah replied: "I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?" (Nehemiah 6:3). He knew they were scheming to harm him, and refused to be drawn away from his main task. He stayed with it, hung in there, rallied the Israelites, and the wall was miraculously completed in fifty-two days!

A leader must demonstrate wisdom and exercise restraint in responding to personal attacks. But, if Spurgeon and Nehemiah are valid examples, it may be appropriate to respond to attacks upon oneís role/position in ministry at certain times. The crux of the matter is determining whether youíre simply out to protect/defend yourself, or the integrity of the ministry to which you have been called. With much prayer, and appropriate humility, divine guidance will be granted, that you may make the best decision for the sake of the gospel.

(This article is an adaptation of writings from the upcoming book, "Spurgeon on Leadership", Kregel Publications, due to be released in October. More information is available here.)