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The man in the arena

One of my leaders called up yesterday asking for advice. One of his staff members had visited one of our bases where every week, hundreds of young people are coming to serve. He observed our base director and noticed a flaw. “How can this man lead when he has this spiritual flaw?” asked the …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

One of my leaders called up yesterday asking for
advice. One of his staff members had
visited one of our bases where every week, hundreds of young people are coming
to serve. He observed our base director
and noticed a flaw. “How can this man lead
when he has this spiritual flaw?” asked the staff member.

So, my leader called me up and said, “How do I answer my
staff member?”

In answering him, I gave him one of my favorite quotes from
Teddy Roosevelt, something he said in 1910:
“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong
man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit
belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust
and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms,
the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows
the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least
fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold
and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

God spare us from the unengaged critic. Truth be told, there’s one in each of
us. I have to fight that temptation all
the time – the temptation to take a pot shot without ever jumping into the
arena. God convicted me a while ago and
I had to go apologize for my critical spirit toward someone who had failed, but
at least had given it his best shot.

If you’re on the sidelines today and have leveled a
criticism at someone, a good place to start is with an apology. A follow-up to that is to ask the Lord how he’d
have you put a foot in the arena.


  • These are thoughts that just came to mind that I cannot say have any direct relevance to what you have described, but just some things that came to mind…

    My pastor was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount a while back, and in Matthew 5 where Jesus talks about “whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (and interesting here, in that, to hit a person on the right cheek, the “slapper” would be slapping you with the back of his right hand, so this does not really refer to someone trying to beat you up, it’s someone being “indignant” over what has occurred – someone insisting on “their rights”). The main point of our pastor in this was: we need to have a generous spirit one unto another; we don’t need to “demand our rights”; our Saviour definitely didn’t demand His. That phrase “a generous spirit” has stuck with me and convicted me more times than I care to admit. Do I have generous spirit with those around me?

    Once again, I don’t know the elements of the situation that you describe, (and an organization does have a responsibility as it stands before God to honor Him in the conduct of its employees, etc.), but the Teddy Roosevelt quote regarding critics struck a cord. Henry Blackaby in his book, Spiritual Leadership, quotes John Gardner regarding the subject of leadership and critics: “Pity the leader who is caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.” (Your phrase of “unengaged critics” made me think of “unloving critics.”) There does need to be a proper critique of things that seek to honor God and there needs to be a critique that is based upon His truthful and loving parameters. Roosevelt talks about the one who is perhaps eager to point out a wrong. Blackaby, in the same book quoted above, talks about how “…some leaders [and I would say “some people”]actually pride themselves in being pessimists! They refer to their pessimism as realism and consider it a sign of superior intelligence since they detect problems and things to worry about that the rank and file seem to miss…”

    In an organization you are going to have an “owner” mentality and a “consumer” mentality. To back up a second, in a Christian organization you pray that the main “owner” of the organization is seen as God Almighty, and then the “owners” beyond our Lord are those people who are committed to the mission of what God has called that organization to be about. Consumers (and this may not be a good analogy with a Christian missionary organization, but hang with me here…)are partaking of what the organization is offering or perhaps “unengaged.” Consumers or the “unengaged” may be asking many times – “what’s in it for me?” or seeking things to critique, while owners are asking “what can we do for them?” Ideally, taking Gardner’s quote and changing it a bit, we would have “critical lovers” as owners and “loving critics” as consumers, especially in Christian organizations – church and otherwise. That is, the earthly owners would have at their core a love for the mission we pray God has given and yet be free to critique in love. The consumer would be one who at the core critiques, but we pray, in a loving fashion. And ideally, all consumers would become owners who buy into the mission – still with the ability to critique, but with that core of love grounded in Him.

    Just some thoughts…

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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