Charles Spurgeon, in his Lectures to My Students, wrote about the importance of church leaders having one deaf ear in ministry. The one open ear helps you to be wise in ministry, but the deaf ear helps you to avoid being unnecessarily burdened and frustrated. Based on Spurgeon’s writing, here are times to turn a wise deaf ear:
- To people speaking in anger. We’ve all spoken in anger, Spurgeon says, only to later regret it—so it’s wise to “not lay them [angry words of others] to heart, for you also have talked idly and angrily in your day.”[i] It’s best if we don’t get stressed about somebody else’s “passionate words.”
- To previous conflicts in the church. Spurgeon pointed out that church members will quickly try to get you on their side, but the good leader will say, “as [I] have not inherited [my] predecessor’s cupboard, [I] do not mean to eat his cold meat.”[ii]
- To conversations about your own salary. Spurgeon does say that a pastor must speak up if his family’s need aren’t being met, though he must do it in an appropriate manner. About these financial matters, however, Spurgeon recommended, “it will be our wisdom as much as possible to let them alone, if others will manage them for us.”[iii]
- To gossips in the church. Spurgeon described them this way: “No one needs to look far for perpetual motion, he has only to watch their tongues.”[iv] If you can’t always stop them from talking, you can stop yourself from listening.
- To information not meant for you. The one who eavesdrops is a “mean person” who is little better than the “common informer”[v]—especially when he secretly goes about listening to learn what others think about him. Do not, Spurgeon says, “look about you with the eyes of mistrust, nor listen as an eavesdropper with the quick ear of fear.”[vi]
- To criticisms about you. They’ll come simply because you’re in a leadership position—and your open ear is wise to learn something from each criticism—but it’s right to turn a deaf ear to the criticisms that are unwarranted. We don’t need to worry about what Spurgeon described in his inimitable style as “the stupid utterances of the ignorant.”[vii]
- To praises about you. They’re dangerous, feeding our pride so much that we sometimes seek them “like little children when dressed in new clothes, who say, ‘See my pretty frock.’”[viii] We feed on praises that eventually choke our soul.
- To lies about you. Sometimes you must defend yourself, but a good general rule of thumb is: “Your blameless life will be your best defense,”[ix] so don’t give the lie more life by seeking to refute it.
- To stuff about other churches and ministers. Focus on your own church, Spurgeon says, and don’t get enamored with somebody else’s dirty laundry; furthermore, “Do not encourage disaffected persons in finding fault with their minister, or in bringing you news of evils in other congregations.”[x]
- To the enemy’s lies if you find yourself in this post. This point is my addition to Spurgeon’s list. As church leaders, we stand “in a position which makes us choice targets for the devil and his allies.”[xi] Satan will seek to beat you up today if you’re like most of us—listening far too long, and being far too stressed by things that don’t matter that much—but don’t listen to him. Turn your deaf ear in the devil's direction.
What are your thoughts about Spurgeon’s suggestions?