Pastor, Prepare for Slander
“I’m concerned about her faith!” I said. “What if she walks away from the Lord because of what she has heard about me. I have to correct this!”
I burned with anger, sitting in the parking lot outside my office. I told my mentor I was concerned because people from my church were leaving after being told lies about what I had said and done. One woman who had heard the lies had left and was sharing them with others. I’d just been told about it.
My mentor said, “I think you should not say anything right now. I don’t think you can do anything about it. Her learning in ten years about how you handled this will have more effect on her faith than anything you can say right now.”
I fought it in my heart but followed his advice. He was right. I saw no result from it. I left and the stories remained.
Wisdom from Peter for Pastors Facing Slander
My experience wasn't unique. Pastors face slander. People face slander. Something we said is taken the wrong way. Something we did is lied about. We naturally want to respond to it. We want everyone to know the truth and see us as right and the slander as wrong.
Brother, let me encourage you to go another way.
I was preaching through 1 Peter last year and was stopped by 3:9: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” I had to look up what reviling was. I found that 1 Peter 3-4 was filled with references to slander, reviling, insults, etc. Parts of it might refer to attacks from non-Christians against Christians, but the whole thing is about suffering as a Christian and applies to attacks suffered from inside the church too. It reframed how I thought about the reviling and slander I had faced in the past, and prompted me to respond differently the next time slander comes.
By the way, Peter was not writing only to pastors. These words apply to everyone, but I apply this specifically to pastors because it’s an issue every pastor will face at some point.
So pastor, here are three ways God calls us to respond to slander in ways that glorify him.
1. Respond Theologically
Responding to slander is theological, not just practical. 1 Peter’s section on suffering and slander begins and ends with God and his will. “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (verse 17). In 4:19, the section ends with: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” Peter says what you believe about the will of God will shape your response to suffering.
If you are slandered right now, look carefully at the character and actions of God. You have a faithful God who will punish and reward. You have a God who knows what you are going through and will be faithful to walk through this valley with you. Your suffering is not simply at the hands of men and women; God is allowing it and using it in your life. That might be a hard truth to face, but it is the only way through.
If you aren't facing slander right now, then prepare for it by growing in your knowledge and conviction of God’s character. Believing deep down that God is holy in all he does will hold you up when reviling and insults come.
2. Let the Cross Define Your Story
Look to the cross. Notice that when Peter prepares people for slander, he points them to the cross. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). We are called to look to the cross and see that God has used the suffering of Christ for our good, and now calls us to follow Jesus into our own suffering. J.I. Packer says in Knowing God, “Sooner or later, God’s guidance, which brings us out of darkness into light will also bring us out of light into darkness. It is part of the way of the cross.”
Rather than being burned up with the injustice of it, look to faithful Jesus who suffered on your behalf. Let that be the controlling story of your own suffering. The cross shows God’s heart, God’s power, God’s will for you, God’s goal for your sanctification, and God’s heart for your persecutors.
3. Live out the Gospel Practically
Before he ends, Peter gives practical advice showing how to live while we face slander. The advice is not to hold meetings, write corrections, or confront. Peter calls us to love, be hospitable, serve, and speak words of blessing. God knows that we want to withdraw until the trouble is over. We want to lash out and correct the story. God's way is to love and do good. It is to wash feet the night you are betrayed. That is the way of Jesus.
Brother, if you are facing slander in the church, find practical ways to host, to serve, and to bless. Don’t run and hide. Wash feet, cook meals, volunteer, and find ways to love and extend grace practically. Do it as a servant of God.
Live in his Record
How can we do this? If this is God’s standard, who can meet it?
Jesus did. He did it for you. He faced the worst accusations and lies, and he trusted himself to his faithful Father. He washed feet, cared for his mother, blessed the criminal next to him, and prayed for his persecutors. His followers abandoned him, the crowds shouted at him, and his subjects killed him. He served to the end. His mother. The criminal. His executioners. You.
This is your record if you are in Christ. If you are facing suffering, this is your record of suffering.
Brother, you have a faithful creator and savior. He gave you his record when you were his enemy. Trust him. Let his story wash over your heart. Walk that same road of love, service, and hospitality. Trust yourself and your story to that faithful savior.