- Accept that criticism is part of the job description of ministry. No meaningful Bible character was not criticized. Roman numeral II of the pastor’s job description should read: “You will be criticized. Sometimes the criticism is fair. Often it is not.” Of course, the job description I refer to is imaginary.
- These days, criticism is over rather trivial things. A leader needs to keep that in mind. If you don’t keep it in perspective, you can turn something minor into a “big deal.” Rarely will doctrinal matters, or some grand philosophy of evangelism or disciple-making be challenged. Criticism will be about a perceived mistreatment or even something as inane as the color of the usher’s badges.
- Unanticipated criticism will come your way. A now retired heavy-weight boxer said, “It’s the shot you don’t see coming that knocks you out.” The unexpected criticism is what gets you. This will likely come from people you have treated with kindness.
More important is how to deal with criticism.
Explain but Don’t Defend
Add no fuel to the Fire
- A pastor who addresses a parishioner’s complaint from the pulpit adds fuel to the fire. Actually, that pastor just poured gas on the fire!
- Seeking support from others in the church body in hopes of getting them on “your side” does not work either. This creates division, unlikely to be healed.
In my experience, if a criticism has little merit and the leader has been gracious in dealing with people – others will become defenders. Mike had it right, “Don’t add fuel to the fire.”
Turn it Over to Jesus
Lessons that Come from Criticism
- Step back from the heat of the moment. Look at the situation as though these events were happening to someone else. Are there things you could have done better?
- Stop being defensive.
- Get over the “papal” inspired idea that we preachers never make a mistake. We can and do make wrong decisions. When we get it wrong . . . learn and if necessary do everything possible to correct the mistake.
Leaders do not please everybody. While in an executive role and as a pastor, I knew decisions would come under close scrutiny. Decisions were made knowing that someone would be disappointed with the decision. Count the cost of the decisions you make. Three questions may help:
- Will the decision stand up under the weight of Biblical scrutiny?
- Is the decision the ethical thing to do?
- Does the decision make good business sense?