Coping with Criticism in Ministry: 7 Reminders
Ever feel like your being subtly humiliated or publicly tortured by some of your best friends and worst critics?
Many have thought to themselves, “I am going to go work at the church, where people are nice,” only to be reminded that the church is full of human beings that have a natural tendency to view life with a critical eye. Sometimes we forget that we are all flawed.
A family pastor at the 2020 Texas Ministry Conference shared that, if we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit our culture constantly submits to the urge to evaluate newsmakers, leaders and others in our lives. Whether it is coffee, barbequie or movie production standards, everyone is a critical snob about something or someone, and sometimes we are aware of it and sometimes it just sneaks in.
1) Criticism is UNAVOIDABLE
Even when you are at your best, someone will find fault. Even with the Holy Spirit in our lives, some of us struggle with perfectionistic standards and viewpoints or we struggle if we are the target of those. Don’t be surprised when someone makes known what ‘they perceive’ to be an issue. It is going to happen – more than we want to admit. In these situations, it helps to make a note to self to check our own critical spirits at the door.
2) CONSIDER THE SOURCE: 4 Typical Critics
· Anonymous –A note slipped under the door? Gossip grapevine? Give very little credence to those that won’t own up to their criticism. It is best to shake this off and move on.
· Analysts – These ‘detail people’ usually have good intensions, (and often bad timing) but usually believe they are helping you. It is good to set boundaries for these folks, but hear them out.
· Antagonists – Oftentimes, these folks have been hurt in the past and it has turned their mean factor up a notch. Perhaps there is no joy in their lives and they are lashing out. As a ministry leader, pray for God’s help to avoid responding in like manner.
· Allies – This group of critics are on our side. A spouse is ideally in this camp and has good constructive criticism to share in love.
3) EXAMINE THE CONTENT – Avoid the urge to be defensive. Is anything being said actually factual? If not, move on. Try to see it as an opportunity to grow and strengthen your discernment muscles. When in doubt, bounce options off of others.
4) MEASURE YOUR RESPONSE – In ministry, we don’t get to control the timing or content of criticism but we do control how and when we respond. Is it possible to get out of the pressure cooker, wait 24 hours to respond while you pray and let emotions settle? Focus on diffusing by listening, not developing a rebuttal.
5) LOOK TO SCRIPTURE – While this should be our first thought, checking what God has to say is often our last resort. Review James 1:19-20, or Proverbs 15: 1.
6) CONSIDER CHRIST – I Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you might follow in His steps…” When HE was reviled, the Bible reminds us, He did not revile in return. Our ministry role model turned the other cheek.
7) COMMANDED TO LOVE – This is not a suggestion, but the second greatest commandment. We have to love our neighbors and we don’t get to choose our neighbors. Matt 6 tells us to forgive others as our Father has forgiven us.
8) THE END GAME – Unfortunately our response can be remembered longer than the criticism, so avoid letting a short-term hiccup overshadow long-term ministry goals and impact. “Perfection” will not be a reality until eternity. God reminds us that, in the world, we will have tribulation (i.e. critics).
Criticism in ministry is going to happen more often than we’d like, but it helps to know your audience is God and not man. Criticism gives leaders the chance to get better, to lean into the Holy Spirit and turn the other cheek. According to Proverbs, He who listens to reproof gains understanding.