Let me start off with a confession. I’m a critic. I’ve always (at least in my own mind) had the ability to recognize problems and faults. It took me a while to realize that if I didn’t squelch my critical nature, I would push people away. Being critical by nature, I don’t handle criticism very well.
So, the thoughts that follow have been practices that have helped me. The thoughts below regard personal criticism as well as criticism that relates to church ministry. Criticism should not really surprise us. We’ll all experience it. We should all learn to deal with it. Addressing criticism well is an important aspect for successful Christian ministry.
- Don’t respond to anonymous criticisms. If you hear, “Someone was telling me…” Don’t listen. If someone doesn’t give a name (regarding a personal criticism or one related to your church), just don’t listen. Criticisms that can or should be addressed do not need to be anonymous.
- If someone raises a critique to you about someone else make sure they are following Jesus’ paradigm in Matthew 18:15-20. We cannot tolerate criticisms that become gossip. We must squelch gossip and loyally defend fellow team members and leaders.
- Have the meeting before the meeting. One way to forestall some criticism is to communicate well with leaders and others before casting vision to the broader team or the congregation. Don’t let church leaders hear the vision for the first time from the pulpit. Surprised leaders become can become critics of your vision rather quickly. Prepared leaders are more likely to publicly support your vision.
- Take serious criticisms and those that share them directly to the person involved. One thing I’ve learned to say is, “I’ll be happy to go with you right now to that person and we’ll address it.” It’s amazing when you employ such a strategy how minor complaints fade away, and if they are major complaints, they actually get dealt with.
- When you are criticized, be willing often to take the high road. Admit if you’ve been wrong. Take criticisms seriously. Don’t be defensive. We can learn much from our critics. Let’s be honest, sometimes they are right, and we need to hear what they have to say.
- Have strategic leadership conversations with the appropriate people and don’t engage in gossip. Put gossip to rest immediately. Or, if necessary apply #4 above and take the gossip directly to the persons they are talking about. Pastoral vision can be undercut by the power of comment and persuasion.
- Don’t try to please everyone. Listen to your critics, but don’t let them or their opinions dominate your thinking. If you’re moving forward, changing anything, and casting vision, you’re going to receive criticism. Learn from it, but don’t be controlled by it.
- Be more attentive to criticisms that come from those who’ve invested you or the ministry than those on the sidelines. That’s not to say we should never listen to a critic on the outside. But there will be plenty of those, and we can’t structure our lives or our ministries upon criticism (see #7). However, when someone close and invested offers a criticism, we should be take the time to listen. They may offer clarity to a blind spot in our lives or ministries.
- Be patient with your critics. Remember that Jesus chose followers who argued, disagreed with one another, expressed jealousy, and even critiqued his ministry purpose. Jesus was supremely patient with people. We should be nothing less with our critics.
The fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5: 22-23 is the biblical standard for our relationships. It has clear applications related to dealing with others, especially our critics. We should seek out the Spirit’s fruit in our lives, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Receiving and responding to our critics with Paul’s admonition here can help criticism bear “fruit” in our lives and ministries.