It is inevitable. When you step out in obedience to God, you will face criticism. I suppose that if Jesus was criticized in his ministry, we should expect to receive it too.
I’m now in my 25th year of pastoral ministry, and several painful conversations are seared into my mind. When I reflect I can still feel the sting of criticism and harsh words that were spoken. Critics have challenged me over my leadership, hiring and firing decisions, my sermons, and even how we have cared for the poor.
I can still hear the words of a pastor who told me when we were moving to Los Angeles for ministry, “you are making the biggest mistake of your life.” The words hurt, especially coming from a friend, but we knew we were obeying God.
There is a difference between “constructive criticism” and “attack criticism.”
Constructive criticism comes with the intention to help. Because I want to grow as a person and as a leader, this type of criticism is helpful. I don’t always like it, and sometimes it is still painful, but in the end, it can produce health and growth.
Attack criticism comes with the intention to hurt. Its motivations vary from jealousy, envy, fear, anger, and insecurity. These verbal attacks are sometimes confrontational, and other times arise through gossip.
As a pastor who is called by God to be a shepherd, to love and care for people, there is an openness and a vulnerability we carry. It’s this openness that gives us the opportunity to minister. This accessibility puts us in proximity to the pain people posses. I’ve often heard pastors say, “Those you help the most, will hurt you the most.”
If we are not careful, this pain will cause us to become jaded, cynical, and critical. We’ll put a barrier between ourselves and those we serve. We do this to protect ourselves from future pain. Pastors sometimes will say, “You can’t get too close to your people.”
Recognizing criticism is a part of a pastoral ministry, how can we deal with the pain. Here are a few thoughts.
1. Guard your heart - Pastoral ministry requires us to develop a thick skin, but maintain a soft heart. It’s not always easy to do. Keeping the right spirit is connected to our prayer life. The presence of God enables us to keep loving, even when we are hurt.
2. Consider the source - Does the criticism come from a reliable source? Does the person have your best interests at heart? Do they love you and offer the criticism with an intent help?
I remember a man who was visiting our service. When I met him afterward, his words were: “Nice to meet you, pastor. Interesting service. I am visiting churches in the area. The first thing I look for is what is wrong with the church.” Some people go through life with a negative viewpoint.
3. What can I learn? - Is there any truth to the criticism? Even though the words may not have been shared in the right spirit, the criticism still may be valuable to you if you can learn from it.
While the experience was painful at first, I later became grateful for the words because I was able to grow from them.
4. Determine not to react - There is a difference between responding and reacting. You can respond by bringing clarification, information, and understanding. It might not change the opinion of the critic, but you did your best.
When we react, we respond to the pain we are feeling. Hurting people often hurt people. Determine not to react. Ask God to help you answer with grace. Give your pain to God in prayer.
5. Apologize if necessary - Have you made a mistake or created an offense? It happens to all of us. Take the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and attempt to restore the relationship.
6. Clarify the values and the mission of the church - Often criticism comes from misunderstanding. People need to know the why behind the decision. You may or may not be able to convince them of a decision, but at least they will have more information.
7. Remember you are not alone - Every pastor faces criticism. It is part of the experience as we minister to the hurting and broken people. Deal with it appropriately. Don’t let it get the best of you. Don’t let it stop you from obeying God.
Comment Below: How do you deal with the pain of criticism?
Hi! I'm Loren Hicks. I am follower of Jesus, a husband, a father, a friend, and for the past