“Where is the Smith family (name changed)? I have not seen them at church in several weeks?” My staff responded, “I thought you knew, Pastor? They left the church two weeks ago. They said they did not like the way you are running the church. They felt like you were leading the church like a business.”
I called the family to let them know they had been missed at church. Their response confirmed what I had heard from the staff. “We came by the church to meet with you, but you were not there. The secretary told us the best way to meet with you would be to make an appointment. You are not running a doctor’s office; you are leading a church. We should not have to make an appointment. Pastors are supposed to be available 24/7. We left to find a church where the pastor is more available.”
The criticism stung. What hurt even more was the fact that this family convinced a few other families to leave as well.
Available 24/7? I have a wife and three children. How can one person be available 24/7?
I have learned in 22 years of ministry that sometimes people have unrealistic expectations. I do not fault them for this. Most of the time they are unaware of what a pastor’s schedule looks like.
Here is a truth we all know….you will face criticism in the ministry. It is painful, it is often untrue, and it makes us want to become defensive.
Here are five questions that have helped me handle criticism as a pastor.
1. What do you know about the source of the criticism?
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 in a constructive way?
Identifying the source of the criticism often helps me work through it. If it comes from someone who loves me and has the intent to help, I can grow from it. If the criticism comes from someone who is chronically negative, and their desire is to inflict pain, I can give the matter to God and determine not to let the person hurt me.
I remember a man who was visiting our service. When I met him afterwards 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 just go through life with a negative viewpoint.
2. Is there any truth to the criticism?
Sometimes the criticism stings, because there is a least a thread of truth to it. These are opportunities to grow. I can bring the criticism to God and ask him to reveal if there is truth to be discovered. If the words spoken are made up, untrue, or even malicious, we reject them and decide to move on.
3. What can I learn from this experience?
More than any other, this question has helped me grow from the criticism I have received. Sometimes the intent has been to help, other times it has been to hurt, but either way, most of the time I can learn something from the words spoken.
4. In what ways can I stay grounded in truth?
Criticism can be painful, discouraging, and overwhelming. Truth always helps me refocus my thoughts and feelings. Paul said in Colossians 3:2 – “Set your minds on things above.” In other words, refuse to allow the criticism to distract you from what you know is true. I am grounded in the truth that I am being faithful in my calling, God is for me, and I have the love and respect of my family. That is enough.
5. How can I respond in a way that honors Christ?
Years ago a family wrote a hateful letter to my denominational leader. The letter was filled with lies, attacks, and critiques. I was grateful for the support I received, and will never forget my Superintendent’s simple, but profound counsel. He said, “Loren, they are down in the mud. They are trying to pull you down into the mud. Stay out of the mud.”
His advice encouraged me to not lower myself to a response unbecoming of a Christian and a pastor. I did not have to respond with attacks and criticism of my own. While it is challenging for us all, we are instructed to pray for our enemies, and even love them. I may not be able to control what happens to me, but I can control my response.
Question: What helps you deal with criticism? Share in the comments below.
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Hi! I'm Loren Hicks. I am follower of Jesus, a husband, a father, a friend, and for the past