Criticism. As a pastor I know that I have to expect criticism and learn to deal with it, but that can be easier said than done. Criticism comes in all shapes and sizes and some of it is easier to shrug off than others. For instance, when a senior adult woman told me my pants were too tight and made it difficult to focus on the sermon, my wife and I got a good laugh.
Some of it is difficult to gauge. Are the trustees really concerned about the grass or are they questioning my leadership and decision making?
Sometimes criticism is impossible to respond to, especially if it comes third or fourth person, “Some people are unhappy with the nursery.”
Occasionally criticism hits too close to home. “Pastor,” a senior adult lady in the church says, “we’ve noticed that your wife doesn’t attend our circle group each month. Our last pastor’s wife ALWAYS attended circle group.”
Just to mix it up, sometimes we get criticism from left field. Recently, I received the following email:
I just read your Lifeway article about not sacrificing your ministry for your family. What a piece of crap article. I bet your family hates your guts. Craig Thompson: You’re a freaking idiot and should just get a lobotomy. Lifeway: you’re just as stupid for publishing this article. Shame on you. I’m sure you’ll delete this comment but hopefully it’ll get into the hands of somebody with enough of a brain to delete the whole article and fire the contributor.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has emailed you negative reviews on this article, and I pray I’m not that last. You’re an idiot and you shouldn’t be in “ministry.”
I even once had a visitor to our church send me an anonymous letter complaining that I turned around and spoke to the choir too much during my preaching.
Here are some tips from the Proverbs that have helped me.
- Be Slow to Anger (Proverbs 16:32). My pride jumps to my defense and I want to respond in anger to those who criticize me. The biblical response is to wait. Be slow to anger.
- Answer Softly (Proverbs 15:1). I like a good fight, but that is rarely a good spiritual strength. Our goal as pastors is to shepherd and good shepherding means keeping the flock unified and healthy, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The way you respond to criticism can do much to either quiet it or stir it up even more.
- Look for advice (Proverbs 12:15). Sometimes the critics speak truth, even if they do not speak it well. If you do not know how to answer criticism or even if it rightly applies to you, look for advice. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
- Consider the source (Proverbs 27:6). Not all evaluation is wrong or bad, “Faithful are wounds of a friend.” Even though this article is about responding to wrong criticism, not all criticism is wrong. The coaching I receive from those who love me works to sharpen me up (Proverbs 27:17), even if their rebukes are stinging at times.
- Consider the source again (Proverbs 29:11). Not all criticism should be taken to heart, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit.” Some people talk all of the time, they gossip, complain, and criticize. Their words should be considered with less weight than others.
Carefully consider your response (Proverbs 26:4-5). Not every critic deserves a response or the same kind of response, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” In other words, be careful not to get caught up in endless drivel at the feet of fools. If a response is necessary, respond in such a way as to expose their folly, not to engage in endless quarrels.
What has helped you to respond to harsh critics?