All pastors and other church leaders have their critics. No leader in the church can escape the sting of criticism. Indeed, dealing with critics is one of the great challenges pastors have in ministry.
Though the pain of criticism cannot be removed, it can be handled constructively. One way to deal with the issue is to make every effort to understand the mindset of the critic. In doing so, church leaders can respond redemptively and pastorally. Take a look at these five types of critics.
1. The constructive critic. This person really wants what’s best for you and the church. He or she does not have a personal agenda or vendetta. Most have prayed about talking to you or writing you before confronting you. The best response is to listen, discern and, if necessary, make changes. The challenge is that it is often difficult to discern the voice of constructive words in the cacophony of other criticisms
2. The negligent critic. This person makes an offhand comment and does not think much of it. He does not realize that his words really stung you. He truly was not making the issue a personal matter. In my own leadership position, I have made critical comments that I did not realize were so hurtful. And I would have never known my error unless others had told me. It is likely that if you let these critics know of your hurt, they will be both surprised and remorseful.
3. The hurt critic. Pain is pervasive in our world, and church members are not exempt from it. From their pain, these critics often lash out at pastors in moments of deep frustration and anger. Unfortunately, pastors are often the most visible and convenient targets for the hurt and angry critic. If pastors can discern this mindset of these critics, they should have a twofold response. First, they shouldn’t take the criticism personally. Second, they should make every effort to respond with compassion, concern, and love.
4. The sinful critic. Yes, everyone is a sinner. But there are some church members living in a state of rebellious and unrepentant sin. Their criticisms are attempts at deflection. They refuse to face their own rebellious ways, so they try to make you feel like the guilty party. If a pastor knows about the unrepentant sin in a church member’s life, he should confront him on it. Unfortunately, pastors often do not know these facts at the moments in which they are criticized.
5. The self-serving critic. This critic is having a thinly-disguised temper tantrum because he is not getting his way on some issue in the church. He doesn’t like the music. He doesn’t approve of the budget the church voted on. Somebody changed “his” order of service. So he lashes out at you because you are the leader who either led or accepted these changes. These critics are, in many ways, the most challenging.
Pastors and other church leaders would serve themselves well to consider two major ways to deal with critics. First, realize that criticism is inevitable. Anyone in a position of leadership will face criticism. Deal with it prayerfully and courageously, but accept it as a part of your leadership that it will never go away.
Second, make every attempt to discern the type of critic with whom you are dealing. In many cases, the criticisms will benefit your life and ministry. In other cases, you may have the opportunity to deal with the critic in a pastoral and redemptive way.
All criticisms sting, at least for most of us. But not all criticisms are bad for us. Indeed, in many cases our leadership and ministry can be more effective if we deal with critics in more redemptive ways.
Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.