Among my top five most frequented issues from pastors is criticism. The number of “bosses” a pastor has is equal to the number of members in the church. Some of those members are very opinionated. And some of those opinionated members are critics of the pastor.
So the common questions I get are:
- How can I deal with critics and criticism?
- How can a pastor get thicker skin without sacrificing a soft and compassionate heart?
Before I offer my suggestions, we must admit the realities of serving as a pastor. First, the nature of the vocation is that the pastor must often make demonstrative statements and definitive decisions. Such is the nature of preaching. Or counseling. Or teaching. Or leading. Those demonstrative statements and actions will inevitably engender opinions and perspectives from others.
Some will agree. Others will not. Some of the latter category will become your critics.
Second, a pastor has a definitive amount of time. Twenty fours in a day. Or 168 hours in a week. Thus the pastor must make time allocation decisions. Some people will not get the attention they think they deserve. It is impossible to meet everyone’s expectations. So some of those people will become critics as well.
Simply stated, critics and criticisms are inevitable for the pastor. They will not go away. Our purpose here is to suggest seven ways pastors can deal with them. I think all pastors need a preparatory course in developing thicker skin.
- Don’t take most of the criticisms personally. Most of them are really not about you or your character. They are about a different opinion or perspective. And some may have no logical basis whatsoever. They can come from a person who is hurting deeply. I learned one time that one of my most vocal critics was dealing with the death of his son. He needed my compassion, not my defensiveness.
- Pray for the critic. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am amazed at the power of prayer. And I have been amazed how many times my fallible perspective has changed when I started praying for my critic.
- Develop a winsome spirit. Defensiveness and bitterness never help. Learn to laugh at yourself. Have a joyous spirit. Rejoice in the Lord always (there is something biblical about that).
- Be a transparent leader. Criticism often goes to greater depths and frequency when there is a sense that the pastor is not being totally upfront on an issue or perspective. The transparent leader will be given the benefit of the doubt more times than not. That pastor will not eliminate criticisms, but those criticisms will be less frequent and intense.
- Pray for your own attitude. Here’s that prayer thing again. Pastors are not perfect. They can have bad attitudes. They can see critics as the enemy. They can have a spirit of defensiveness and even retribution. Pastors must constantly be on guard with their own attitudes. They not only will deal with ministry more effectively and godly if they do, they will develop thicker skins for dealing with criticisms.
- Focus on the majority. Almost all of the time, more people are with you than against you. The minority critics can seem so loud that we get the impression most everyone is against us. I recently heard from a pastor who decided to move to another church. When he announced his resignation to the congregation, they gave him a standing ovation of affirmation of his ministry. He said later that day that he probably would not have left had he known so many people supported him.
- Look in the mirror. We are all wrong sometimes. Some of the criticisms are not without justification. The pastor will gain more respect and credibility with a response that admits wrong and apologizes.
Throughout biblical history and beyond, prophets, priests, and pastors have dealt with criticisms, adverse circumstances, and even persecution. The question is not whether tough times will come; they will. The question is how will you respond in those tough times.
Pastors who develop a thick skin are more likely to have joyful and long-term ministries. I have suggested seven ways to develop a thick skin. What would you change or add?