Dealing with Criticism in the Ministry

For the record, I am NOT GOOD at handling criticism.  I over-think it, often react too hastily, and let it dwell within me much too long before I act  upon it.  So, as you read this, know these words are not words I am teaching to you, but preaching to me.

Recently, a friend of mine told me about a situation in her church where their worship leader was upstairs preparing the Sunday morning media and overheard two deacons in the lower level complaining to each other about the worship/worship leader.

Rightfully so, this devestated the worship leader.  At a time where the worship leader and deacons should have been preparing their hearts for worship, one heart was rooted in deceit and the other heart was broken.

This story isn’t uncommon.  Each week, ministers and ministries in the church are broken by those who want to complain and critique.  I have had my fair share of criticism (fair and unfair) in the church.  So, how do we, as leaders, deal with this constant criticism?  How do we keep it from affecting our lives and ministries?

Some in my ministry circles said:

  • Know that when you are confronted with anger, remember those people are hurting in some way
  • Consider the source
  • There’s an ounce of truth in every criticism
  • (musically speaking) Keep God your focus when getting bad “reviews” of songs form congregation members
  • Find someone to talk to.  As ministers, you can’t go to a congregation members to vent, so find a mentor or ministry friend to confide in.
  • Destructive criticism comes when the devil senses your relationship with God is growing.  We should recognize it as an opportunity to search God’s word for the truth and grow closer to Him.
  • Go to God first and as Him for guidance and humility to make sure the struggle with criticism isn’t a pride issue.  Then seek opinions from trusted mentors/friends from both inside and outside the situation.
  • I would not fear being criticized.  I would fear not being criticized as that would make me a people pleaser.  Criticism is for checks and balances in the ministry as long as you keep Christ in the center of your ministry.  Also, make sure you share your critiques with your Pastor.

Here are some thoughts from me to me…things I need to learn, and things I hope can help you in your time of need:

Prayer is the Key to Heaven but Faith Unlocks the Door – Pray for the leadership of the Holy Spirit to guide your every thought and action.  Prayer is vital to every part of your Christian walk and your ministry.

Word of God, Speak – Seek out the scriptures and the truths within them to find comfort in knowing God’s truths will prevail.  Lean not on the words of others, but only God’s ancient words that are…ever true.

Blest Be the Tie that Binds – Be unified as a staff, committees, deacons, congregations, associations, and conventions.  The scripture says “How good and pleasing to God in heaven when brothers in unity dwell”.  God is pleased and blessed with our thoughts and actions when they are focused on Him.

Where You Go, I’l Go, I Will Follow – Follow the Leadership of your Pastor in all aspects of your ministry, from planning to presentation.  This helps to minister to your congregation in a unified perspective.  Everyone is on the same page and working from the same playbook.  Sometimes a play may not go as planned, but you can try again and you know what is coming next!

Chuck Fuller recently wrote in a guest blog post for this site:

In hindsight, there are many things I would not change. I would not change a Word-driven, gospel-centered ministry that started in the pulpit and proceeded from the nursery to the nursing home, from the baptistery to the mortuary. I would not change my approach to staffing or the transitions I led from committee-led programs to team-based ministries. One thing, though, I would change. I would more assertively embrace Paul’s principle in 1 Corinthians 4. I would concentrate less on meeting every member’s expectations and focus more on reflecting God’s faithfulness. I did not need vainly to attempt to match some unrealistic pastoral ideal. I did need to point them more directly to the matchless Christ in whom they would find the ideal.

John Cashion, a regular contributor to this blog suggests:

The ministerial response is to consider the merits of the criticism as well as the source, measure the criticism against the opinions of those you respect and trust as well as your own experience and training. Be secure in your worth as a child of God and realize you do not have to take criticism personally or feel devalued by it. Accept valid criticism as needed corrective or useful alternative way of considering an issue. Discard invalid criticism and don’t carry that baggage around. Recognize you cannot please everyone all the time, and just be intent on loving and serving people regardless of how they act, feel, or respond to you.

The honest response is that criticism hurts, whether valid or not, whether personal or not, whether from friend or enemy. And one critical word is likely to stay with us while 100 affirmations slide off our backs. And then we get caught in the trap of seeking affirmation to try to erase or at least balance the sting of the criticism. (Chris Fuller’s recent article that you posted addresses this very well) And despite our best intentions to not take it personally, we almost always do. We may bedisciplined enough not to respond to the critic in anger or defensiveness, but we will sulk and stew over the criticism, or take out our frustration on someone else (sorry, spouses), or pretend like it doesn’t bother us when it really does. Another unhealthy reaction is to take the criticism so seriously that we perceive ourselves as a failure. This seems to be my tendency.

The balanced response?

One of my personal maxims is to take my faith and ministry seriously, but not take myself seriously. My prayer is that I can be objective about my own weaknesses, foibles, failings, and when criticism comes, know that it is going to make me feel bad for a while, but then examine both what is said and what is true in the light of a less emotional state of mind. When I can laugh at myself while being open to God’s corrective hand (even when He uses a critic) I believe the potential exists for mental and emotional well-being and spiritual and ministerial growth. In addition, I ask God to help me understand what is in the critic’s mind, heart, background, history, current status, etc., that might have contributed to a critical frame of mind. Of course, sometimes, the critic is just telling the truth.

Then I just have to swallow the medicine.



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