Leaders will be criticized. There is no denying this fact. The question is how do we deal with it in a healthy way?
I remember some of the first times I faced criticism in ministry and thought things like: “I just want to reach people for Jesus” or “I want to be myself and be free to do what God has called me to do.” Then at times wondering, “Am I doing something wrong?” Over the years I have made a few observations about criticism that may be helpful to others:
1. Criticism can be constructive: Regardless of your role as a leader, you are fallen. You are sinful. You do make mistakes. Sometimes criticism can be one of the best things that has ever happened to you. If you are in a situation where no one can criticize you, let me criticize you and tell you: “You need some people who can tell you the truth. You make mistakes.” Criticism can be the very thing God uses to take you to the next level in becoming like Jesus. It is hard, it is painful, but it can be beneficial. Take some time to think about the last time you actually received criticism in a positive way. It was probably from someone you love and trust.
2. Consumers criticize: There is no doubt that we live in a consumer driven culture and it has permeated the church too. People want things done their way, right away. When it is not done that way many people actually feel like they have a right to criticize the way it has been done. Here is the problem. Consumers consume they do not contribute. Contributors offer solutions when they see things that are wrong or that could be improved. Consumers merely have criticism. Consumers may have valid criticism from time to time, but don’t spend much time on these. You will never be able to make everyone happy. Do what God has called you to do and allow consumers to move on. Who knows maybe someday they will find a place where they can contribute.
3. Criticism is often a cry for care: People are hurting. We have all heard the axiom hurting people hurt people. It is true. I have found that many times when you actually confront someone’s critique of you, of something you did or said it comes out that there is a reason behind the critique and it is not about you at all. It is about them and their pain. Criticism can be an opportunity for real ministry. It can be a time to get past the surface level critique to deal with core issues that have nothing to do with you. They have been cast upon you simply because of your role as a leader. The real issue is for the criticizer to confront in their own lives. they want to know if you care. Granted you cant take time to address every critique out there, but you should seek discernment from God to know when there are times to take the time to get to know the criticizer and get past the criticism.
4. Consistent criticism needs to be cut off quickly: Some people feel they have the spiritual gift of criticism. Others think that because they have been successful in another area of life they know everything about your leadership role. Consistent criticizers need to be cut off. They become a distraction. They become divisive and they can stop you from actually accomplishing what God has called you to do as a leader. By cut off I mean: Stop responding to them. Stop reading what they write. Stop listening to what they say. Cut off means cut off. I recently heard James MacDonald say to a group of pastors that you want your elders favorite bible verse to be Titus 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. Consistent criticism becomes divisive, more than likely you are not the only person they are telling about all the things you do wrong.
5. Criticism can consume: Criticism can consume you. I hope you do not scour facebook, and twitter to see what people are saying about you. That can be dangerous in multiple ways and is probably already a sign of some unhealthy characteristics in your life. These are obviously poor practices, but there even comes a time and place when you are made aware of criticism and the proper response is, “Ok” or “Thank you,” and you simply move on giving little to no thought to what was said. We are on a serious mission with eternal implications. We can’t spend all of our time responding to criticism. Criticism can consume you.
Final reflection: Dealing with criticism takes great discernment. What is legitimate? What is a waste of time? What is a ministry opportunity in the criticizer’s life? This requires time with God and in the Word. This requires humility. This requires a laser focus on the mission God has called you to so you know what to ignore as a distraction. This requires great confidence in your identity in Christ.