Criticism is a part of life. Leadership always comes with criticism. In the church (and other ministries) criticism can be especially painful. In the church criticism comes from multiple places and people. Knowing what to do with criticism that comes from others is essential to ministry health and survival.
Years ago, I heard a speaker at a network gathering talk about criticism. I found his thoughts to be very helpful, and not just because he was from Australia and had a great accent. Below is a summary of my notes on what he shared about the most common reactions to criticism.
Mobilize – get fired up about the problem and take action. You have to be careful with this one because often we respond to quickly or decisively and overreact to the situation. Coming up with a conscious plan is probably a better idea than making sweeping changes the next morning.
Criticize – discredit the person who said something negative. Make the objective truth cloudy by looking subjectively at the person delivering the message. Forget looking for anything of value, just chop that person down at the knees.
Internalize – we hear the criticism and bury it deep within. It causes us to stare up at the ceiling at night when we should be resting peacefully. Mulling it over in your head is acceptable; mulling it over isn’t probably a bad idea. But when it moves from processing to dwelling, you’ve got a problem. Internalized criticism will amplify rapidly over a short period of time.
Fantasize – think about what ministry would be like at another church – that big one down the road that certainly doesn’t have critical spirits in every pew. No church is perfect – you would ruin it when you joined if you managed to find one, anyhow.
Recognize – unpack what was said and recognize what is truth. What really needs to be changed, what is of value in the discussion. Throw away the rest after you truly pray and discern what is wise for any changes you need to make. Perspective, maturity, and wisdom need to be in play with this one. Don’t dismiss what needs to be dealt with.
All leaders face criticism, especially ministry leaders and those who work in the church. God wastes nothing, so even the most unjust, inaccurate, and ridiculous criticism can be used for good.
This is part 1 in a two part series on criticism. In the next post, we will look at criticism from self.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries