When There’s an Elephant in the Room: Ministry & Criticism

Pastors, you have faced criticism in your career. Maybe the ministry criticism comes from members of your congregation. Maybe it’s from church community members. Maybe it’s even coming from staff members. Regardless of the source, when the criticism flies, it stings. We’ve found that recognizing your criticizers and knowing how to navigate them is the foundation of learning to live beyond criticism’s reach. There tends to be two paths: criticism for the sake of criticism and those elephants: the things that need to be remedied. But it starts with knowing the source.

Know Your Foe

Foes may not be specific. How many times have you heard or even said to yourself, “they” or “everyone”? The danger here lies in the power of words; they and everyone tend to make us think that half of our congregation could be against us, but in reality the critics are usually one or two people who have a cycle of negativity that reaches beyond you, and your church, out into their lives.

While it’s helpful to recognize naysayers aren’t always as upset with you or your team as personally as it might seem, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or wise to completely dismiss them.

Michael Hyatt has said of these negative folks:

“These people have an agenda. They are out to hurt you—or at least use you for their own ends. They want to lure you into a fight. I have had three this week. They taunt and mock you. They are unreasonable. If you engage them, they will only distract you and deplete your resources. The best thing you can do is ignore them.…You will never satisfy them. Just keep doing what you know you are called to do.”

Essentially, Hyatt is validating that you will have critics, but he’s also giving you a tip on how to handle it. We’d like to expand on the helpful side, as well.

Navigate The Negativity of Ministry Criticism 

The first tip for handling critics is reference by Hyatt above: “keep doing what you know you are called to do.” As a leadership team, whenever any of you are under attack, you have to rally around one another support the person(s) being criticized in way that empowers them to keep moving forward.

You need a group you can and should listen to, especially in times of deep criticism – your friends and respected mentors and colleagues. A modus operandi for determining whom to listen to is to ask a few questions:

  1. Do I trust and respect this person? (Honor and integrity are a must.)
  2. Does this person love Jesus more than they love me? (A person who is passionately pursuing Jesus and seeks to follow Jesus over gaining the approval of peers, aka you.)
  3. Does this person have the church’s best interest at heart? (This person need to have a vested dedication to preserving the health and growth of your church.)

When these requirements are met, you have found a person who will answer truthfully, won’t pander to your feelings (AKA, will be honest even if it’s hard for you to hear), and is committed to maintain the vitality of your church. This trusted person is the one to help you sort out criticism from actual feedback. They can offer insight into what is good and what needs work.

Addressing the Elephant

Sometimes you just have to let criticism roll off your back (maybe someone made a comment about your tie color or they didn’t like the background you chose for the worship songs). But there are cases when a “thanks for your input; I’ll take that into consideration” response won’t do and there IS an issue to be addressed.

You are not called to be perfect. You are called to be a minister of grace and mercy.

You’re not perfect and we all have areas where we can improve. Again, this is where your wise counsel is invaluable. Take the comment to them. Ask for their honest assessment. If there is an elephant in the room to address, work with your leadership to put together an action plan to resolve the issue. It can be helpful to circle back with the person(s) who originated the comment. Let them know that you and the leadership team have a plan to remedy the issue.

Then move on. You preach a gospel of grace, and that includes extending it to yourself.

Criticism is hard to take. Having a supportive leadership team and a strong family front will also help all targets stand strong and move forward, even in the midst of negativity. If you found this post bringing truth, it’s helpful to know much of its content was garnered from Preaching Rocket.

If your church is needing to address criticism, consider implementing Preaching Rocket as a leadership team to get back on your feet and keep going strong.