If you are new to leadership, you might wonder why you get criticized. The reality is if you are a leader in any capacity, that is the only requirement to get criticized.
If you are a leader and I’m using the word leader to define someone who is out in front of a church or organization, casting a vision for the future, leading people there. If you are at that person, it means you are pushing the status quo; you are most likely making changes of some kind. If you preach on a weekly basis, you are challenging people to kill their idols, pressing on hurt and sin and showing how the gospel transforms those places people don’t like to talk about.
The reality is that by going into leadership of any kind, you are inviting criticism. If you preach, you are attracting even more criticism. Here are a few things God has been teaching me about leadership and criticism:
Listen to your critics. I think there is a limit to how long you listen to one critic as sometimes critics are just a squeaky wheel (meaning you will have people in your church that will complain about and criticize anything). Is there any truth in the criticism? Anything you can grow from? Anything you need to repent from? Your critics can often point out a blind spot you are unaware of, so don’t dismiss them outright.
There is a time to stop listening to critics. Every time you respond to a critic, you invite a response. No matter how you end the conversation, email or phone call. Sometimes, you need to react and sometimes you need to let them have “the last word” by not responding. This is difficult to do, mainly because you probably think you are right and your critic is wrong.
Don’t try to change your critic’s mind. This almost never happens, it is often naive and idealistic. It might happen, pray for it, the Holy Spirit can do it, but this shouldn’t be your goal. Your mission, purpose, what God has called you to is your goal.
When you respond to critics, you give them a platform. This is often what critics want, not always, but often they want the power they are criticizing. If you publicly acknowledge it, respond to a blog post, article, etc. You legitimize the criticism. Sometimes you need to respond publicly, but often this isn’t advisable.
Know when you need to shepherd a critic and when you need to protect your church. Most of the critics for a pastor will be in his church; Paul tells us in Acts 20 that divisive people and wolves will come out from the inside the church, not the outside. There is a line that you as a leader will cross with each critic and it is different each time. You need to shepherd a critic, help them to see the idols they are living out of (usually sin drives critics, not always), help them understand the idol and freedom in the gospel. You also need to know when you need to call a critic a wolf and shoot the wolves to protect the flock. This is a fine line.
Throw out anonymous stuff. If someone doesn’t put their name on it, it is not worth reading or listening to. Period. If someone says, “me and some of my friends” without saying who the friends are, let it go.
Have safe people to vent to. As a leader, this shouldn’t always be your spouse. You need someone that you can unload on, cry to, rant and rave about what you will never say publicly. This person also needs to have the power in your life to push back and help you see what you are missing.
Know that your critic will often make your point, you can’t tell them that. Almost every time I have been criticized, the critic has inevitably made my point. I wrote a blog post recently about not following the Bible for a variety of reasons. Someone emailed me to criticize the post and went on to tell me why certain Bible passages don’t apply to them so that they could keep on sinning. I read it and thought, “You are responding to a post about how we excuse ourselves from following the Bible by telling me why you don’t follow the Bible by excusing yourself.”
Preach Jesus, say what you think the Bible says. Most criticism aimed at a pastor has to do with his preaching. He stands on a stage by himself where everyone can get a good clean shot. That’s what you signed up for. That being the case, get up each week, preach Jesus and say what you think the Bible says. That is the price of preaching. When you preach Jesus, you will take a knife to the idols of the hearts of people in your church. They don’t like this. Many people want to hear a sermon that will motivate them to be better people, mostly to motivate them to keep worshiping their idols, not killing them. As a leader, you will have to stand before God and give an account for how you led, how you preached, what you said. Say what you think the Bible says, be sure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am married to an incredibly beautiful woman, Katie (follow her on twitter @KatieReich), and we have 5 kids, 4 boys and a girl, (thankfully our daughter looks more like her mom everyday).
I have a B.S. in Pastoral Leadership from Lancaster Bible College and an M.Div. in Organizational/Missional Leadership from Biblical Seminary. In addition to writing here, some of my writing also appears at The Blog of Manly and Church Leaders.