If you spend any time in ministry, you will have critics. People might criticize your appearance, your preaching, your leadership style, your personality, or how you spend your time. Whenever we encounter criticism, we are tempted to become defensive or discouraged. There are times where we might also become angry and lash out at our critic. While such times can be painful, and some criticism might be invalid, there are occasions where constructive criticism can help us grow in our ministries and leadership.
I’m reminded of Solomon’s words regarding criticism and correction. He wrote, “Poverty and disgrace come to those who ignore discipline, but the one who accepts correction will be honored.” (Proverbs 13:18 CSB). Regarding the wisdom of being welcoming and receiving constructive criticism, Solomon stated, “One who listens to life-giving rebukes will be at home among the wise.” (Proverbs 15:31 CSB)
So how do we listen to criticism well? How do we filter through what is valid criticism and what is not valid? What are steps that we can take to deal graciously and wisely with our critics? I propose that the following five tips will help you deal with critics and criticism in your ministry:
- Listen to your critic with a spirit of humility. There is only one perfect leader of the Church, and His name is Jesus. Everyone else who leads has feet of clay and is imperfect. If we see Christ showing humility, even to the point of death on a cross, who are we not to be humble in our imperfection before our critics. So, listen. Yes, really listen without trying to formulate an answer while your critic is speaking. Hear them out with a humble spirit.
- Don’t allow yourself to become defensive or angry. The Bible says, “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1 CSB) We do not show love towards our critic nor wisdom when we become defensive and angry in response to their criticism. Anger clouds sound judgment. As we listen to our critic, we must remain gracious and calm even if he/she might not be. Such a response is a witness to our critic of the grace of the gospel.
- Ask yourself the question, “What in this criticism is valid?” Every one of us has blind spots. We are fallible human beings who are sinners saved by grace. Our lives and our ministries can always stand improvement; therefore, we should consider it a gift from God if we see one of these blind spots through the words of a critic. I’ve found in ministry that, even though the main criticism the individual brings to me might be invalid, there is often something either directly or indirectly related to the criticism that points out an area where I need to improve as a Christ follower and a minister.
- Thank the individual for approaching you with his/her criticism. Sometimes critics approach us out of love and concern rather than out of a bitter spirit. Either way, it takes courage for a critic to bring criticism to a minister. Cowards will talk behind your back, but a critic who meets with you face-to-face is a blessing. Even if their criticism is not valid, they’ve given you a gift by speaking directly to you and not necessarily about you. God can use such interactions to settle miscommunications and misunderstandings in the church. Such solutions cannot happen if the criticism is unknown because the critic never communicated it to the minister.
- Address and improve on what is valid in the criticism and graciously ignore what is invalid. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 CSB) God the Holy Spirit is at work in you to conform you into the image of Christ through the process of sanctification. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, work on those areas of criticism that were valid and continue to minister to your critic with grace and love even regarding the invalid criticism.
I believe when we follow these steps in dealing with critics and criticism, we will grow spiritually from such encounters. Our gracious response will be a witness to our critic of the grace of the gospel. Such an approach can redeem the criticism to the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.
Tim is the Director of the Global Center for Youth Ministry and Associate Professor for Youth Ministry & Missions at Anderson University. He is lead pastor/planter of Mosaic Church of Anderson. Tim is also the author of Engaging Generation Z (Kregel Academic), No Better Gospel (Seeds Publishing Group), and the author and editor of Navigating Student Ministry (B&H Academic). His comments do not reflect the views of his employers and are his own personal views on various subjects.