Let’s start with a simple truth. It doesn’t matter what type of church you serve in, what denomination, what size, how many staff you serve with, or how healthy your ministry may be. One thing about ministry is universal: we will all face criticism. Criticism comes in all sorts of forms. It may come from a student who just doesn’t want to plug into your ministry and wants the world to know it. It may come from a parent who is just not on board with your philosophy, your personality, or your leadership style. It may come from another staff member who thinks you aren’t pulling your weight. It might even come from one of your youth leaders who thinks they can do your job better than you can. No matter your situation, you WILL face criticism at some point in your ministry. When you face that criticism in its various forms, here are a few things to remember:
1. No one is immune
Believe it or not, George W. Bush holds the record for the highest Presidential approval rating at 92% after the 9/11 attacks. That means that 8% of the population still didn’t approve of his leadership. And we all know that his high approval rating was short-lived. Leaders are targets. This is true of youth ministry as well. As you lead, guide, mentor, and work with people, you are going to have your detractors. Understanding this truth doesn’t kill the pain of criticism, but it can help take the sting out of it.
2. Consider the source
A dear woman in my church named Grandma Crowe lived by this adage for years, and it seemed to serve her pretty well. When you are criticized, consider the person who is criticizing you before you do something you might regret. Some people aren’t happy unless they are making someone else unhappy. Some people are overly critical. Some people lash out when they are hurt. Sometimes, people just have a bad day. Consider the source before taking a criticism too personally.
3. Respond positively
If we are being honest, our initial reaction to criticism is to defend and lash out. We invest our time, resources, energy, and our lives into ministry, so it’s nearly impossible to separate ministry from our identity. But remember the wise words of Proverbs 15:1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Responding negatively in the moment will only lead to more negativity, and will certainly not contribute to your “approachability” points. Choose to respond positively, validate that you hear their concerns, and think it through later.
4. Mine out the valid points
Even though we probably hate to admit it, most criticism does have at least a small amount of validity. Even the harshest, most unfounded criticism might be something you can learn from to become a better leader. Take some time to see things from their perspective. Be objective, and see if there might be any validity to their criticism. If there is, learn from it and grow moving forward.
5. Communicate and clear the air
Once you’ve responded positively to the criticism, considered the source, and mined out the possible valid concerns, it’s time to move forward, make changes, and mend the relationship with the critic. Set up a time to meet with them, or try to catch them naturally next week. Let them know you appreciate their perspective, communicate any changes you might be making because of their concern, and clear the air so that you can move forward together.
As a leader, you can expect some criticism from time to time. Choose to respond in a godly, humble way, and see how people respond. You may see people lining up to support your ministry like never before.