Anyone who has been in the crosshairs of someone’s negative criticism knows how easy it is to become discouraged and disillusioned.
Long ago I had the naïve belief that if I was a believer, worked in the church, followed God’s purpose for my life and cared about students and families, those I served would be thankful, gracious and appreciative. Most often that is true; however, there are times when criticism can shake me to my core.
If you are anything like me, I take my ministry seriously (and personally), and have been wounded many times by a critic’s words or actions. Everyone who has been in ministry and has dealt with people will experience criticism. Here are a couple things I have learned in the trenches:
LEAN. I cannot have a healthy ministry if I am not leaning on others for support and encouragement. The Christian life was never meant to be done alone. In the midst of criticism I’m often reminded of Paul when he tells the church in Galatia to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2 NIV).
When I have perspective from others who are supporting me, I find that I can deal with criticism much easier. I have two specific people I lean on regularly. The first is a person inside my ministry who knows me, our ministry and the overall mission of the church. This person is a good friend. I know when I talk with him, he is able to look at a situation from an unbiased perspective. He helps me identify what I need to listen to, and he can advise me on important decisions or responses I need to make.
The second person is someone outside the church who is more of an accountability partner. We have designed our meeting times to be a place where it is safe to be real and authentic about our struggles. I know I can be completely honest with him—I can say anything, think anything, and he will love me unconditionally. My accountability partner helps me not to harbor things in my heart. He challenges me to remember I am a servant of Christ, and that I need to love my foes just as much as my friends.
LEARN. In all criticism there is some piece of truth. It is important to sift through the criticism to see if there is any truth in what someone is saying, rather than just ignoring them. Have I not communicated clearly? Did I have tunnel vision and not think through all the implications of what I was planning just because I thought it was an amazing idea? Is there something I need to work on personally, like my attitude, pride or ego? Many times if I really reflect and seek God’s wisdom, I will often see something that I need address or change. It’s not always easy getting to that point, but we must constantly be learners in order to grow personally, spiritually and professionally.
LET GO. This is the toughest thing I have had to learn simply because I easily gravitate towards being a people-pleaser and wanting to be liked. But just as Moses, the Disciples, Paul and Jesus had their critics, I will have mine and you will have yours. The best way I have learned to let go is by giving the criticism over to God. I continually learn to give over my anger or frustration as well as lift up my critics in prayer. This helps me experience the freedom to move on, and not become weighed down over what one or two people think. The longer I hold on to something, the more paralyzed and hardened my heart becomes.
Finally, remember that critics will come and go. Engage them to see your vision and the fruits of your ministry. If that does not work, remain steadfast in your faith, seek praise from God, the One who has called you into ministry, and trust that He is working all things for good for those who love Him.