We’ve all been there. The subject line of the email reads, Feedback on your message or A couple thoughts on your decision, or the more direct, We’re leaving. Sometimes it comes in the form of an email like this, and other times a text message that reminds you of at least some of your flaws, and even the occasional hallway or lobby conversation questioning a decision or word choice.
Criticism is a reality for all who labor in the Kingdom of God. We can’t escape it. And typically, it will deflate us to a place of no confidence and even questioning our usefulness or calling. But I would argue, rightly placed, criticism can be one of the most helpful types of feedback or responses that we get from the people in our ministries.
For criticism to be productive in our ministries, there are two important ingredients—a healthy provider and a healthy recipient. We can only control the provider’s health to a certain degree, but we have total control over the recipient’s health and response.
Here are three common responses to criticism in ministry and some suggested ways to ensure that we respond in a healthy manner:
I think this is the easiest way to respond to criticism in our ministries. We become defensive, deny the need for what’s been said, and often become the aggressor in the conversation. According to Jeremiah 17:9 (CSB), “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable.” Because of this, our natural inclination in response to criticism is often an effort to cover up any hint of wrongdoing on our part.
Does your blood pressure rise the minute you realize that the person communicating with you is criticizing something? Do you go into defense mode before they’ve finished their statement? Do you find yourself denying all suggestions or claims without giving them a thought or blaming these things on others? Do you typically turn the conversation to criticism of the person sharing these thoughts with you? If so, it’s likely that your response to criticism is a cover-up and it might do you well to consider the ideas below for changing your response.
There are certain people that are given to cynicism. For the cynic, the response to criticism may be to make a joke about the statement, turn the conversation with a passive-aggressive comment to or about the other person, or laugh it off and move on with your life. This, too, comes from a sinful heart and is another manifestation of our desire to not see our need for improvement or change.
Do you make a joke out of the person or the comments of others when receiving criticism? Do you often make passive-aggressive comments about or to others in response to their feedback? Do you naturally assume the worst about all criticism while rarely ever thinking it through? If so, it’s very likely that your response to criticism is one of cynicism and you too might do well to consider the ideas below for a better response.
The best and right response to the majority of criticism is consideration. To consider criticism is to listen to and acknowledge the feedback, weigh it honestly, and make corrections if necessary. The outcome of this has two significant implications. First, it shows your consideration for the value of the person sharing these things with you. Second, it shows your consideration for the reality of your humanity, a flawed individual in need of growth.
Are you quick to listen and slow to speak in the face of criticism? Do you truly think about what’s being shared? Do you see the value of the person who is sharing these things with you? Do you ever make corrections as a result of this type of feedback? If so, you’ve likely developed a response to criticism that I call consideration.
Clearly, the best way to respond to criticism is consideration. Although we cannot control the intention or method of the one providing the feedback, we can control our response. Here are some things to consider in developing a healthy response to the criticism you receive in your ministry.
- Understand the depth and full effects of sin on your own heart and mind.
- Remember the humility of Jesus and your need for the same.
- Pray often for a willingness to let others speak into your life and ministry.
- Develop a rule of life plan that reminds you daily of your sin, God’s love for you, and the value of other people in your life.
- Have a friend or co-worker in ministry that you can run criticism by to help assess the validity of the feedback and your response.
- Pray as you read or listen to this feedback for God to guide your response.
- Learn to ask questions that give you a better understanding of the criticism and where it is coming from.
Responding to criticism is a given in ministry. We cannot avoid criticism unless we avoid people. And if we avoid people, we’re not doing ministry. What’s important is that we learn how to respond to this type of feedback. Whether it comes from the young adults in your ministry, an older church member, a co-worker, a parent, or any other source, we must be ready for this. We must die to the temptation to try to cover up any inadequacies or become cynical about what’s said or the person who said it. And we must learn to consider this with honesty and humility in order that we and those who share these things with us can grow accordingly.
Steven Ackley, his wife Emily, and their four kids live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Steven serves as the NextGen and College Pastor at LifePoint Church. Steven holds a D.Min. and an MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can connect with him on Twitter.