“Christ also suffered for us…when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously….” (I Peter 2:21-25).
Someone criticized me. Whatever am I to do?
Well, for starters, you might grow up.
Quotes on enduring criticism can be found in the hundreds online. Here are a few we found in a few minutes….
–The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.(Elbert Hubbard) -You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a sign of weakness to get caught up in either one. (John Wooden) –A critic is a legless man who teaches running. (Channing Pollock) –You are a glorious shining sword and criticism is the whetstone. Do not run from the whetstone or you will become dull and useless. Stay sharp. (Duane Alan Hahn)
No one enjoys being criticized, but we often benefit from it immensely.
I say to pastors and other church leaders, you do not want to live and work where there is an absence of criticism.
You think you do. But you don’t. Only in the harshest of dictatorships is there no criticism. But in a free society–like ours–criticism abounds. If the society is indeed free, much of the criticism is fair, just, and well deserved. Likewise, much of it will be unfair, unjust and unmerited. A leader who survives has to develop discernment in order to know what to ignore and what to treasure and learn from.
A friend texted: “Joe, write something about criticism! Some good pastors are resigning because not everyone in the church likes them!”
He and I both find that incredulous. As though someone could do a great work for Jesus Christ in a hostile society without stirring up resentment and incurring the wrath of some people.
Advice columnist Dear Abby used to say, “You throw a rock in among a bunch of dogs. The one that hollers is the one that got hit.”
My friend (who requested this piece) and I are both retired pastors. We each served churches over fifty years and racked up some pretty fair records, if I may say so. But we took our share of knocks from the critics. Much of it was probably deserved, since we’re both headstrong and opinionated. But an equally large share of the belly-aching was unfounded and unfair. And yet, we survived.
We hung in there and discovered a wonderful truth for those who persevere: The best revenge is the blessing of God on our labors.
We all want God-called men and women to survive–and even thrive!–in their labors for the Savior. We want them to understand that criticism will come and to be prepared for it. We want them to know what to laugh at, what to ignore, and what to take to heart. And that is the burden of this piece.
Leaders carry targets on their back.
No one is criticizing the team’s water boy or equipment manager. But if you are the starting quarterback, the star wide receiver, or the acclaimed running back, you should expect to be raked over the coals much of the time. The hope is that the acclaim will outweigh the accusations. But don’t count on it.
If you are the coach, fans automatically feel entitled to second-guess every decision you make. The coach who doesn’t get that will not survive.
Some years back, I bumped into Jim Mora, the coach of the New Orleans Saints, in an elevator. I introduced myself and said, “We pastors can sympathize with what coaches go through. We do our best on Sunday and it’s dissected for the rest of the week, fair or not.” Mora said, “Yeah, but do they get on talk shows and television programs and take your sermon apart?” A friend suggested I should have said, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks.”
The person who dares stand in the pulpit on the Lord’s Day to declare the “whole counsel of God” is wearing the target today. True, no one is paying you “the big bucks,” but you deign to speak for God and that makes you a tempting target. It goes with the territory, friend.
Last evening, a pastor texted the content of an ugly note he received in the offering plate yesterday morning. According to the spineless critic, the pastor cannot lead, cannot pastor, cannot preach, is no teacher, and has no clue how to lead worship. “Your preaching stinks, your music sucks.”
Signed “Anonymous.” (smile please)
I suspect most pastors have received variations of this same sad piece. It’s cruel, it’s unkind and unfair, but there it is.
Get used to it, pastors.
Whether you are Andy Stanley, Tim Keller or David Jeremiah or (fill in the blank with your favorite well-known pastor), criticism will be your lot. You have to learn that fact of life and decide what to do with it.
Church staff members know that when you do poorly, you get criticized, and when you do great, the pastor gets a raise. As a pastor, all I can say is, “Sorry, my friends, but this is the system.” (And I think, “I’ll try to encourage you enough to compensate for some of the negative stuff!”)
Blessed is he who when criticized, endures. And, even more blessed is he/she who when criticized can take the well-directed, pointed barbs and come up sharper than before.
Criticism is unfair? Sure. What else is new?
Many years back, attending a Mississippi State basketball game with friends, for reasons long forgotten, I was yelling criticism of the coach. At some point someone in our party leaned over and said, “Joe, the coach’s wife is sitting in front of you.” Yikes. I leaned over and said softly, “You are Mrs. Boyd?” She turned toward me, smiled and said, “Yes, I am.” I said, “Then, would you please forgive me? I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about!” She laughed.
I was quiet the rest of that game.
In the baseball playoffs, fans were criticizing Brewers coach Craig Counsel for leaving a certain pitcher in the game too long. Counsel answered, ‘I got the team into the League Championship series–so you may assume I know what I’m doing!’”
Sorry, coach. It doesn’t work that way. They pay their money, they think they’re entitled to gripe. And for most, it’s all right. Belly-aching is as much a part of the game as cheering the home run.
Why pastors quit when criticized
We simply were not expecting ugliness from that source. We had prepared ourselves to be raked over the coals from the enemy, the devil’s crowd. But in serving the Lord’s church, we had convinced ourselves that these are the best people in the world–because some of them are!–and thus we could drop our guard.
That’s how we were blind-sided.
No pastor who is a perfectionist is going to do well in ministry. Nothing he does will be perfect. No sermon is ever perfect, no worship service flawless, and no project accomplished without a mistake or two along the way. But the work is well worth doing. Lives are at stake. Eternities hang in the balance.
The pastor who resigns because he was criticized went into the work for the wrong reason. He was building a shining career, making mom and dad proud of him, and looking forward to a comfortable living as a highly respected member of the community. He was not anticipating becoming the focus of the carping of every mean-spirited narrow-minded person who walked into church. But that’s what happened.
Deal with it, preacher. Learn to ignore as much as you can and to learn from what you should.
The definitive biblical story of criticism
David was fleeing Jerusalem as his murderous son Absalom bore down on the city with his army of rebels. It was a low point in his life. As the king and his entourage filled the Jericho road for a mile or more–headed toward and across the Jordan to be cared for by three wealthy landowning friends–a lowlife by the name of Shimei took this as his moment to hurl insults at David. The outline of the fascinating story looks like this:
–2 Samuel 16 is “Shimei cursing.” He calls David a man of blood, a son of Belial (meaning worthless), tells him the Lord is repaying him for all the blood he has shed, and predicts that the Lord is delivering the kingdom to his son. See what David said.
–2 Samuel 19 is “Shimei confessing.” The insurrection is put down, Absalom is dead, and David and his people are crossing the Jordan headed home. Shimei meets them, and falls down, groveling. “I’m so sorry, king! I know I have sinned. Please don’t take to heart what I said. I’ve come down today to welcome you home!” (19:19-20) See what David said.
–I Kings 2 is “Shimei’s comeuppance.” This is not one of David’s best moments. He’d forgiven Shimei–he said–but on his death bed he tells Solomon “You’ll know how to deal with this man who cursed me.” See what Solomon did.
Questions for the pastor who is thinking of quitting due to the criticism….
–Why should you be different? Have you read the stuff Moses endured? It’s a good and instructive study. Start with Exodus 14:11 and go from there.
–Don’t you recognize this as sharing the sufferings of Jesus? (See Philippians 3:10)
–Why don’t you believe Scripture? See the text at the top of this piece from I Peter 2. Then, go back and read Matthew 10, beginning at verse 16.
–Why do you take it personally? As our Lord said to Samuel, “It’s not you they’re rejecting; it’s Me” (I Samuel 8:7).
–Are you aware of what others are suffering–I mean, really suffering–for Jesus’ sake throughout the world?
–Why not get some help from mentoring pastors? Ask how they dealt with criticism. Don’t be surprised if they tease you a little for overreacting.
God bless you. Wear this criticism as a badge of honor if you can. The day will come when you will be able to help some younger servant of God deal with the same stuff. And you’ll be glad you were faithful.
This is one of the best piece I’ve ever read on dealing with criticism. We’ve got to be tough-minded and tender-hearted. Thanks, Joe.