“The worship is too loud.”
“The worship is too boring.”
“The preaching is borderline prosperity gospel.”
“The preaching is totally not relatable.”
“They aren’t doing enough local ministry.”
“They aren’t doing enough global ministry.”
If you have been serving or leading in the church for any amount of time, you have surely been criticized a time or two. It’s possible you have heard some of the exact critiques mentioned above! Criticism can be a difficult thing to navigate. It is hard to determine what is the difference between constructive criticism and, well, bad criticism. You may also wonder where the criticism is coming from. You can proudly stomp your feet, wishing the person could only see how hard you work on a daily basis. You could even shout back, “You try doing what I do, while I do everything else that I do!” You might want to plug your ears because this person couldn’t possibly have any idea what you do on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, while natural, these responses are not productive or useful. Whether we appreciate it or not, criticism often runs rampant in the church. Rather than looking for ways to eliminate criticism in the church, we should ask for ways to properly respond to it in light of the gospel.
Here are three things to remember when facing criticism in the church:
1. Criticism Can Hurt
Criticism can most definitely hurt. It is important to remember that and accept it. My Pastor recently mentioned to me how criticism can feel to the criticized. He said that it often feels like someone is telling you that your baby is ugly. At my church, I lead the Facebook Live ministry where we stream each week’s sermon,. I’ve been involved with this ministry since its birth, so we could surely say Facebook Live is my “baby.” The ministry seems simple enough, right? Well, I have learned that you can record a sermon incorrectly in infinitely more ways than I ever dreamed. These comments can hurt! I want to say to them, “Don’t you know I’m trying my best?” or “I didn’t even film this week!” and “Yes, I’ve already addressed that. Thank you.” When someone tells you your baby is ugly, it hurts. In the same way, criticism in the church hurts, and that is okay.
2. Criticism is Not a Personal Indictment
Another thing to remember regarding criticism in the church is that no matter how it feels, it is not a personal indictment. Criticism can often feel like a personal attack. Don’t fall for this! The reality of the matter is, criticism is rarely, if ever, personal. Do everything you can to keep yourself from remaining offended by criticism. The criticizer is likely not attacking your character, your motives, or your faith. They simply think they know better than you. While criticism can and should offend you, remember that it is not an assault on your identity as a follower of Christ.
3. Criticism is Redeemable
The last and most important thing to remember about criticism is that it is redeemable. Yes, criticism, in every form, can be redeemed. What do I mean by this? To make it simple, all criticism is useful, whether or not the criticizer intends it to be. Criticism can and should help us to examine whatever work we are doing. It helps us to evaluate our individual and collective ministries. We should always want our work to improve. A great way to redeem criticism is to allow it to prune you. Redeeming criticism does not mean that we follow every single piece of advice we are given, but it does mean we listen to everything we hear. It means that we truly hear everything we hear. As church leaders, the voices criticizing us are the same voices that we want to lead to worship. These voices belong to the people we are called to love and serve, whether they make it easy or not. Criticism helps us to know how our work is being perceived by, at the very least, one soul in our congregations. What are we doing to love this soul, shepherd this soul, and disciple this soul? That is our mission and our goal in everything we do. Let us ensure it is the mission and goal of the criticism we face as well.