Criticism is a reality for any leader. Not only are pastors not immune from criticism, but because of the nature of pastoring, they are sometimes more frequent receivers of it. With that reality, it is important for us to know how to respond when the criticism starts flying our way. Here are several suggestions.
1- Listen to it.
Be quick to hear and slow to speak. Listen to what the critic is saying. Why? There are two main reasons. First, you may learn something about yourself. There might just be some truth hidden within the criticism that you have overlooked. In listening to a critic you might discover something about yourself that needs adjusting. Second, you may learn something about the other person that will better enable you to minister to them.
Sometimes the criticism is rooted in a real problem that you have, and sometimes it is rooted in a real problem that the critic has. In both cases you need to listen to uncover the truth.
2- Don’t overreact to it.
The temptation is to immediately respond in an attempt to defend yourself. If you are like me you are tempted to argue, explain, prove, support (or whatever else you want to call it), all in an attempt to put the other person in his/her place. This is rarely the correct response.
Overreacting has two sides: Anger and discouragement. Resist the urge toward both. Don’t become angry and don’t become discouraged.
3- Learn from it.
The only way you can learn from criticism is if you have listened to it and refused to overreact to it. If there is truth in the criticism, what now needs to be adjusted? How can you learn, grow, and improve? If there is no truth in the criticism, there are still things you can learn. What did you learn about the other person? What did you learn about ministering to difficult people? What did you learn about how your vision for the church is being received?
If the goal is to learn from all criticism, you will receive it differently than someone who tries to avoid it.
4- Forget about it.
Once you have done the first three, then you can forget about it. Move on. Don’t forget what you have learned, but don’t dwell on the criticism itself. I have seen people become obsessed with one piece of criticism to the point it has controlled them, affected their family, and ultimately ruined their ministry. The temptation is there for all of us, but determine to avoid that completely.
Once you have listened to the criticism, resisted the urge to overreact to it, and learned from it, the only thing left to do is to forget it.
There is one final thing I would say about this. True, good, strong leaders never try to avoid the critic nor the criticism. In avoiding the critic you allow problems to fester and gossip to spread. In avoiding criticism you fail to learn important information about yourself and others. This can hinder your leadership.
If you are leading, there will be criticism. The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing (but even then you will probably be criticized for doing nothing).
Solidify the vision God has given you for your ministry, be committed to Scripture, be wise, be humble, always learn, and lead on!