No one likes to be criticized, and most of us will immediately begin to defend ourselves against criticism. Anyone who has been in pastoral ministry for any length of time knows what it is to be criticized. Some people seem to believe that criticizing the pastor is their spiritual gift. These are the minority of people who will be against you regardless of what you do. Others sincerely want to help the pastor grow. We read in Proverbs 27: 6, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." When a friend cares enough about us to speak truth to us, even knowing we might not appreciate the truth, that is a real growth opportunity. However, there are also growth opportunities in those critics who seem to always find fault with us.
Hans Finzel reminds us that perhaps 20 percent of the criticism people level against us might be true, but even if only 2 percent of it is true, it is still a growth opportunity for us. You may be like me and want to immediately justify yourself and reject the criticism that comes against you, especially if it is not coming from someone you believe has your best interests at heart. But, if we immediately reject it without asking God to show us if there is any truth in it we may miss an growth opportunity He has provided us.
As a judicatory leader in our denomination I frequently work with senior pastors and congregations. I work much less often with associate pastors and others on pastoral staffs. A few months ago I was talking to an associate pastor from a church whose senior pastor had resigned. He told me that they frequently felt their ministry was not appreciated by denominational leaders. As we continued to talk I realized I had often ignored these hard working staff ministers. I thanked him for his honesty, and we scheduled a lunch with all the pastoral staff to discuss how they were coping with the departure of the senior pastor. I recently began working with another larger church whose pastor just resigned, and I have already had a meeting with the pastoral staff to ask how they were doing. Instead of trying to defend myself I recognized there was truth in the comments of this associate, and I am now much more aware of my need to stay connected with all the ministers on the staff of the churches I serve. I grew as a leader due to my encounter with someone who cared enough to confront a blind spot in my ministry.
What criticisms have come your way recently? As you sort through everything that is said, what pieces do you find that are true? What growth opportunities are there in those criticisms that will make you more effective for the Kingdom of God? Perhaps the criticism is directed towards some aspect of your personal or family life. Again, what are you hearing that is true that can lead to positive changes in your life or in the way you relate to your family? Don't ever waste a good growth opportunity.