No one enjoys being criticized. Pastors and church leaders receive more than their share of criticism from people who are often not aware of their facts or who have an agenda. However, there are those persons who sincerely want to help. Even thought their criticism may be painful to hear, it can lead to growth and a more effective ministry.
As most of my regular readers know, I began my pastoral ministry in 1981 with no education beyond high school. In the small, rural church I served that was not a major problem. A couple of years into my ministry I realized that I needed more education than I had and enrolled in a Bible school about an hour from my house.
Our church had one person with a college degree who had taught in the local school system for a number of years. One morning after the service she approached me with a concern about my poor grammar. She admitted that few people in our church would be bothered by it, but she also knew it was unlikely I would remain in that church forever. Her concern was that it could be a hindrance to my future ministry.
I admitted to her that I was not a good English student in school and was aware that this was a problem. I explained to her that I would be required to take two semesters of English in the school I was now attending and was hopeful I would learn proper English grammar.
She was correct; my ministry has not been limited to that congregation. I've had the opportunity to publish a number of books, speak to church leaders in numerous denominations in the US and Canada, and serve as a judicatory minister. I will never be mistaken for an English major, but what I learned in those two semesters have proven to be very helpful as my ministry has expanded.
My critic has moved, but we communicate once in a while by e-mail. Recently, I asked if she remembered that day when she challenged me about my poor grammar. She did remember and also remembered how difficult that conversation was for her. She did not want to hurt my feelings, but she also did not want my ministry to be limited by something that could be corrected. I assured her that I was never offended by her comments and appreciated her desire to see me grow.
The first thing you should do when someone criticizes you is to determine if there is any truth in their criticism. If there is, be glad they care enough to speak truth in your life even if it is painful.
The second thing you should do is to examine the motives behind the criticism. Are these mean-spirited people who want to hurt you, or they people who want to see you grow and develop into a more effective leader? Leaders need more of the second type of people in their lives because it is very easy for us to have blind spots when it comes to our own shortcomings.
Thirdly, you should ask yourself what God might be saying to you through your critics. If there is truth in the criticism that might be an indication that God is speaking to you through these people. That's why it's always important to listen to the critics.
Finally, you have to decide how you will respond to the criticism. When such criticism is well-meaning and contains truth it is often a mistake to ignore it. Explore ways you might be able to address it in a positive way. Learn new skills or develop new habits that can have a more positive impact on your ministry or on you personally. We all have room to grow, and constructive criticism can often point out some of those areas.