How To Handle Criticism as a Lead Pastor
As a senior pastor or someone in any leadership position, criticism is inevitable. That, of course, doesn’t mean it stings any less. For most of us, our first reaction to complaints and critiques is defensiveness. Especially when the criticism feels harsh, personal, or unfair, it can be tempting to take a “haters gonna hate” mentality and harden ourselves to it. And while it’s true that some people complain just to hear themselves talk, brushing off all criticism as petty or invalid can lead you to miss out on opportunities to hear truth and be made the better for it. Here are 3 tips for dealing with and growing through criticism as a senior pastor:
Consider the source.
Not every critic has the emotional currency to speak into your life. A critique coming from a disgruntled stranger is different from that coming from a wise and trusted friend. While both might hurt, remember how Proverbs 27:6 tells us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Ultimately, criticism is valuable and biblical. We need friends and mentors who love us enough to rebuke us gently and challenge us to grow through our mistakes and weaknesses. If we only surround ourselves with “yes-people” we, at best, miss opportunities to grow, and, at worst, can hurt the people in our pastoral care through our blind spots. It can be difficult to know what kind of criticism to take or ignore, as even complaints that are given in anger and hurt very well might be communicating something you need to hear. Which leads us to:
Sit with the objection.
When we are feeling activated by a critique, it can be hard to tell whether it is something valid that we need to listen to or something hurtful with no foundation. Our judgment can be impaired when our feelings are hurt. It’s important to take the time to seek God’s word for insight, perspective, and guidance. In addition to asking God what he wants us to learn from this critique, it’s helpful to examine why it stings as much as it does, too. Is there anything you’ve been hiding from or an old, unhealed wound that this criticism has agitated?
Allow criticism to change/shape you.
Lastly, if you let it, criticism can become a catalyst for change. Being willing to listen to feedback and check ourselves keeps our hearts from growing hard and allows us to continually ask God for his guidance. While dealing with objections can feel painful and humbling, it’s a beautiful reminder of God’s grace for our imperfections. When we receive criticism with humility rather than retreat out of defensiveness, we are opening ourselves up to growth, learning, and deeper relationships with God and potentially even our critics.
Being criticized can feel devastating, whether it’s fair critique or not. As you’re navigating the best way to deal with objections with grace and wisdom, always lean on Jesus. He was also critiqued, to the point of being crucified. While we don’t have the benefit of always being right like Jesus, he knows how it feels to be disparaged and is there to offer his guidance and comfort as you wrestle with objections.
About the Author
Emma Tarp is a writer and worship leader based in Minneapolis, MN. On her best days, she's highlighter-deep in a good book or teaching herself to sew. On her other best days, she's helping passionate folks and inspired businesses put words to their work. Find out more at emmatarp.com.