7 Reasons why Church People Criticize Pastors

If you serve in a church, criticism comes with the territory. I doubt that any pastor or leader likes it. But, we must deal with it in a God-honoring way. One way to do that is to understand why people criticize us. I’ve listed below what I believe are 7 reasons why church people criticize pastors with a suggested response to each.


Why church people criticize pastors

  1. They lack spiritual maturity. Some people criticize you because they think it’s part of a Christian’s job description. After all, “Pastors need to avoid pride and some good healthy criticism can keep ’em humble.”
    • Response: Don’t be surprised that you get criticized. Make sure that your church has an intentional spiritual formation strategy to help people think and act more biblically.
  2. They feel they are losing the church they once knew. As we get older, we must deal with the inevitable results of aging, slowing cognitive function and reduced flexibility and resilience. Seniors in your church may feel that changes you are bringing are taking away the church they grew up in. Guess what? Unless we stay resilient as we age, when we get older we’ll probably feel the same way.
    • Response: Give a gracious listening ear to seniors and seek to empathize with them by stepping into their shoes. Try to see their concerns from their perspective.
  3. They don’t feel they have a voice. Some church people can feel that their opinions don’t matter and so criticize to get their voice heard.
    • Response: Provide opportunities that give people a way to give input. I’ve heard Patrick Lencioni, leadership author and guru, often say that people will support you if they feel that they’ve been truly heard.
  4. They don’t deal with change very well. Some people are born more adverse to change than others. Their brains are wired that way. Their fear circuits are more easily set off by uncertainty and change brings uncertainty.
    • Response: Recognizing this fact will give you greater tolerance and understanding why some people tend to criticize more than others. Again, empathy will go a long way to help these folks feel more comfortable with change and less critical.
  5. They need to find something or someone toward which to vent their hurt caused by other life issues. Some people in your church project their personal hurts through criticism. Criticism helps ease their angst, at least for the short term.
    • Response: Although this is not a pleasant reality, it is true. A wise counselor once said, “The past is not past until it is processed.” Many in your church still carry heavy loads of guilt and anger that can easily spill over toward you through criticism. I suggest prayer in response to this kind of critic. Prayer could fit into a response for every category I’ve listed, but it’s especially apropos in this case. If you sense that others are projecting their pain toward you through criticism, ask the Lord to heal their hurt and to release their unforgiveness, bitterness, and pain.
  6. They are truly malevolent people committed to your demise.
    • Response: Although I believe these critics are few, they do exist. If you face this kind of person in your church, take bold action. Titus 3.10 commands us to warn a divisive person once and after that have nothing to do with them. Sometimes extreme cases require you to apply church discipline.
  7. They have a point. Sometimes the criticism is valid and you need to hear it.
    • Response: Listen and heed. When the criticism reflects a valid issue, learn from it and make  appropriate adjustments in your life or ministry. Proverbs 27.6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

Criticism is never pleasant, but sometimes necessary.

In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I quoted a bold statement by author Edwin Friedman who wrote a great leadership book, Failure of Nerve. He said, “Chronic criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leaders is functioning better.”

Whether or not what he says always holds true, I do believe that it you aren’t facing at least some criticism in your church, you’re probably trying to lead too safely. I also believe that to lead at our best, we must respond to all criticism in ways that honor God and respect the criticizer.

What other kinds of critics have you seen in the Church?

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Are you an Anonymous Leader?

I love reading books on leadership. And recently, The Anonymous Leader: An Unambitious Pursuit of Influence by Ralph Mayhew, a pastor in Australia came across my desk. It is an excellent and convicting book about being a biblical leader, from a fresh angle. I asked Ralph to be my guest blogger today. His post gives you a glimpse into his book. I highly recommend it.

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When it comes to leading people well, a leader can experience a lot of pressure. Every leader feels the weight of the role, and add to this the sometimes ruthless expectations of followers and it can sadly be enough to convince some out of the call entirely.

Leadership, however, is not about us, it’s about how God chooses to use the platform of His influence upon which we stand. Our ears should not be attuned to the expectations of our followers, but the expectations of the one who gave us the platform.

That platform belongs to God and is a gift God gives to every leader entrusting us to steward it in line with his will. The platform is different to the stage of leadership. The platform is where God’s business is conducted, as opposed to the stage where a leader seeks to pursue their ambition of becoming great and increasing their own influence.

Christian leadership has always meant to be about God’s agenda. As we read words like what John the Baptist said ‘He must become greater and I must become less.’ (Jn 3:30) we are beckoned into anonymity. It begins to dawn on us as Jesus washes His disciples feet, that occupying God’s platform of influence, does not require our greatness to be known, but God’s. Leading in the Kingdom of God requires us to become invisible, anonymous, transparent.

Transparency is a great metaphor for Christian leadership. If a leader is able to cast vision, create community, challenge culture, instill values, navigate change and inspire people, all by enabling people to look toward them and be caught in God’s influence, then they have fulfilled John the Baptist’s words.

The Anonymous Leader does this, powerfully influencing others as they align their influence to God’s. They realize that through their influence God’s influence is actually coming to bear on a person’s life. This kind of leader recognizes that leadership is never about them, but all about how they steward God’s platform, which they occupy.

As a leader relinquishes their personal ambitions and strives for anonymity, they truly can embrace the leadership platform God has gifted them with. In doing so the five components of leadership present in ever leader can be stewarded toward anonymity and Kingdom advancement, and away from selfish ambitious desires that lurk in the spirit of us all. Excellent self-leadership begins to see a leader’s passion migrate toward wisdom and away from recklessness. Their trust builds toward integrity and hypocrisy decreases. Their invincibility is ushered into and grounded in humility, leaving their pride to starve. Their confidence is nurtured into security, reducing the pull of insecurities. And their commitment is driven into a depth of resilience and away from shallowness.

The Anonymous Leader constantly strives for wisdom, integrity, humility, resilience and security to grow in their lives, knowing that those they lead and the Kingdom of God in which they lead, will be enriched and benefited because of it.

-Ralph Mayhew, author of The Anonymous Leader: An unambitious pursuit of influence; available at www.theanonymousleader.comHe also blogs atwww.ralphmayhew.com.

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9 Ways to Respond to the Church Critic

One well-worn adage reads, “The two things you can’t avoid in life are death and taxes.” As a Pastor, I’d like to suggest two more for those in ministry. Two things a pastor can’t avoid: people being late to the Sunday service and…critics. I’ve served in full-time ministry for 35 years and I’ve experienced my share of critics. I’ve responded well to some and not-so-well to others. And I’ve learned 9 ways that have helped me respond better to the church critic.

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9 Ways to Respond to the Church Critic.

  1. Give them your ear, but within reason. Don’t allow someone to destroy you with caustic criticism.
  2. Let your body language communicate that you are truly trying to understand.
  3. Avoid an immediate retort such as “Yea but,” or “You’re wrong,” or some other defensive response.
  4. Breath this silent prayer, “Lord, give me grace to respond and not react.”
  5. Before responding take a few moments to check what you’re about to say. Abraham Lincoln used to suggest counting to 100 when you get angry. That may a bit of overkill, but he is on to something.
  6. Look for the proverbial ‘grain of truth’ in the criticism and act upon it accordingly.
  7. If you see more than a grain of truth and you can’t process it alone, seek feedback from the safe person in your life. (see my post on What to Look for in a Safe Person).
  8. Ask God to keep you approachable to your critics (within reason). However, you probably wouldn’t want to vacation with them. :)
  9. Learn from your critics on how best to deliver criticism to others. When someone delivers criticism that you received well, ask yourself what about how they criticized you made it easier to receive. For those who don’t criticize well, avoid their tactics.

What has helped you deal with the church critic?

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12 Questions your Leaders Wish You’d Ask Them

In the book First, Break all the Rules written by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, they list 12 core questions the Gallup organization discovered that give organizations the information they need to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees. Pastors and church leaders would do well to regularly ask their leaders, volunteers, and staff these questions.

Speech bubble with the word questions on white background.
  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company/church make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

What questions do you find helpful to ask those who work with or for you?

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4 Questions Leaders Should Ask to Avoid Burnout

For my second book I commissioned Barna Research, Lifeway Research, and Christianity Today to survey almost 2,000 pastors to discover what issues can cause a ministry or a leader’s passion for ministry to die. I based my book on those findings. Out of those findings, four key questions emerged that every spiritual leader should ask him or herself at least once a year. stressThese questions can help us face up to areas, that if left unchecked, have the potential to kill our ministries or at best, drain the passion from our souls. Here they are.
  1. Do you have a safe person in your life with whom you can process ministry problems and pain?
  2. Have you looked deep enough inside to discover what truly bothers you about your ministry?
  3. If those who see how you respond to ministry problems were asked to tell you what they thought, would they say you need to make some major changes?
  4. To whom and how should you communicate your frustrations (your board, your staff, the church)?

You can learn more about my four books here.

You can also get a free chapter from my latest book, Brain Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, by signing up in the right panel on this page to receive my blog posts. You have the option for signing up for them as I post them (usually 2 a week) or you can get a compilation delivered to your mailbox on Saturday.

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