5 Ways to Handle the Chronic Church Critic

Every church has ’em. The Chronic Critic…the person(s) who simply can’t be pleased. No matter what you do, they have something negative to say. You are not alone when you face chronic critics. Nehemiah, perhaps one of the greatest leaders of all times was on a mission from God. Yet he faced chronic critics. They could have derailed his God-given mission. They didn’t. And here’s what he did.

How to handle the chronic critic:

Complete this statement: The last time I was criticized by someone in my church I…

  • Reacted
  • Blew up
  • Screamed
  • Cussed (maybe not out loud, but in your mind)
  • Stayed silent and drove my anger inward
  • Became defensive
  • Felt embarrased
  • Listened and learned from the critic
  • ???.

Were any of these responses true of you?

Criticism never feels good. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not. Nehemiah’s criticism from Sanballat and Tobia was not warranted, yet Nehemiah wisely responded with the 5 P’s below. Nehemiah 4. 1-9 tells the story.

Neh. 4.1   When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews,  2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble — burned as they are?”

3   Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building — if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”

4   Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.  5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

6   So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

7   But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry.  8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.  9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (NIV)

You’ll recall that God gave Nehemiah a burden to re-build the wall around Jerusalem, a noble task. He obeyed God’s prompting and got criticized for it. The five insights below from Nehemiah’s response to his chronic critics give us a good template to follow when we’re criticized. I call them the 5 P’s.

  • PREPARE FOR IT: if you want to make a difference for God, you will be criticized, even though what you’re doing is noble. We live  live in a fallen world and this world’s systems and values oppose the rule of God. If satan can use criticism to derail you, he will. The greater impact you have for God, the more you will be criticized, not less. If you try to please everybody, you may avoid criticism, but you’ll be miserable.
    • For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism. (Harrison’s Postulate)
  • PAUSE AND PRAY: Instead of reacting, retorting, getting defensive, showing the illogic of his critics, Nehemiah first turned to the Lord in prayer (v. 4). The criticism hurt, but he did not even the score. He asked the Lord to bring appropriate judgment. Prayer takes the sting out criticism and when we pause, it gives time for clear thinking to rule, rather than reactivity.
    • Matt. 5.44 … I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer… (Message)
  • PRAY AND PROCESS: Criticism often makes us feel bad and often we act irrationally or in an healthy way to it. When we get criticized we must, however, process that criticism by asking these kinds of questions. What is valid about it? What do I do with it? Do I ignore it? Do I confront the criticizer? Do I learn from it? We should not disregard all criticism.  We can learn much from our critics. Some critics can even become our best coaches.
    • Psa. 141:5 Let the godly strike me!  It will be a kindness! If they reprove me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. (NLT)
      • Evaluate the merit of criticism in two ways.
        1.  In light of the spirit and attitude in which it was given. Did the critic criticize to help you or to hurt you?
        2. In light of the voices to whom your critic listens. Does the critic hang around with godly people, or simply run with a pack of other critics?
  • PROCEED WITH CARE: Although Nehemiah often prayed, he didn’t use prayer as an excuse to do nothing. He did something. He moved forward with the project to rebuild the wall. When the chronic critic criticizes you, don’t let it immobilize you. Do something tangible.
    • You may need to separate yourself from your constant critics and not listen to them any longer.
    • You may need to boldly tell your critic to stop criticizing.
    • You may need to listen and learn from your critic.
  • PROTECT YOUR VULNERABILITIES: In response to his critics, he posted guards at the wall’s most vulnerable places. Sometimes criticism reveals where were are weakest and most vulnerable. When such criticism reveals those weaknesses, we may need to take some of these extra steps to deal with those sensitive places.
    • Consult a good counselor.
    • Invite a safe friend into your life to help you process the criticism.
    • Study Scripture to see what God’s Word says about that area.
    • Read a helpful book that addresses your sensitive area.

Ultimately we must look to Christ who provided the perfect pattern for responding to our chronic critics.

1Pet. 2.23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (NIV)

What has helped you respond to your critics?

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[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 50). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Data Overload: Is Your Church Guilty of Infobesity?

In today’s world we’re bombarded with information overload. One author coined this problem infobesity (Pearrow, 2012) to describe this data overload. When we get too much data our thinking brain shuts down to new information. British psychologist Dr. David Lewis coined a term to describe what happens from infobesity as ‘Information Fatigue Syndrome.’ Symptoms include burnout, a compulsion to constantly check email or the web, poor concentration, hostility (Elwart, 2013), and anxiety caused by over stimulating our brain’s emotional centers. Sometimes churches can be guilty of infobesity. Is yours?

In 2012 this amount of information was produced every single minute and it grows each year (Elwart, 2013).

  • 72 hours of video posts
  • 347 blog posts
  • 700,000 Facebook entries
  • 30,000 tweets
  • 2 million e-mails sent
  • 12 million text messages

Unfortunately the church can be guilty of overloading people with information as well. What might indicate that your church is guilty of infobesity? Consider these 5 indicators.

  1. You pack your Sunday bulletin with so many inserts about activities that the inserts get dropped all over the floor after the service.
  2. Your announcements last longer than 3 minutes.
  3. Your announcements include more than 3 items.
  4. At your staff meetings you get dizzy thinking about all the stuff that “needs” to be communicated.
  5. You send out more than one weekly email to church members about church events.

So if you think your church is guilty, what can you do to address it?

  1. Clarify your church’s vision and don’t do stuff that doesn’t reinforce it.
  2. Learn to say no to marginal events and ministries.
  3. Prioritize what’s most important and make sure those priorities get priority communication.
  4. Align all your communication venues (announcements, bulletin, enews, other printed collateral) so that they all reinforce your priorities.
  5. Develop an annual calendar so you can see what events might compete with each other.

How have you dealt with infobesity in your church?


“I just learned how to deal with infobesity in my church.”(tweet this quote by clicking here).


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References:

Elwart, S. (2013) Information overload making your head explode? [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/information-overload-making-your-head-explode/> [Accessed 24 April 2013].

Pearrow, M. (2012) Infobesity: Cognitive and Physical Impacts of Information Overcomsumption. Available from: <http://distworkshop.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/dist2012_submission_8.pdf>.

How to Make Boring Church Announcements Memorable

I grew up in the church and by my calculation I’ve heard 10,931 church announcements, or thereabouts. I only remember one of them. Why did I only remember that one? Before I give you the answer, I must confess that for me announcements are often the most boring part of a service, yet mostly necessary. I’ve felt more stress from having to give them than when I’ve had to speak. I dislike giving announcements. I guess I don’t like them because I sometimes see most people’s eyes glaze over during announcement time. So why did I remember the one I referred to?

It happened when I served in California over ten years ago. I took a staycation and visited a few local churches since I didn’t have to attend my church the Sunday of that week. One church I visited met in a simple warehouse. About ten minutes into the service a man walked on stage with a microphone in one hand and a hotdog in another. He made a couple of announcements between bites. Then another guy walked up on stage with a mike and a hotdog. They began a dialogue about the church hotdog cookout that followed. I’ll never forget that creative announcement. Even as I write this post I’m getting hungry for a hotdog.

Although these two guys probably didn’t have the brain in mind when they made that announcement, they illustrated a basic rule of attention. The brain pays attention when expectations get violated. I expected the normal talking head to make announcements. But my brain was made more attentive because what I expected didn’t happen.

This simple brain concept not only applies to announcements, but to our sermons as well.

So, if you believe announcements are important and you want people to remember them, violate the people’s expectations. Here are a few simple ideas to incorporate into your announcements.

  1. Novelty (make them from a different location in your auditorium, use video, etc.)
  2. Surprise (mix up when during the service you make them, have separate people in the congregation stand up and make them, etc.)
  3. Humor (the key to humor is surprise)
  4. Object lessons/show and tell (i.e., like the hotdog)

What ideas have helped your announcements become more sticky?


“I just learned some creative ways to make announcements more sticky.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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5 Reasons Why Every Church Needs a Staff-Board Conflict Resolution Strategy

The board meetings have begun to sour. Increasingly the pastor and his board have heated conversations about the church’s direction. The conflict has bled into every meeting for months. Emotions are running high. Conflict reaches a flash point. There is no written plan on how to deal with it. What happens? The board either sends the pastor packing or he quits out of frustration. A rarity? No. Over 1500 pastors are forced from the ministry each month and many more pastors simply quit because they’re broken. Many are pondering leaving right now. What can a board or pastor to encourage biblical conflict resolution? That’s the focus of this post.

When emotions run rampant among pastors and boards, thoughtfulness seldom prevails. Our emotional brain hijacks our thinking brain.

So what is the solution to this problem? A written, clear, agreed-upon conflict resolution process. Here are 5 reasons your church needs one.

  1. Simply quoting Matthew 18:15-17 on dealing with conflict often doesn’t cut it. Although it’s the basis for conflict resolution, it’s seldom practiced without specific written guidelines.
  2. When we’re emotional, we don’t think clearly. When that happens we need something objective that is not open to interpretation, something that specifically explains the process how board-staff or staff-staff conflict can be resolved.
  3. Such a policy can often result in a more redemptive resolution to conflict than knee-jerk reactions like firing or quitting.
  4. We are called to model to the world love for each other (John 13.34-35). How we respond to conflict often conveys just the opposite.
  5. When we solve conflict in a God honoring way we embody unity, what the Scriptures often command us to seek. Ephesians 4.13 says, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

I highly recommend the organization called Peacemakers to help you craft such a policy. Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, founded and leads this organization. Every pastor should read his book.

They also offer training and have produced some excellent materials you can use to teach your church and leaders. Check out this link for their resources.

Does your church have a conflict resolution policy? If not, what would be a good first step to create one?

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Top 10 Healthy Ways to Handle the Church Critic

One well-worn adage goes, “The two things you can’t avoid in life are death and taxes.” I’d  suggest one more adage for those in ministry. “Two things you can’t avoid in ministry are…people late to the service and … church critics.” In this short post I suggest 10 ways to handle the church critic.

Having served in full-time ministry for 35 years, I’ve experienced my share of critics. I’ve responded well to some and not-so-well to others. When I’ve sensed a good heart from the critic, I tend to respond with more grace. And, I’ve learned to appreciate this advice from Abraham Lincoln. “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.

10 healthy ways to respond to my critics (actually 9, I’d love to hear your 10th).

  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 really trying to understand their criticism.
  3. Avoid an immediate retort such as, “Yea but,” “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. President Lincoln suggested that we when we get angry we should count to 100 before responding. That may a bit of overkill, but counting helps us avoid reacting.
  6. Look for the proverbial ‘grain of truth’ in the criticism, and learn from it.
  7. If you see more than a grain of truth and you can’t process it alone, seek feedback from a 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). You probably don’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 they did that made it easer to receive. For those who botched it, remember to avoid those tactics.
  10. …… what would add as a tenth?

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