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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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • H. S.

    I have to admit it’s not easy not to become defensive especially when you know that criticism is not fair at all and has nothing to do with the truth. Then I realized that often times I’m not really the problem; they have issues in their own life or family life which turns into criticizing someone to avoid dealing with their own mistakes/issues. So the stronger the critics become the more kindness, care and love I add in my relationship with them. Sometimes to the level that it surprises them and makes them wonder “what is wrong with this guy”. I always remind myself that my repose should be “other”; different from mainstream culture.

    The other tacit I use is to listen to their complain and criticizer and respond with the story, or a Bible quote (a safe one, sometimes even unrelated to the topic). I do this when I realize that they just want to pour out their unto someone by finding a fault. It shifts their focus onto something good and it becomes a puzzle for them to solve and a food for thought to chew on.

    And I always remind myself that Jesus was the Perfect Man, Son of God, Perfect Pastor and Preacher etc. people not only criticized him but they eventually killed Him. Obviously I don’t dare to compare myself with Him but… if they did it to Him, to the Perfect God-Man, for sure they will do it to us, the mortals and sinners for many reasons we provide with our shortcomings as pastors/ministers. Hope this helps. Thank you very much dear Charles; I learned a lot from your blog. I will be here quite sometime to finish reading all the helpful materials you published.

  • Gneid Walsh

    I’m a minister but some of the best advice I’ve been given is from my father. My dad was a police officer. He taught me the value of finding out motive. Everyone can be reactive (it’s only human), however, the quicker you can ground yourself again…it helps to ask yourself why this person feels the need to give you this advice. Sometimes the criticism is a smoke-screen for a different need or maybe unhealthy mindset. Either way ask yourself why are they saying this and what is being said that can’t be put into words.

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  • Lisa Negron

    I would say that it might be helpful to ask God to reveal to you the pain that is motivating the criticism. Sometimes hurting people will take their pain and deliver an unrelated criticism to a pastor. A lot of people subconsciously look to the church to heal the wounds of their original family of origin. This is not fair to the pastor, but understanding it can sometimes help him to diffuse a criticism.

    • Lisa, great insight! Thanks for contributing to the conversation.