Criticism is everywhere. It's a constant. If you're in any form of ministry leadership (or any kind of public service), you don't have to go looking for it. People offer it for free, especially church people. It is the cheapest of today's commodities in our hyper-opinionated culture.
So, how do we handle it when it comes our way?
In an earlier post, Preaching as Performance, I highlighted the value of coming to grips with our insecurities and tendencies toward an unhealthy performance orientation. That's a good foundation for dealing with criticism, but here I want to focus on some structure of practicality to build on this foundation.
Get proactive. I don't mean "get aggressive". That won't help. Here's what I mean. Build around you a circle of trusted peers in the ministry whom you know have your best interest in heart, and invite them to speak regularly and candidly into your life. Then, by all means, listen to them.
I remember a very critical man in one of my churches who offered to "coach" me since, at least in his eyes, I was so in need of improvement. It was obvious he had a personal agenda, and it was so freeing to be able to tell him I already had a group to whom I submitted for regular advice, critique (as opposed to criticism) and accountability. I would not have lied to him, of course, if I didn't already have that group set up and going, but I did. I had been proactive in placing myself in this form of professional development.
I'm talking about a simple concept: peer review. I know of countless small groups of ministers who plan their preaching together, studying background and biblical languages on scripture passages they'll commonly use in their upcoming preaching calendar. Here's a Q – do they follow up with listening and/or viewing each other's' message presentations in order to offer feedback and even candid critique? Just an idea.
Let's say you think of some new brilliant, visionary idea that involves significant risk-taking. What if you had a group of fellow ministers with whom you already met? You could bounce this idea off of them, perhaps hearing potential objections in advance or even learning from mistakes they've already made in a similar situation before making your own.
Having such a trusted group of fellow professionals, I think, provides a reference point to consider criticism from the public as it comes. In fact, some "shots" that come from naysayers, regardless of the manner or context in which they're offered, might actually have some merit to them, proving worthy of our professional consideration. But, without this peer group, how would we know?A peer group allows us to re-sound what we've heard from those in the stands and, if nothing else, offers sanity. It might even help us discover the nugget of truth in the otherwise gold rush of bad-mouthing around us.