It’s the monthly church business meeting. The regulars are present, and you’re waiting on a few stragglers. Then it happens: The couple that normally doesn’t attend the meetings pulls into the parking lot.
Your mind races; “why are they here?” “What are they going to bring up?” “How can I avoid their topic without knowing what they want to say?” You greet them kindly, probably making a quiet comment about their presence at the meeting when they normally don’t come.
They sit with poker faces, ready to go “all in,” whether you like it or not. You proceed with your meeting as planned but then, just when you thought when you were in the clear, they say “Pastor, I’d like to say something.” Whenever people say that, it is never followed by “I think you’re doing great!” or “How can we bless your family?” It is always followed by a complaint of some kind.
If you’re a pastor, you can name those people. You probably can remember meetings when they showed up and what they wanted to talk about at that meeting. The reality is all churches have these people and every pastor is called to love and disciple these difficult people. We are called to listen to their criticisms. Here are three things I have learned on how to listen to and handle criticism.
First, we need to be humble enough to know there are things we need to work on. Even if the criticism comes from a place of anger and frustration toward us. Even if the person is acting so unbelievably un-Christian when they are saying it, they may have a point. We should try to evaluate each and every criticism thoughtfully. Those who are upset with us may have a valid point hidden in that hateful tone, and we must be willing to find a nugget of truth in their statements.
Second, we need to invite those concerns through the right avenues. Pastors need to have yearly evaluations to address any concerns or complaints people have. Those who are conducting the evaluation, usually the Personnel Committee, need to be mature Christians who can filter through the nonsense and get to the heart of the frustration. We as pastors, also need to have brothers in our churches who can say the hard things that need to be said, who can speak the hard truth and you know it comes from a place of love, not anger.
Third, as pastors we need to set boundaries for which criticisms we will listen to and which we will discard. Some who complain are not invested in the church and her ministries. They may come to Sunday services, but if they aren’t invested in the ministries of the church, how can their complaints be taken seriously? Also, if someone is not willing to put their name behind a complaint, you can probably discard it. Whether that is an anonymous note or the popular statement, “People say” or “I’ve heard,” those complaints need to go to the trash. (The only exception is if the anonymous note has any legal ramifications. Those must be looked into, regardless of how they are brought to you). You can encourage your people often that, if they have a complaint, they should follow the example of Matthew 18 and come address you personally.
As pastors, we need to be humble enough to know we will receive complaints and be mature enough to know we need to hear them in the right context and way so we can grow in our calling. We also must be wise enough to know that not all complaints are created equal. While some are valid and should keep us up at night if coming in the right way from the right person, others need to be forgotten as quickly as they were said.
Pastor, you will be criticized. Sometimes you will be criticized unfairly. This is part of the terrain of ministry. But don’t give up, and don’t lose heart. If we can help encourage you to persevere even in the middle of criticism, please email us at email@example.com.