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Facing Criticism

Posted: 9/27/19 at 3:00pm. Column by Ed Jordan.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and annually I try to encourage people to find creative ways to express their appreciation to their pastor and/or pastoral staff.

This week I received a newsletter with a section summarizing Philip Warner’s “The Secret Pain of Pastors,” posted by www.churchleaders.com in 2018. The seven “unique” problems pastors face were suggested as: criticism, rejection, betrayal, loneliness, weariness, frustrations, and disappointments.

In my next few columns, I’d like to address each of these problems, because they are not unique to pastors. Anyone in a workplace, a family, a school, a social group, and even a church can face these painful effects—especially those who are in some position of leadership.  

So what about facing criticism? While all of us have been criticized, it is often a one-time event by a person; sometimes deserved, sometimes not. However pastors or other leaders experience criticisms in a compounded way, sometimes criticized by large numbers of people at the same time. So the multiplied pressure of criticism is sometimes an ongoing influence.

Furthermore, the criticism does not just impact the pastor or leader, but often their family as well. A pastor, employer, teacher, or leader is often criticized from both sides for the exact same action—sometimes leading to crippling inaction.

Criticism by definition is the art of analyzing something—noting its pros and cons.

For example, a pastor or leader may honestly make every effort to fairly solve a problem, and then be criticized by some for being too strong, and by others for not being strong enough.   

One definition of a critic is a person who judges a thing’s artistic or literary value or worth. Criticism by definition is the art of analyzing something—noting its pros and cons. In the 1600s higher criticism referred to using meticulous scholarly methods to determine the validity and historicity of a text, such as a Bible passage or a historical document. So why is criticism so painful?

Reread the goal in the sentence above: to evaluate value or worth. That is also the way a person receives it, as an indictment about their value or worth.

Here is another factor about criticism. Neither the critic, nor the one receiving the criticism, is entirely without flaws, subjectivity, and bias. When someone thinks they are entitled to critique another person because their opinion must surely be the right one, the outcome is rarely good.

Jesus gave some guidelines about making judgments in Matthew 7:1-2. Jesus told us not to judge other people, lest we be judged. You will be judged by the same standards that you used in judging them. So be careful not to be critical of others in the judgmental sense, and avoid expressing that judgment to others. None of us can stand up to such scrutiny; and if you give it out, you will get it back in multiplied form.

We all should be discerning (critical in the positive sense), able to perceive reality, and live a life that is aligned with the values of God. Leaders, in particular, need to be discerning—able to critically look at a situation, spot the potential pitfalls or downsides, and try to lead the people around the danger. That is using critical and logical thinking to analyze situations and bring good. But criticism used to pass judgment and condemnation on other humans becomes negative and destructive.

So as we begin Pastor Appreciation Month, let’s talk about how you can support your pastor, your church’s staff, or your spiritual mentors. Think about what you appreciate about them as a person, and as a leader, and then express that to them in some way. When you talk about them, spread good things rather than criticisms. This applies to every human you know: expressing positive support counters negative criticism about their flaws.

If someone is criticizing the pastor or staff to you, tell them that you won’t participate in critical and destructive judgments, and refuse to listen further. Ask them to read and follow the guidelines discussed in Matthew 18:15, which in The Passion Translation states: “If your fellow believer sins against you, you must go to that one privately and attempt to resolve the matter. If he responds, your relationship is restored.”

Did the pastor commit a sin in God’s sight, or is it just that you got your feelings hurt? If the pastor sinned against you, go to the pastor and discuss it with an open mind and heart.

How do you embody the word “appreciation?” Put your appreciation into action. Those who work hard for your benefit could use the encouragement!

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.