Rise Above Criticism

     When I began my first ministry as a Senior Pastor, I preached a sermon in which I had put a great deal of time and effort.  After the service, an older man came and chewed me out, telling me if I ever preached anything like that again he would leave the church.  This was a long time member and it really shook me up.  I called my dad, a ministry veteran with decades of service under his belt.  I was looking for comfort and encouragement; instead he calmly said, “Welcome to the ministry.”  He simply meant that as a leader-- criticism is unavoidable.  If you lead anything-a church, business, non-profit, or union, you will be criticized. Therefore it is crucial that we learn to rise above it.  Here are a few thoughts to consider the next time you are criticized:
     First, assess who is criticizing you?  Is the person a thoughtful contributor to the organization that you are leading?  From my 27 years of ministry, I have found the person most likely to criticize the leadership rarely serves and barely gives; they are basically an unhappy consumer.  I encourage you to give very little weight to the opinion of this person.  Also, some people are just generally critical; these individuals are easy to identify.   In short, be careful who you listen to.    
     Second, carefully listen to the actual criticism.  If this is a generally positive person, they may be giving you a precious gift.  We all have blind spots.  Once again I’ll quote my father, who says, “listen to your critics, sometimes they are the only ones telling you the truth.”  The Bible says, “rebuke the wise and they will love you” (Prov. 9:8b).  I want to be wise, don’t you?  True maturity is even thanking this person for helping you grow. 
     Third, “live for an audience of one.”  I’m not sure who originally crafted this statement but it is profound.  When I truly believe that God loves me, even enough to send his Son Jesus to die for me, I can better take the typical hits of leadership.  If you believe that God, who knows every sinful thing you have ever done, accepts and adores you, it gives you the ability to not be a people pleaser. It gives you a place to stand emotionally.  I try to run my decisions through the image of standing before Jesus and walking him through my thought process.  This exercise clarifies my thinking and increases my confidence when criticized by others afterwards.
     Fourth, build strong friendships with your specific peers.  If you are the head of a non-profit,  make friends with others who fill a similar role.  If you are a vice president of a bank, find your peers;  a manager at a restaurant, connect with others in that position.  Every position of leadership is a unique blessing and burden; others who share your role can be wonderful teammates for life.  For me ten minutes on the phone with a fellow Pastor is more valuable than hours with almost anybody else because they “get it.”       
     Trust that God has placed you right where you are.  Your unique perspective and choices are what God wants, leading your department or organization for this season.  Decide boldly, then look for the smile of Jesus in the midst of the flack.     
Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church