Dealing With Criticism in Ministry

Dealing With Criticism in Ministry
by Dr. Thom Rainer

Oliver Adderholt is pastor of a traditional church. He has felt the sting of criticism for doing that which he honestly felt called by God to do. But the attacks have drained him emotionally, physically and spiritually He sought the face of God; he needed the Father’s wisdom to deal with the hurt. God led Oliver to handle criticism in six ways.

The Power of Prayer

Pastor Adderholt rediscovered the abundant power of prayer, especially in dealing with criticism. He claimed the promise of James 1:5 for God-given wisdom to handle all situations. He began to pray specifically for his critics by name. His attitude toward them began to change.

To his surprise, many of the critics began to change their attitude toward Oliver as well. Prayer opened the pastor’s eyes. He learned not to be as defensive. He also learned that he was not always right. The critics were sometimes right, at least partially so.

Furthermore, prayer opened the eyes of Oliver to the real battle. His enemies were not critical church members, but the invisible forces of Satan who had a singular purpose: to thwart God’s work (Eph. 6:12). The pastor realized that when he yielded to the distraction of the critics and lost his focus upon God’s mission, Satan won a battle.

The Power of Love

From his prayer time Oliver began to sense the power of love. By praying for his critics he began to love them.

Those prayers were difficult at first, but he remained obedient to Jesus’ mandate to love and pray for our enemies (Matt. 5:44-45). His heart changed as he learned not only to love, but to forgive as well.

The pastor realized that he was a forgiven sinner just like the critics. The grace of God that was bestowed upon him is that same grace available to his enemies.

Learning to Ignore

Abraham Lincoln learned that he could not spend an entire career responding to every criticism. Jesus Himself remained silent in the face of opposition more times than not. Oliver’s ego screamed for rebuttal and vindication in the midst of attacks, but the pastor soon learned that silence was an effective tool.

The crises and criticisms were quickly forgotten when the issues did not become an open debate.

Learning to Confide

Pastor Adderholt had spent so much time dwelling on the words of a few critics that he failed to realize that the great majority of the church had no idea what was being said. He eventually found a few trusted leaders with whom he could share his frustrations.

These men were leaders in the corporate and professional world who had taken their own share of criticism. They knew how to empathize with Oliver, but they also helped him keep his focus.

“Don’t let a few of these buzzards get you off track,” Hank Wright responded in his usual blunt manner. Hank was the No. 2 man in the largest bank in town, and he knew well the pettiness of critics. Such comments helped Oliver maintain a balanced perspective and not spend undue amounts of time worrying about detractors.

Respond on Occasion

There will be a few times in Oliver’s ministry when a response will be necessary. The issue may be a central doctrinal truth, an ethical concern, or an issue that has the unity and testimony of the church at stake. The problem will be more than just a personal complaint about the pastor.

Because Golden Road Church has seen their pastor handle criticisms with grace, and because they have seen his dependence upon God, they will be inclined to listen when he speaks. They know that Oliver has not blown up at every little problem that has come his way, so his speaking is an indication of the importance of the issue.

The response by the pastor may be painful to both him and the church but, on occasion, it is necessary. He cannot compromise ethical principles and God’s Word to avoid conflict. But God is with the pastor. And the Lord will see that good will come from this difficult situation because Oliver truly loves Him and seeks to obey Him (Rom. 8:28).

Keeping Focused

Satan uses divisiveness to keep God’s servants out of focus. The enemy knows that the energy that pastors and their church leaders use to combat the critics is energy not available for sharing the gospel and doing God’s work.

Oliver Adderholt has learned valuable lessons about criticisms. He never will enjoy them, but he has learned to deal with them. Above all, he is keeping his focus on leading his church toward that which God would have them do.

By the way, the last time I spoke to Oliver, he was working on a sermon called “Staying Focused.” His text was Philippians 3:13-14: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Keep pressing on, Oliver!

The above material was taken published by Church Central Associates. This material may be copyrighted and should be used for study and research purposes only