A Christlike approach to receiving criticism

Pastoring is an immense privilege and joy, but it does not come without criticism. Any critique—even well-intentioned and heartfelt—seems to only exacerbate the insecurity young pastors often carry.

When I am faced with criticism or simply caught off guard by something said to me during a conversation, I can sense pride and defensiveness welling up in my heart. Then the reactions begin to float through my head: “They don’t understand. I’ve thought this through much more than they have.” Even though I’ve learned to hold my tongue, my inner monologue is shouting because I want to explain myself and justify why I did what I did.

Through experience and helpful resources such as Pastors and Their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry by Joel R. Beeke and Nick Thompson, I’ve learned how to respond more pastorally to criticism. Here are a handful of things I try to keep in mind:

Assume the best motives.

Committed members of your church may voice criticism to you because they love you and want what’s best for the church. Even if their suggestion isn’t the best solution, most critics want to see you lead the church to a place where it will thrive.

Listen for the truth.

Every critique includes at least one grain of truth (and oftentimes more than just one), so find it. Even if the criticism is delivered poorly, look beyond its brashness and evaluate yourself before you evaluate your critic.

Respond with thankfulness, not defensiveness.

Assuming the critique came from a place of love, it probably took a lot for this person to bring it up to you. The fact they did shows they care for you and are comfortable enough with you to do so. Thank them for that.

Ask for time to pray and process.

After you are quick to hear, be slow to speak. Ask for time to process what’s been said to you. Unless the church is burning down, your response is probably not needed in that immediate moment.

I tend to say something along the lines of, “Thank you for being comfortable enough to share that with me. You’ve given me some helpful suggestions to consider. If it’s alright with you, I’d love to take some time to prayerfully process this and I’ll get back with you.”

Follow up.

When you revisit the conversation with the person, thank them again. Seek to affirm any changes you’ve made or errors you found due to their conversation with you. Consider inviting them into the process moving forward. Even if they didn’t change your mind or plans, express gratitude for their care and consideration.

I have found these approaches to be beneficial in many ways. They diffuse any rising tension that can happen in the heat of the conversation, curb my defensiveness, and prevent me from responding emotionally. They humbly remind me and the other person that I don’t always have—or have to have—all the answers. They communicate I am willing to listen, care enough to want to take the time to understand, and afford me time to receive godly counsel from friends, elders, and the Holy Spirit.

Pastoral patience will not only benefit responding to critics, but help you navigate difficult conversations with friends or family members. More importantly, slowing down and taking time to process criticism will sanctify you into the image of Christ. As James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”


Michael Visy
Grace Church, Hewitt
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