I once told my Pastor’s wife, “I can’t believe you are wearing those leopard jeans to church.” Later I realized how it must have sounded to her. Truthfully I had seen those same jeans in a store where we both shop, and I hadn’t had the courage to buy them. But she had, and she looked fabulous that night. It wasn’t like she wore them on stage or on a Sunday morning. But I had sounded critical of her without intending to. I was really in awe of her courage and admiring her style of dress.
Pastors and their wives face criticism. Sometimes it’s as simple as a comment about clothing. Other times people criticize about their words, preaching style, behavior. Ministers live under a microscope, in the glasshouse. Unfortunately the criticism sticks. It’s pretty likely that the word can roll around in your head for a long time after it’s said. We feel judged. We feel attacked.
That’s me. Now what?
Look and see what merit there is in the criticism. Sometimes there is validity in the criticism. Ask yourself if the person was trying to help, to make things better, to help you avoid mistakes, or suggest improvements. Or are they a cranky, rude, or mean person? Consider the source.
Admit you aren’t perfect
We can’t see our blind spots. And we can’t catch little problems that can pop up. Nor can we foresee the results. None of us can. Twice in Proverbs it says, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 15:22 it says “without counsel, plans go awry.” Don’t forget, God created a few people with an eye for detail, planning, and administration who want to step in and help, but it comes out their mouth sounding like a criticism. (Truthfully, I’m one of those and have stepped on a few toes in my days.)
When we can make the admission that we missed something or that we aren’t perfect, it changes the dynamic in the room and the critical person feels heard. If they are trying to help, it’ll soften them.
When it rolls around in your head
I know I’m not the only one who hears critical comments over and over in my thoughts and has imaginary arguments with that person. And I win. Yet we need to be aware that when this happens, it is also a sign that we need to deal with it.
One of the most effective things I’ve learned from personal experience is called “thought stopping.” When I realize I’m going down that path, I chose to STOP those thoughts and ask God to help me go in other directions. I begin praying about it. And I have to be careful that my prayers don’t lead me right back into that imaginary argument. I’ve learned over time when I stop those negative thoughts, that I’m a much happier person. Why? Because thoughts are chemical reactions and they dump toxins into your body every time you have negative or anxious thinking. The toxins build up over time and can change or mood, or even cause bouts of depression.
The other thing I do is “replacing”. I recognize unhealthy thinking and start replacing it with prayer, worship, or the Word. Sometimes I just say the name of Jesus over and over to bring his presence into the room and help me out.
I’ve learned the hard way that ruminating over an offence means I need to forgive someone. It’s a signal to me that it’s time to do some deeper work.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes
One of the most powerful tools I’ve learned in recent years is to give myself permission to be screw things up. Of course, I never mess up purposely. But when I offer myself the same kindness that I offer others, and then I’m treating myself with respect and love. And I deserve it as much as they do. We’re all equal in Christ’s eyes, right?
You see, Christ knew we would make mistakes. In fact, he was willing to die for all the wrong we’ve done. Yet we often hold it against ourselves. What if we forgive ourselves the same way Christ forgives us?
It’s important to acknowledge the feelings we’re having. Some people allow their feelings to drive them. Others try to balance it by not listening to feelings at all. The truth is somewhere in the middle. God created us with feelings. When we acknowledge them, we are honoring the way he created us. That may mean acknowledging feelings of embarrassment, guilt, anger, or betrayal. Acknowledging them does not mean we’re acting on them. Our feelings give us information about how we want to live our lives. It’s healthier to allow the feelings to surface, rather than avoiding them. They generally stay for a while and dissipate faster if they are acknowledged. Even if they are deep, last a long time, or are more intense than we expected they would be. No feeling is forever.
Dr. Henry Cloud, the author of Boundaries, wrote in a recent email “Feelings of anger, sadness, or fear are gifts because they alert us to what’s going on. They tell us something is wrong… and that we need to do something about it.”
Speaking of Boundaries
Why would boundaries be part of this discussion? Boundaries in leadership means knowing you’re your role is as a leader, what you are responsible for and what you are not. You are not responsible for their reaction. You are responsible for your own behavior.
Boundaries also tell us where to stop. You can set boundaries on your own emotions. You can choose to think about that difficult circumstance for a limited time, and then chose to move on. You can also decide if you are going to carry their criticism with you or lay it down.
Boundaries tell us what is within our power to fix. It reminds me of the serenity prayer: Lord give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. There are things that are simply not within our power to change. One of those is people’s reaction to the decisions of leaders. Their reaction is more a reflection of what’s going on inside of them, than it is a reflection of how you are leading.
Don’t let criticism stop you from doing anything
People are going to talk. People are going to say things. If you feel the Lord is leading you somewhere, listen to Him instead. And sometimes it’s just common sense. You need to make a decision as a leader; you know it’s the right thing to do. Not everyone will be on board. They never are. That’s just part of leadership.
Don’t forget, this is what Satan wants
Satan wants to kill steal and destroy. One of the ways he does it is through criticism. He wants to render you ineffective. Don’t fall for his trap.
Balance this perspective with evaluating yourself and seeking out people who will speak into your life when you get off track.
In summary, as Winston Churchill said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in you life.”