How to Handle Criticism

Shortly after the church I planted opened in 2003, I received an anonymous phone call. After asking a few questions about the church, the caller said I should be ashamed of myself for being a lead pastor as a woman, then hung up. I’ll admit, that rattled me to my core. Would God have called me to devote my life to something that was inconsistent with Scripture?

None of us can escape criticism. But we can become better at handling it. Here are seven things I’ve learned to do:

1. Look at the part that is true, and let it help you. Once you peel away the parts that most sting — the delivery method, the unfounded accusations — there may be something helpful in the criticism. Even criticism delivered in anger, laced with exaggeration or poorly timed may have a pebble of golden truth worth mining.

2. Shake it off. Give the criticism just the weight it deserves, no more. Some of us make a bigger deal of criticism than we should. So the boss wrote you up. Learn from it, make a note, take action so it doesn’t happen again, and move on. If you are imagining yourself getting red, replaying it, worrying or sharing the story with others, you may be giving the criticism more attention than it deserves.

Some of us make a bigger deal of criticism than we should.

3. Consider the source. Who is this person to you? What do you know about him or her? Criticism from a stranger or an anonymous note in the offering bag shouldn’t get the same attention as correction from a board member, boss or long-time friend. If it’s someone who always has your best interest at heart, that person deserves your full attention.

4. Avoid the traps. It’s difficult, especially if criticism comes by surprise or in front of others, but avoid becoming defensive or lashing out with return criticism. Also guard your heart against more subtle responses of withdrawing, retaliating in a passive-aggressive way, gossiping, or wearing a chip on your shoulder. I’ve noticed I’m more likely to respond in a way I’ll later regret when I’m not prayed up or when I’m feeling tired or insecure. Stay self-aware and attuned to God.

5. See criticism as an opportunity. You have a chance to accept responsibility as a leader, respond with grace and appreciation and communicate future adjustments.

6. Remember you’re in good company. Jesus received criticism from friends, religious leaders and even Satan. Jesus said He could do “only what he sees his father doing” (John 5:19). That rubbed some people the wrong way; they thought Jesus should be establishing an earthly kingdom, elevating favorite disciples, and on and on.

7. Accept that it’s a part of leadership. The higher you rise in leadership, the more people you’ll encounter who misunderstand you, and the more criticism you’ll hear. Get a bigger earpiece from God’s mouth to your ear, and seek to please Him more.

A few days after that phone exchange, I attended a chamber of commerce luncheon where six local mayors spoke. Four of these leaders were women. In that moment, God reminded me my target audience wasn’t religious people with a complementarian view, but lost people in my city who were totally comfortable with a lead pastor who happened to be a woman.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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