Monday, I started writing on leadership. This is something I’ve been thinking to do for a while and am going to add it in to the weekly schedule! For our first topic within leadership, I’m tackling the ever-feared criticism. Anyone in a prominent position, in any type of leadership, is going to receive criticism by the bucketful. I’ve developed 12 tips from my time as a pastor and leader in other arenas. Hopefully these will help you face criticism well!

  1. Realize even good leaders receive criticism and lose followers. John 6:66 says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus got left. And that’s because you need to realize this truth: people leave. It’s a part of life. And even the best leaders get criticized. People join you for the noblest of reasons and they leave for the pettiest of reasons. I used to have young pastors call me and ask, “Is there any advice you can give me as I’m starting this church?” And the first question I asked them was, “Have you ever pastored before?” Then, I don’t ask them how much of the Bible they know or how brilliant they are in their theological dissertations. I ask them, “How do you handle people?” Because if you are not emotionally prepared, you will be devastated the first time somebody leaves you. Most pastors quit the ministry because of that one reason. Look – people leave. And they even leave the best leaders. There’s nothing you can or could have done about it. A wise friend once told me that people will leave no matter what you do—so relax. Sometimes there’s not a whole lot you can do to keep somebody from going or leaving. Jesus couldn’t and you can’t. If you’re doing the job and you’re leading people, it’s just going to happen that somebody is not going to like your style. Don’t blame them and don’t criticize them, but don’t blame yourself either. Just realize it’s the principle of life.
  2. Dispel the myth that their problem is because of you. I once was advising a pastor who had a communication problem with a worship leader. After talking to him and learning about the situation, I told him: “Look, she doesn’t respect any kind of authority. She’s been hurt, she’s upset, and the last thing she needs is to be up behind a microphone in front of everybody.” Her problem was not his fault even though she was blaming him for it. It’s something she’s been carrying with her for years. When someone comes into your world, the first thing you need to do is locate where that person is on their spiritual growth scale. The people with the most negative things to say are so often the people going through some level of recovery. They’re emotionally dumping. You need to protect yourself against running around your whole life feeling guilty because someone else is causing you to own their problem instead of dealing with the problem on their own. You’ve got to be able to love and accept people, locate people, size them up, and then know how to deal with them.
  3. Ask them what they DO like. Get them off the negative and get them on the positive. Help them to start seeing that there are some positive things going on with what you do. If you find out what they do like it may give their criticism a little more credibility, because you know they really have thought through it. They’re not just dumping emotionally or projecting their hurt out into the situation. By learning what they do like, it might help to direct them to meet their individual needs more closely. Someone once told me, “You know one of the things that attracted me to this church?” I wasn’t sure what he was going to say. He said “One Sunday you were standing outside shaking hands and I was coming by and one of the first things you said to me was ‘Listen, if you need us to help you find a church, we’ll be glad to help you!’ You listed some of the churches and were talking about some of the pastors and I was impressed—this guy here is recommending me to go somewhere else, I’m coming to church here!” The real point is we want people to find the best place they fit and that may not be with you. We’ll help you find a church somewhere because our job is to help you, not to build our own kingdom. And if we’re interested in that, then we really do help people. So by asking them what they do like it helps them get on the positive, it helps us locate them, it helps us find out where they are, and it helps us be able to give some credibility to their criticism in the fact of locating them.

Have you ever been “dumped” by someone you were leading? Share your story in the comment section below!

Join me Monday for part three on handling criticism.