While leading in creative arts ministry for 28 years, there’s one thing I’ve learned: there will always be critics.
It can’t be escaped. I wish it could. I would honestly prefer an environment where my staff and volunteers would be free from the stings of criticism. But as long as there is human life, criticism will always be with us. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the greatest challenges of church leadership is how one deals with critics.
I could see it her eyes as she approached the sound booth. I could see how unhappy she was. And then she lit into my audio technician with hateful criticism – a volunteer, mind you – and for what seemed like eternity, she voiced her displeasure of how loud the music was and how insensitive he had been to the congregation.
It was early in my ministry and I didn’t run interference. In ignorance I let him receive all the flaming darts of this lady’s criticism. And it hurt him deeply. He soon decided to step down as an audio volunteer.
When he needed a leader to step in – a bodyguard – there was none. I had failed him. I failed as a leader in safeguarding him from the critic.
That tragic incident clearly left its mark on me as a young church leader. I should have protected him and from that point on I have attempted to do so. This short encounter spoke volumes to me. Here are some of the principles I learned and adopted since.
There is almost always some pain associated with criticism. The discomfort can’t be avoided, however, it can be constructive. One way to deal with the issue is to make every effort to understand the mindset of the critic. When I do so as a church leader, I can teach my volunteer how to respond, how to grow, and how to learn.
Here are a few of the critics you will encounter:
This critic is one who figuratively throws himself on the floor and “has a fit” because he isn’t getting his way. He is simply acting selfishly because something isn’t being done the way he wants it.
You may hear them say: “The music’s too loud.” “This isn’t a show; the lights dance way too much.” “The worship leaders chooses the wrong songs.” “Why don’t we have communion more often?” “You changed the order of worship.”
He often, very conveniently, lashes out at the worship leader because he is the most available after the church service is finished.
These are the criticisms that never make it to the ears of my staff or volunteers. They frankly have little constructive value because they are often rooted in something other than the criticism.
OK. This is purely a distractive term and I now that we are all sinners, but this critic is often the rebel – running from unresolved issues that he/she needs to desperately focus on. The criticisms heard here are often mere deflections.
You may hear them say: “I can’t believe you would bring up these topics in a church sermon series.” “A secular song in worship; who are we trying to reach?” “Shouldn’t we dive deeper in the Word?” “Stop being so shallow!”
We can learn from these critics. They often view the worship elements very shallowly or, should I say, at face value. They don’t often look at the big picture or complete worship narrative. And that’s OK. It should make us stand back and truly ask the question, “Did the worship element confuse on its own and/or does it bring clarity when placed within the entire worship narrative?” This honest evaluation will strengthen the team’s creativity.
Much like The Sinner, the actions of this critic are often deflections. The pain they feel often compels them to lash out.
You may hear them say, “Why don’t you promote this ministry from stage?” “Auditions, really – shouldn’t you accept anyone with the good heart?” “Our video testimonies may be a little to revealing.”
Don’t take this type of criticism personally. And again, these criticism will almost never make it to the ears of my volunteers.
This critic reminds me of something Forest Gump’s mother says: “Stupid is as stupid does.” This person will make a comment to one of your volunteers without first engaging their brain. In other words, they don’t think before they speak.
You may hear them say just about anything and sometimes so “off the wall” you wonder what planet they came from.
These are the critics you just have to laugh about. Chalk it up as proof that there may be a small bubble or tear in the universe – one they unfortunately found themselves in.
Finally, a critic that doesn’t have a personal agenda or vendetta. And they have truly thought about what they want to say. They may have even prayed about it.
You may hear them say some really constructive stuff. It’s true that not everyone understands the entire big picture of your ministry. Some will misunderstand, but these folks really do want to help you.
The best response: listen, discern and, if necessary, make the appropriate changes. The challenge is to discern the voice of constructive words within the noise of other criticisms. These critics’ words need to be passed on and discussed.
Bottom Line: Critics do not get to my volunteers or staff. Their input comes to me and as a leader, I choose to use it or not. If I choose to pass it on, I do so with the growth of my team in mind. My hope is that I can educate my volunteers inunderstanding criticism. This includes them asking if it’s valid criticism, determining what they can learn from it if it was warranted, and not taking it personally.
You will always have to deal with critics. Criticism is inevitable and every leader will face criticism. Prayerfully and with God’s help, learn from it. Pass on the information to your volunteers in a way that will benefit the ministry and grow the volunteer.