Coping with criticism in the ministry requires a healthy reckoning with reality. Perhaps this strikes you as a strange point for us to make at the beginning of a section on practical principles for handling criticism. What does reality have to do with properly receiving verbal critique?
There is an unbiblical idealism that pastors can imbibe. Romanticizing the ministry, we may think that so long as we are faithful, we will not be subject to criticism. Idyllic images of a congregation overwhelmingly supportive and positively receptive of their pastor fill our minds. Is this not the way it ought to be? Or, as is probably more often the case, our high-minded self-perception can lead us to subconsciously think that we are beyond the bounds of just criticism. Many pastors with such idealistic perspectives are crushed by the unglamorous gripes of others.
There is, however, an equally dangerous perspective. It is the negativity of pessimism. While equally dangerous, pessimism is also equally unrealistic. It views criticism as a necessary evil, something that the pastor must grit his teeth and bear. There nothing good in the criticism and nothing good that could possibly come out of it. Criticism is a threat, and so too is the critic. How quickly we can villainize our critics, painting them with a black brush. Another form of pessimism is also possible: that of an overly negative self-image. This can cause the slightest criticism to drive us to despair.
We often think of idealism and pessimism as polar opposites, but in certain ways, they are remarkably similar. They are both rejections of reality. Both flow from an unrealistic view of the ministry, ourselves, and the criticism we receive. Thus, we often find ourselves oscillating between one and the other. When our experience does not align with our idealistic expectations, we gravitate toward pessimism, and vice versa. The end result can be utter disillusionment concerning the ministry.
If we are to cope with criticism in the ministry, we must put away these unrealities. We must receive criticism realistically.
Pastors and their Critics: A Guide to Coping with Criticism in the Ministry
Joel R. Beeke and Nick Thompson