Ministry is not for the faint-of-heart. Occasionally I run across someone who talks about ministry as a good modern career choice and I have to explain the difference between a calling and a choice. Ministry is not something that I would have chosen, but having an burden to preach the Word of God and the privilege to do so is a joyful thing. Pastoral ministry, however, involves much more than preaching on Sunday. It involves leadership and with leadership comes criticism.
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my ministry is to not take all criticism as a negative attack. Although some attacks do come and some people certainly don’t understand what pastors are called to do, that doesn’t mean that all criticism is unbiblical attacks. Consider the following points and how to respond properly to leadership critique.
Look for Truth in the Criticism
In almost all critique you can find a nugget of truth that will help you. I’ve tried to learn this lesson over time, but it’s a very difficult thing to look for the positive in what is almost always perceived as negative. If someone tells me that I’m preaching too long, that doesn’t mean that the individual doesn’t enjoy my preaching. Suppose someone approaches me and suggests that I should stand at the back door and shake hands as people leave the building each Sunday—that doesn’t mean that they don’t love me or appreciate me as a pastor. They’re simply critiquing something about me based on their own personal opinion.
The difficulty comes when the criticism is received from someone who is a perceived thorn in the flesh. At that moment, the stakes are a bit higher and it becomes more difficult to find the positive nuggets of truth in the midst of the often harsh criticism. Sometimes it may be good to just honestly evaluate the situation and ask how your actions could have somehow fueled their negativity and that may uncover some element of truth that you can use to shape you and make you better as a leader.
Think Before You Respond
Years ago, a good friend of mine had what he called his “24-hour rule.” He refused to respond to criticism—especially harsh criticism within a 24-hour period. He wanted to have time to consider the criticism—no matter how harsh it might be and formulate a good and healthy response before lashing out in the flesh. Our human flesh enjoys a quick response, but not all fast responses are helpful, healthy, nor biblical.
The Bible is full of wisdom literature that warns against prideful and haughty actions. Proverbs 29:23 says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Additionally, we find these words in Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” A response full of hateful speech with a sharp tongue is disgraceful and something that all of us as Christians should resist.
Avoid Insecure Leadership Patterns
Every leader—especially those in pastoral ministry—should be mindful of the reality of their imperfections. There is no pastor who is perfect. While the church should know this fact, so should each pastor know this about himself. It was Luther who once remarked, “I more fear what is within me than what comes from without.” Therefore, when criticism comes (not if, but when)—remember that you are capable of making mistakes. We should all strive to serve out of a heart of excellence for the glory of God, mistakes are inevitable. When someone offers criticism, the insecure leader often avoids it, denies it, and at times—looks to hammer it out with a haughty response.
Insecurity doesn’t always manifest itself in the spirit of soft and cowardly disengagement. Too often insecure leaders become loud and overboard in their pride to avoid any thought of wrongdoing or imperfections in their leadership. The loud passive aggressive leader often responds in such a manner due to his insecurity rather than his boldness. Secure leaders look into the mirror and own mistakes while exploring ways to improve. We must remember that the best home run hitters in baseball often lead in other areas like strikeouts. To be great leader, at times you need to swing for the fences. Not all swings will be home runs. Sometimes they result in a miss—a long wave of the bat—a strikeout. Charles Spurgeon once said:
Public men must expect public criticism, and as the public cannot be regarded as infallible, public men may expect to be criticized in a way which is neither fair nor pleasant. To all honest and just remarks we are bound to give due measure of heed, but to the bitter verdict of prejudice, the frivolous faultfinding of men of fashion, the stupid utterances of the ignorant, and the fierce denunciations of opponents, we may very safely turn a deaf ear. 
- C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 7.