“You really shouldn’t wear that color of shirt when you preach … ” said the brave man to the discouraged pastor. This wouldn’t be the last time that the red-faced man would give his opinion on all things insignificant.
And he wouldn’t be the only one offering criticism.
One of the most shocking things for new pastors is the range of things that are open to opinion and disapproval.
Going into the pastorate, you assume the locale of most criticism will be things like sermons and leadership decisions. You know, things related to the actual job. Not so. A good portion of the criticism that you’ll receive is about petty things that have more to do with the image of pastor than the actual duties of a pastor.
This reality can be discouraging. It can be draining upon your wife and children as they too find themselves in a constant spotlight—where all things trivial are open to correction. But this also gives us a great opportunity to model how to receive criticism.
The foundation of inappropriate criticism.
“Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.” —Proverbs 13:18
That red-faced man, that always has an opinion about everything except for that which really matters, likely feels the weight of criticism on his own life. He’s critical of you because his life is built on law and not on grace.
I would almost venture a guess that he doesn’t do well when criticized. I can confidently say this because people who are harsh critics usually have their identity wrapped up in their personal performance. And when your identity is wrapped up in what you do, and when what you do is criticized, you have a tendency to “ignore instruction.”
You can help this man move from a “fool” to one that is honored. When you respond to his ridiculous criticism with grace and love, you are modeling what it looks like to have your identity found in Christ. Here are four ways to accept criticism with grace and model having your identity in Jesus.
Four ways to model.
1. See through the criticism and thank him for his concern.
You might not like the sharpness of his critique, but at the end of the day, he’s saying something to you because he cares. Find a way to channel that care and you’ve got yourself a great teammate.
2. Be quick to listen.
Only the fool assumes that there is no need for instruction—no matter how trivial it might seem to you at the time. Maybe he’s right. Maybe your shirt color is off-putting and distracting.
3. Be slow to defend.
Once you start making excuses, you are playing the performance game. If you are wrong, don’t defend it. If you aren’t wrong, there is a good chance that you still have nothing to defend. State your disagreement and let the Lord fight any battles that need fought.*
4. Rejoice with him in God’s grace.
“Man, you are right, that shirt color probably is distracting. I’ll retire it. I’m really thankful that God is more powerful than shirt colors, because I’m sure I’ll do something else distracting at another time. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have much hope of being a faithful pastor.”
Pastor, be sure that your identity is rooted in Christ. When it is, inappropriate criticism doesn’t have to be discouraging. Instead, it can be a great opportunity to model Christ to a fellow sinner.
*At some point, there will come a time when you ought to call him on his inappropriate criticism. But lay a foundation of grace first.