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How to Handle the Chronic Critics in Your Church

Every church has ‘em. The Chronic Critic … the person(s) who simply can’t be pleased. No matter what you do, they have something negative to say.

You are not alone when you face chronic critics. Nehemiah, perhaps one of the greatest leaders of all times, was on a mission from God.

Yet he faced chronic critics. They could have derailed his God-given mission. They didn’t. And here’s what he did.

Complete this statement:

The last time I was criticized by someone in my church I …

  • Reacted
  • Blew up
  • Screamed
  • Cussed
  • Stayed silent and drove my anger inward
  • Became defensive
  • Felt embarrased
  • Listened and learned from the critic
  • ???

Criticism never feels good. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not. Nehemiah’s criticism from Sanballat and Tobiah was not warranted, yet Nehemiah wisely responded with the Five P’s below.

Nehemiah 4:1-9 tells the story.

Neh. 4:1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 

2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”

3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”

4 Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 

5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (NIV)

You’ll recall that God gave Nehemiah a burden to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, a noble task. He obeyed God’s prompting and got criticized for it.

The five insights below from Nehemiah’s response to his chronic critics give us a good template to follow when we’re criticized. I call them the Five P’s.

1. Prepare for it.

If you want to make a difference for God, you will be criticized, even though what you’re doing is noble. We live in a fallen world and this world’s systems and values oppose the rule of God. If Satan can use criticism to derail you, he will.

The greater impact you have for God, the more you will be criticized, not less. If you try to please everybody, you may avoid criticism, but you’ll be miserable.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism. (Harrison’s Postulate)

2. Pause and pray.

Instead of reacting, retorting, getting defensive, showing the illogic of his critics, Nehemiah first turned to the Lord in prayer (v. 4). The criticism hurt, but he did not even the score. He asked the Lord to bring appropriate judgment.

Prayer takes the sting out of criticism, and when we pause, it gives time for clear thinking to rule rather than reactivity.

Matt. 5:44 … I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer … . (Message)

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