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7 Ways Pastors Can Develop Thicker Skin

Among my top five most frequented issues from pastors is criticism. The number of “bosses” a pastor has is equal to the number of members in the church. Some of those members are very opinionated. And some of those opinionated members are critics of the pastor.

So the common questions I get are:

• How can I deal with critics and criticism?

• How can a pastor get thicker skin without sacrificing a soft and compassionate heart?

Before I offer my suggestions, we must admit the realities of serving as a pastor. First, the nature of the vocation is that the pastor must often make demonstrative statements and definitive decisions. Such is the nature of preaching. Or counseling. Or teaching. Or leading. Those demonstrative statements and actions will inevitably engender opinions and perspectives from others.

Some will agree. Others will not. Some of the latter category will become your critics.

Second, a pastor has a definitive amount of time. Twenty-four hours in a day. Or 168 hours in a week. Thus the pastor must make time allocation decisions. Some people will not get the attention they think they deserve. It is impossible to meet everyone’s expectations. So some of those people will become critics as well.

Simply stated, critics and criticisms are inevitable for the pastor. They will not go away. Our purpose here is to suggest seven ways pastors can deal with them. I think all pastors need a preparatory course in developing thicker skin.

1. Don’t take most of the criticisms personally. Most of them are really not about you or your character. They are about a different opinion or perspective. And some may have no logical basis whatsoever. They can come from a person who is hurting deeply. I learned one time that one of my most vocal critics was dealing with the death of his son. He needed my compassion, not my defensiveness.

2. Pray for the critic. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am amazed at the power of prayer. And I have been amazed how many times my fallible perspective has changed when I started praying for my critic.

3. Develop a winsome spirit. Defensiveness and bitterness never help. Learn to laugh at yourself. Have a joyous spirit. Rejoice in the Lord always (there is something biblical about that).

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Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.