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How To Handle Criticism

If you have spent anytime in youth ministry, you have probably been yelled at by someone.  It could be your senior pastor for not turning the lights off after an event, or a parent for not being home on time, from the janitor for leaving a mess in the fellowship hall or from your spouse for being out too many nights last week.  Youth Ministry just breeds itself to have others tell you what you are doing wrong.  I have been in youth ministries that weren’t much more than babysitting jobs, so whenever I tried to do something with students, I was yelled at.  Right now, I am at a church that knows the importance of youth ministry in the lives of students, so I am given a much longer leash in which to mess up.  I have been in the middle also.

Criticism is something the church isn’t short of.  Everyone has an opinion of how you should be doing your job, whether good or bad.  Our biggest job is discerning what to do with that criticism and how to keep it from dragging us down.  Youth Pastors are known as risk-takers and that leaves us open to more criticism.  We might not think that is fair but it is the nature of the beast.  Most youth pastors are younger, so that also adds to it.  So how do we handle criticism?  What is the best course of action when someone comes into your office and lets their opinion fly?

  1. Be Courteous – Bite your tongue.  The person in your office has a passion for what they are talking about, so listen to them.  Whether you agree or not, let them get things off their chest.  You won’t win by arguing or telling them they are wrong, even if they are.  If you become combative, the person will only get more upset.  Listen to them intently, take notes if you have to, be responsive to what they are saying and thank them for coming to talk to you.
  2. Pray for God’s Help – Once you are done talking, get on your knees and pray.  Bring the matter to God and get His guidance.  Resist the urge to email, twitter or text out bad things about the person or to complain to fellow co-workers about that specific person.  Remember, we are the body and we need to act like it.  Ask God to help you work with that person, to change yourself if need be or to work to change the person who criticized you.  Only God can fix this, so let Him fix it
  3. Talk to a Senior Pastor/Mentor/Friend/Adult Leader – Talk with your close friends about the issue.  Let them give you their honest opinions.  This will help you filter through any pain or hurt in the person who criticized you.  Talking with a friend will help you get a handle on the criticism and give you an outside opinion. 
  4. Make Changes If Necessary – Once you have brought the issue before God and talked with friends, make changes if necessary.  If there was something you did wrong, apologize and promise to never do it again.  If it is a ministry change, make a plan to change for the good.  Not all criticism is about change.  If possible, bring the person who criticized you into the planning process.  Maybe it is a program you aren’t offering, let that person help lead it.  Turn your “enemies” into ministry partners.
  5. Let All Criticism Bounce Off You – This is the biggest thing you need to remember.  Criticism is a part of being a youth pastor (or senior pastor).  It is sad that people in the church can be mean about things but we must respond with love.  Do you best to let any issues become motivation to do a better job.  You can’t let criticism bring you down.  Know that most of the time, people really are trying to help but can’t express themselves correctly.  Do your best to deal with the situation and then forget it.

When I lived in Nashville I would meet weekly with my best friend who was also a youth pastor and we would sit and complain, laugh and plan the entire time.  We would both bring issues to the table to get help on.  He was a great sounding board for me and help me deal with tons of criticism.  Do your best to keep your Senior Pastor in the loop also, they hate not knowing what is going on.  Don’t bog them down with details but give them a heads up email or voice mail.  You will earn brownie points for it.  My pastor is always “grateful” when I let him know of any potential issues that might come up.

Remember that God is in charge and knows what you are going through.  His power will help us overcome any problems, criticism or obstacles in our ministry.  Keep Him first and the rest will fall into place.