April 29, 2013

Criticism in Ministry

Criticism happens, and it happens to everyone: wait staff, airline folks, retailers, CEOs, and moms whose kids are having one of "those" days in front of others. Although criticism happens to everyone, it varies in content and scope according to the roles we play. For the ministry wife, whether it is constructive or a hurtful aside, criticism is always personal because it is directed toward her husband, her children, or her own choices. Although many don't understand this, criticism is also personal for us when it is directed toward the church because we care about the church as if it were an additional child. Criticism, therefore, is one of the most difficult aspects of ministry that each one of us face.

Because it is personal, I've come to believe that how we deal with criticism in ministry is vitally important. When we respond to criticism with unforgiveness and anger, we grow to despise the ministry and the people God has given us to love. There is another common response to criticism in ministry and it's this: we shrink back. We allow the fear of future criticism to keep us from doing what God has called us to do, not just as a ministry wife, but as a member of the Body. I know all about these responses, and I also know all about where it leads. 
But we don't have to respond this way. We can respond biblically and healthily to criticism. It's taken me a while to figure this all out. Let's be honest, I'm still figuring it out, but I have learned a thing or two along the way. Here are my tips of the trade:

Be able to distinguish what are the "wounds of a friend"and what are not.
There is such a thing as good criticism. This kind of criticism comes from safe people through appropriate channels and is meant to lovingly help us grow. We can only discern the wounds of a friend if we listen without immediately getting defensive and then listen for the Holy Spirit's confirmation that this is, in fact, meant for our edification. We won't go wrong if we take a learner's perspective rather than a defensive posture.

Take the criticism to the Lord.
There are many types of criticisms that aren't constructive: people speaking from personal preference, sharing veiled criticisms that attempt to mask their disappointments, aiming at our husbands through us, or speaking from their own wounds. No matter the criticism, in order to not dwell on it or fuel bitterness, I have to take it all to the Lord and ask for His perspective. Am I doing what He has asked me to do? Am I being faithful in that? Is there truth to anything that was said? Is there some perspective He could give me on the person that might change my anger to compassion? 

Set good boundaries.
We have to teach people how to handle their frustrations and disagreements with us, our husbands, or our churches. For example, if someone is asking me questions about my husband's decision or even about what is going on within the church, I immediately feel the need to defend him. But instead of taking on that role, I say, "I don't know the details about that, but you can go to Kyle and ask him. He'd be happy to talk to you about it." I am trying to teach people the appropriate channels and that I am not an additional staff member.

Work out the deep wounds.
Some words and actions cut deep and they will want to fester rather than heal. Bitterness will speak to us that we should cherish these wounds, remembering them because no one else will. Bitterness tells us that we're justified to recall and rehash what's been done to us. But God says the opposite. He takes anger and unforgiveness seriously. He says we are to forgive because He has forgiven us so much more. Rooting out bitterness and forgiving sometimes happens instantly but, often, it is a process. We must continue to work out deep wounds until they are no longer wounds. 

Don't self-criticize. Let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit.
One of the most hurtful types of criticism is self-criticism, like the conversations I have in my head. For some reason, I make up what I think people think of me or want from me. Instead, I have learned that I must trust the Holy Spirit to lead me. If I am not being faithful with what He's given me, I can trust Him to convict me. I cannot and will not please everyone, but I can please the Lord and He will show me how.

How have you learned to biblically and healthily respond to criticism in ministry?