Criticism hurts. It hurts to have our motives unfairly called into question. It hurts to diligently prepare and deliver heartfelt sermons, only to be met with skeptical people who nitpick our interpretations of a particular Scripture. And it hurts when we do our best to love and serve our people, only to be misunderstood, unappreciated and questioned in our integrity.
Now granted, this doesn't happen very often; but it doesn't need to happen often—just one or two criticisms can wipe us out and take us from the peak of Mount Hermon to the valley of the Jordan.
So how do we deal with it—at least how do we deal with the unjust criticism? We know how to deal with legitimate criticisms: We humble ourselves, we repair any damage we may have caused, we ask forgiveness, we repent, and then we pick ourselves up and move on. That's not too difficult to deal with. It's the other kind, the unfair, unnecessary kind that takes the wind out of our sails and causes us to question why we ever signed up to serve as pastors. Fortunately for us, Jesus, the Pattern Son, modeled five ways of handling criticism.
1. He ministered right in the face of it. The entire ministry of Jesus was conducted against the backdrop of skepticism, negative questioning, challenges, rejections, betrayals and outright hostility—and He never let it deter Him from the Father's mission. Of course it's true that He was the Son of God who had the Spirit "without measure," but He was also our pattern, and He gives us a gritty example of how we can step up to the plate and preach and teach and prophesy right in the middle of criticism and opposition.
2. He cultivated a band of brothers. Jesus wasn't merely investing in future leaders when He took time to relate with His disciples—He needed them personally. He wanted them, and He kept them close to Him even in His moments of deepest need. Pastor, do you have a band of brothers? I know everyone wants to be close to you, but are you close to anyone who truly loves you and who has your back through thick and thin?
3. He refused to entrust Himself to man. Even though He developed what became, quite literally, world-changing relationships, the Bible tells us that He "was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man" (John 2:24-25, NASB).
4. He loved His people to the end. Even though Jesus guarded His heart and retained healthy boundaries, He was still able to love His own "to the end" (John 13:1). He will help us to do so as well.
5. When necessary, He shook the dust off His feet and encouraged His followers to do the same. There comes a time when enough is enough and we need to be released to move on. There is a work to be done, and sometimes it's healthy to quote Nehemiah, who said to his critics, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?" (Neh. 6:3).
We all know that leaders aren't immune to criticism, but it still hurts when we're on the receiving end of it. Jesus felt the bitter sting of criticism and hostility and He allowed Himself to ache. He made time for His Father to minister to Him, and then He swung for the fences again. I think He would agree with the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, who famously said, "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."
Pastor, you're in the arena and God loves you for it! He's proud of you, He adores you, and just like He did for Jesus, He will send His angels to strengthen you
Chris Jackson serves as senior pastor of Grace Church of La Verne in Southern California. He is also the author of several books, including Loving God When You Don't Love the Church.