News Flash: Your Church Is a Target for Criticism

Do you handle criticism with grace?
Do you handle criticism with grace? (iStock photo )

If you are making a difference in your community someone will be offended and complain. The secular community will question the motives of the church and Christians will let you know what they don't like.

In Acts 6:1 it says that:

"Now in those days, as the disciples were multiplied, there was murmuring among the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were overlooked in the daily distribution."

Criticism isn't new in the local church, but it has intensified and social media has made it more complex. Anyone can criticize anything with the click of a laptop key.

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How you handle that criticism makes all the difference. Here are some ways to handle it:

1. Absorb criticism with grace. Jesus said that when we are slapped on the cheek, we are to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). That's usually in the context of something personal against you, but it's difficult not to take criticism of your church personally.

It takes less energy to absorb criticism than it does to fight it. If you can, let it go. Love the person and extend grace. Give the benefit of the doubt, knowing that they face their own pressures, problems and misunderstandings.

2. Learn from criticism and take action when you can. The good news is that as a leader you can learn from criticism and complaints. Resist the immediate reflex of defensiveness. Listen for something that is true and needs improvement or change. Thank the person and let them know you will work toward a solution.

Personally, I look for patterns. I try not to overreact and "jump" to solve every criticism that appears legitimate. Churches are imperfect and not everything demands attention. If however, there is a pattern with a recurring issue of importance, I begin to explore solutions.

3. Ignore criticism when you need to. So as you respond with grace and poise, remind yourself that you are not held hostage to respond to every complaint or make everyone happy.

It's important to discern if it's a potentially productive criticism or if it's an expression from someone with a critical spirit. If it's a critical spirit, especially a chronically critical spirit, ignore it. If it's someone on social media who just wants to pick a fight, ignore it when you can. Don't let these people control your life or run your church.

4. Teach those who criticize when you have the opportunity. There are often moments where you have a window to help someone understand or gain a different perspective when the criticism is clearly misguided. This is not about drawing a line in the sand and starting a battle, but a genuine desire to help someone see things in a new light.

The nature of criticism can be extremely draining, but if you receive it with grace, stay focused on productive criticism and ignore the rest, criticism can be used for good.

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

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