Criticism is a two-edged sword in the life of a leader. On the one hand, a leader who only surrounds himself with “yes men” limits his perspective. On the other hand, the voice of too many critics will leave a pastor wanting to bail on ministry and find a new vocation.
James 3:17 says,
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure: then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
There are eight characteristics given in this verse. If someone comes with a pure heart and no ulterior motive, is peaceful and not hostile, is considerate in word choice, has a history of being submissive and not rebellious, speaks with mercy and is not accusatory, has good fruit in their life, is impartial in the sense that they aren’t going to profit from the decision, and they speak with sincerity, then we should be all ears. As you can imagine, few pass this test. Does this mean everything they said was wrong? No. However, the lack of these characteristics raises red flags as I’m listening.
Many times, when a person criticizes a leader, there can be a kernel of truth in what’s spoken. Some people just don’t have tact. If you can get past the anger and rudeness, there may be something for leaders to learn. This is not easy to do. It’s nearly impossible to gain that kernel of truth from only one comment even if they say, “There’s a group of us concerned….” I always ask for each person in the “group” to come talk to me but that has never materialized which even erodes that person’s credibility more. Yet, if a leader hears the same criticism repeatedly, even if the messenger can’t communicate in a loving way, good leaders try to sift through the chaff to find the kernel of truth.
Chronic complainers don’t stop complaining with explanation; they simply look for something else to complain about. Argumentative people are always looking for arguments.
It is unhealthy for pastors to listen to continual negativity. This wears pastors down and eventually leads many ministers to abandon the ministry. So pastor, surround yourself with people who believe in you, who believe in what God has called you to do, and who are loyal to you as a leader, but also value honesty. If a criticism has merit, it will make its way through the ranks and get to the appropriate channels. If not, then those with the “gift of criticism” may have to find another church.