Over the past couple of years my wife and I have been on somewhat of a spiritual journey together. It started when I got bitter at my old Church in Portland, Oregon after watching “Paul Washers Shocking Youth Message.” All I can say is it’s like a song. The song can be terrible, but the performance and conviction of the singer can get you to move your body and dance to the tone. Well, I danced to the tone and became bitter towards the leaders in my church for not preaching the Gospel. I started trying to dress more “Baptist-y,” if that’s even a word. Slacks and a button up. I spent so much time listening to Paul Washer and many other reformed preachers. As a matter of fact, 95% of my books became Calvinistic. Spurgeon will always remain close to my heart. Continue reading
My three preacher’s kids love a good Nerf gun war.
Sometimes we go out into the yard, heavily armed with our Nerf weaponry of varied size and caliber, and shoot each other mercilessly until all the squishy, foam ammunition has been exhausted, having disappeared into trees and bushes and the neighbor’s driveway. The more we get shot, the harder we laugh. It’s fantastic.
Getting pelted with criticism, however, is no fun at all.
Words of disapproval about the church or the pastor from members of a congregation don’t just bounce-off the body like those Nerf bullets do. They penetrate the heart, burden the mind, and crush the spirit. They can even run a pastor’s family out of a church or a pastor out of ministry altogether.
Fighting discouragement when living a life of ministry is a real war. And winning that war requires a strategy which must include deflecting disparaging comments and derogatory suggestions. Here are some simple tactics for how a pastor’s wife can cope with criticism about the church or pastor fired at herself or her children.
Refuse to serve as an intermediary between critics and the pastor.
This policy is the Golden Rule for surviving criticism. When complainers in the church come to the pastor’s wife wanting her to pass along messages to her husband about how the music is too loud, the air conditioning is too cold, the missions budget is too large, the sermons are too long, etc…a wise pastor’s wife refuses to pass-along those messages. Ever.
First, serving as a go-between is damaging to the pastor’s marriage, which can become strained when congregational criticism slithers its way onto his dinner table or into his bedroom. We certainly do not want our husbands to spend their time with us hearing about every layperson who has a bone-to-pick with them. After all, a busy pastor’s time with his wife is precious and should be pleasant.
Furthermore, the pastor’s wife serving as a go-between is damaging to the pastor’s ministry. A pastor stands in the pulpit as a source of authority and influence. But when “things get done” at the hands of his wife who fields complaints and solves problems, the pastor’s strength is diminished. Allowing disgruntled members of the congregation to use her to accomplish their goals is just like the Philistines using Delilah to cut Samson’s hair (Judges 16).
But perhaps most importantly, a pastor and his wife must have a zero-tolerance policy about criticism being sent through their kids. Preacher’s kids can be seriously wounded or even permanently scarred by that practice. Anyone who tries to send home negative messages through my children about the church or about my husband will find himself in a pretty intense sit-down meeting with my husband and me and a whole posse of deacons.
Teach the congregation how to handle criticism.
Everyone is unhappy about stuff in the church sometimes. Even the pastor’s wife herself! But neither she nor any other layperson should be a burden by funneling all complaints to the pastoral staff. Utilizing the God-ordained leaders of the various entities inside the church will ensure a spiritual engine that runs much smoother.
When my children were toddlers, I taught them to clean-up their toys after they played and to not throw food on the floor. A joyful pastor’s wife must similarly teach her congregation that there are appropriate channels to funnel criticism…and most of those channels have nothing to even do with the pastor. The loudness of the music can be determined by the Music Director or audio-visual team; chilly air conditioning is a facilities issue that can be resolved the Building and Grounds Committee; and the missions budget can be determined by the Missions Team. As for the sermons being too long…well…those sermons have been bestowed by God, so critics will have to take-up that complaint with Him.
Avoid close proximity with critics.
I was once taken hostage for a whole day. True story.
I was placed in the backseat of a late-model blue mini-van and driven an hour away from my home. I was then forced for approximately four hours to walk around while being tortured by my two well-dressed female captors before being driven back to my house. The experience is a terrible memory for me.
Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up, folks.
A joyful pastor’s wife avoids getting “stuck” with chronic critics. She doesn’t sit beside them at fellowship dinners or worship services. She avoids long phone conversation with them. She changes shifts so she doesn’t have nursery duty with them. And she sure doesn’t take day trips to the outlet mall with them. Just as persistent criticism can damage her marriage, her husband’s ministry, and her children, experience teaches the pastor’s wife that criticism can damage her, too.
Don’t let the terrorists win.
Coping with criticism is a more important issue than water bottles and outlet malls. Than the temperature in the sanctuary. Or than getting out of service early enough to find a table at a restaurant on Sunday afternoons.
It’s serious business.
Criticism comes from Satan himself as an attempt to stop the work of God. Weren’t the words spoken by the serpent in the Garden ultimately a criticism of the one, simple rule the Lord had given Adam and Eve?
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5 NASB).
In essence, Satan said, Did God really give you that ridiculous rule? Do what I want instead. Get your husband to eat this fruit, Eve… We don’t need to hear what God says.
To the pastor’s wife today, Satan whispers through critics…
Get the worship music played softer, Eve.
Get the air conditioning turned-down, Eve.
Get the missions budget reduced, Eve.
Get the sermons shortened, Eve…We don’t need to hear what God says.
Most critics don’t realize they’re being used by the enemy to do evil. They actually think they’re helping. Making things better. Speaking for the masses. They come to us because pastors’ wives are often sweet-spirited, patient, and approachable. But listening to their criticism leads to distraction, to discouragement, and eventually to destruction.
Perhaps criticism will never bounce-off a pastor’s wife like a Nerf bullet can. Perhaps she will never laugh with pleasure when faultfinders barrage her and her children with their spiteful ammunition. But she can win the war. She can cope with criticism. And she can be joyful.
After thirty-one years of serving the same church, I can assure you that as a pastor, you will receive criticism. Understanding this is part of reality will help see you through the grim times.
I know many pastors, and each one has undergone criticism. Criticism is inescapable in the life of a pastor. Few things challenge a pastor more than criticism.
There have been times when criticism has absolutely devastated me. It is especially difficult to receive criticism when given by someone you respect deeply or by someone who has completely misunderstood a situation.
Criticism can sideline or paralyze you, or it can help you be better in the future. I have personally experienced each of these situations.
Unquestionably, many times criticism is unfair; at other times, it is right on, with 100% accuracy! So, when you receive criticism as a pastor, what should you do? How should you respond?
1. Accept criticism.
When someone criticizes you as a pastor, accept it. Accept it with grace. I know this can be difficult at times, but do not let your body language demonstrate defensiveness or disapproval. Assure the person criticizing you that you will receive what they say, consider it, pray about it, and determine the direction God wants you to go in the future.
2. Learn from criticism.
Criticism can be a great teacher. We should always be teachable, even through criticism. We are not perfect. We are not sinless. We make mistakes. We need to own them. We need to confess them as sin. If we have wronged someone, we need to make it right with them.
Those who are spiritually mature are able to learn from criticism. Pastors, always take the high road; you will never face a traffic jam there.
3. Outlive criticism.
If a person criticizes you unfairly, outlive it! Through the course of time, a life of integrity and honesty can overcome the criticism of others. Sooner or later, their criticism of you will fall on deaf ears.
Nothing is more powerful than a pastor who lives a consistent and Christ-centered life. Through time and the grace of God, you can outlive your greatest critic and the most unfair criticism. Therefore, outlive your criticism!