At some point as a pastor, you will get an angry email, someone will put you down on twitter or social media. Their criticism may be completely out of left field, false and have no bearing in reality. It may be right on.
How you handle it often has very little bearing on the truth or falsehood of the criticism.
The reason is that the criticism is reality to the person making it.
Another tough conversation that happens for a pastor and leader is letting a staff member go or replacing a volunteer on a team. What often follows this decision is anger and frustration.
In that moment, you as a leader can lash out at someone and tell them they are wrong. Or, help them to see where you are coming from or try to learn from it and help them learn from it.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Understand where the other person is coming from. As a leader, it is easy to get angry and not see where someone else is coming from. In our sin, we want them to only see our point of view, but our point of view is just that, ours. It isn’t even the correct point of view, it is just ours. It might be right, partially right or completely wrong. Before having a hard conversation and during it, try to see from the other side. Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t try to come up with an answer while they are talking. You may be wrong. You may have made the wrong assumptions about them before the conversation. There might be something happening in their life that has caused them to lash out, maybe there is a reason the ball got dropped on something. Often, when something is going wrong in someone’s life, they lash out at the closest authority figure in their life, and for many Christians, that is a pastor.
- Help them understand where you are coming from. In a hard conversation, after understanding where the other person is coming from, you need to help them understand your perspective. This is equally as hard as it will be for you to see it from their side. Maybe there is a reason for your reaction, for your distance, for the change you’ve made. If so, explain it to them. If you no longer see them because you aren’t part of a meeting anymore, explain it. If someone has outgrown their role or doesn’t have the leadership capability, tell them. Too often, leaders will simply make changes without explaining them clearly. One of the things this is most difficult in is when you have to remove a volunteer or a staff member who isn’t cutting it anymore.
- Help them see the big picture. This piece is what sets leaders and followers apart. Leaders are tasked with seeing the whole picture, the whole forest, followers are not. That’s okay. It is the job of a lead pastor to see how student ministry fits into the vision, how it affects kids ministry, community, worship, etc. The leaders of those areas are not tasked with thinking about how their area affects another area. It is nice if they do, but that isn’t their role. A person often does not see how a change that might be uncomfortable for them can be good for the whole church. Your job as a leader is to help someone see that. Sometimes this can be helping someone understand why they have to make an appointment to meet with you instead of just dropping by like they used to. This could mean helping a leader see why you won’t fund their idea or continuing doing something “you’ve always done.” It is difficult when this loss is personal for someone and that is why these conversations are so important.
Often it does end well.