Might as well get used to it! I don’t mean developing a callousness, but an ability to weather criticism in a godly way. Criticism happens! So what do we do about it?
First realize that criticism of elders can occur for a number of reasons: 1) It is always easier to criticize the leadership as a group than to deal with problems individually 2) Elders are an easy target 3) People think elders are spiritual giants who aren’t emotionally affected by criticism. 4) People often think of their criticism simply as “feedback” 5) People think they need to be forceful in order to be heard. 6) We elders can become “gun shy” and misinterpret honest feedback as harsh criticism. 7) Elders get very little positive feedback to give emotional cushion for the legitimate criticisms that we need to hear. 8) The rarity of positive encouragement can be interpreted as implied criticisms. The list goes on. Being an elder is not for the faint-hearted, the people-pleaser or the thin-skinned.
Failure to deal well with criticism will compromise an elder’s ability to shepherd the flock of God. Here are some positive things that can help in handling negative “feedback.”
1. Recognize you aren’t alone. For some, it can be a shattering experience the first time they are severely criticized. If this is your experience, take heart, it means at the very least, that you are doing something noticeable. One brother told me early in my ministry, “A man who never makes a mistake, is a man who never does anything.” Every elder who wants to make a difference will be criticized.
2. Look for the kernel of truth in every criticism. Why let a great learning opportunity go to waste! You may learn something about yourself or your leadership that needs to change. Thank the Lord you can learn it now and avoid more heartache over this in the future. Maybe you will learn something about the one criticizing you? Often, criticism may reflect a spiritual derailment in the person’s life.
3. See this as an opportunity to broaden your shoulders and enlarge your heart. It is not uncommon for a child to blurt out to the disciplining parent, “I hate you.” The insecure parent will go into a tailspin and either get harshly angry back at the child or capitulate so that the child will “like me.” Wise parents will set aside their hurt feelings, and deal properly with the child. Elders likewise need to look beyond the criticism to the needs of the individual. He or she is still one for whom Christ died, and still needs shepherding.
4. Let go of your animosity toward your criticizer. Not every criticism can be fully resolved and responded to. Don’t let a boat load of hurt feelings and grudges build up. Most elders wouldn’t admit to holding grudges, but we can easily put up walls that limit our compassion for people who have been hard on us. Elders, though, are called to a higher standard. Though all Christians are as well, elders provide a model to others.
5. Finally, continue to love the individual unconditionally! Funny how that is easy to say concerning unsaved relatives. But how much more should we show unconditional love to those in the household of faith!
“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly … if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” 1 Peter 2:19-23
“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9
“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed …but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts … and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” 1 Peter 3:13-17