When people are “shoulding” all over you: How to use criticism as a tool to build your ministry

As a ministry leader, I receive criticism regularly.  I receive it from people I’m ministering to, people who minister alongside me, and even those who are looking in from the outside.  I’ll probably be criticized for the title of this blog.

When I first started as a ministry leader 8 years ago, I had the best of intentions.  I was going to selflessly serve in order to foster a culture of missions in our church.  This was something God had laid on my heart and had been affirmed by my pastor.  Apparently, there were many in our church who had the same desire to develop a missions ministry. I had a large team in the beginning.  It was an exciting time as we started to build a vision for how our church would reach out locally and globally.  We talked a lot, made plans, we prayed and started moving.

When we took practical steps to implement our vision, things began to change.   As we carried out our tasks, be it a fundraiser, education and awareness, or an actual project, tensions arose.  People didn’t like the choices we made, the way we did things, who was involved… People weren’t afraid to say how things should be done. Well, they might have been a little afraid because many of them used e-mail.

I can remember feeling very down about it.  Couldn’t people see that I just wanted to serve?  It all came to a head when a member of our church Board called to tell me that they felt our missions team was overly focused on raising money and that we were not working well with other ministries.  I hadn’t realized till that moment that ministry leaders (I) can be competitive!  The poor board member who was designated as the person to contact me was not prepared for my emotional breakdown, How come people only tell me what I’m doing WRONG?!

My outburst surprised me too.  I didn’t think I was harbouring these feelings. I thought I was managing things pretty well.  But I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate my motives and why I felt threatened by these criticisms.  What I found out surprised me.

Most of my critics were right.

I sat down and thought of everything anyone had said about either the ministry or my role as ministry leader.  Whether they gave it in anger, before, during or after the fact, whether it was petty or hefty criticism, whether it was made by e-mail or in person, I added the criticism to my list.

Things like:

  • I shouldn’t have asked a newcomer to pray and made her uncomfortable
  • I shouldn’t have such a large focus on money for missions
  • I should develop my leadership skills
  • I shouldn’t look at my watch when someone is talking to me
  • I should delegate more
  • I should communicate better

Truly, these are practical and helpful goals!  I couldn’t receive them because I was hurt by the way they were delivered.  I could only hear the “should” of their statements, meaning, in my head, that I must have done something wrong.  I felt like they were shoulding all over me!

Offence is a human reaction, but it often stems from our own pride.  If our source of strength, love and acceptance is Jesus, then we would probably never be offended.  A noble goal, but a difficult one!  My own offence was a trigger that my sustenance was not coming from the Lord. I was looking for my reward from people… and not receiving it.

With God’s help, I decided to be more receptive to my critics as they had valuable insights for future ministry.

Here are some helpful guidelines I use to turn criticisms into valuable tools to build my ministry.

React in prayer

When you feel that familiar twinge or knot in your stomach, it’s not time to worry, it’s time to pray.  Get rid of those feelings that can lead to anger and sin by talking immediately to the Lord about it.  Seek the Lord’s heart and his wisdom in the matter and you can’t go wrong.

Test your heart

Ask the Lord to assess your motives.  If you are feeling threatened why is that?  Are you hanging onto pride or personal motivation?  There is no room for this in ministry.  Ask the Lord to forgive you for putting your vision ahead of his.

Know your critic

Knowing your critic means loving your critic and trying to understand where the criticism comes from.  Is it out of their own hurt?  Or, conversely, is out of a desire to see the church live up to its potential?

I enjoyed this recent article that attempts to categorize 5 Types of Critics in Your Church.  It is insightful, as well as helpful to know how to respond to criticism. I agree that those who are constructive in their criticisms can be engaged to participate more in ministry, while others potentially need to deal with their emotional issues.  It’s true that there are some critics who will do nothing but attack and it’s good to keep in mind that it’s not about you.

Give weight to the practicalities of the criticism, don’t get caught up in the “should”

Which leads me to the point that if you get caught up in the “should” of the criticism, you probably think it’s about you.  If you can remove yourself from the equation, you will discover that a lot of your critics might have helpful things to add to your ministry, whether they’re given with proper motives or not.  (As a bonus, perhaps taking their criticisms seriously might be a step in the right direction to make them feel loved and accepted.)

Give equal weight to the encouragements you receive

When the Board member called me, my reaction was to say that people ONLY call me when something is wrong.  In short, I was having a temper tantrum.  I’ve heard it my daughters and in my nieces and nephews… OK, in me too.  When something isn’t going our way, we want to put absolutes on our statements: “He ALWAYS gets that toy…” or “I NEVER get to stay up late…” This is not a realistic perspective.  So as I wrote down my criticisms, I also wrote down my encouragements and I was very surprised to discover that many people, if not more, were blessing me with their love and support, but I wasn’t acknowledging it.  I had felt that I ONLY received criticisms. I couldn’t receive the encouragement because my perspective was tainted with worries about my own inadequacies.  I’ve learned to hear and give thanks to every single encouragement as it comes.  As much as there are criticisms, there are also cheers.  Both are valuable.

Gain focus and strength daily from Jesus

It is best practice not to find yourself at your wit’s end because you haven’t dealt with the criticisms.  They have an accumulative effect if you  ignore them.  The thing you should give the most weight to should be from Jesus himself through daily interaction with him through scripture and prayer.

I give this “criticism” in utmost love and appreciation for what you do in your ministry. Keep up the good work!

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2 thoughts on “When people are “shoulding” all over you: How to use criticism as a tool to build your ministry

  1. Thank you for this. I needed to see it. We are just clay and being molded and God has placed that treasure inside. You have a huge heart I can see from your writings. I lift you up in any mission you desire to accomplish for THE KINGDOM! Your transparency has touched me to see a dilemma I have in my own heart. God bless you dear sister.

    • Karen, thank you for your comment! I pray that your dilemma is resolved soon and you will continue to build the kingdom of God where where He has placed you!

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