Can You Deal with Criticism?

I caught up on my stack of Christian Century issues on a recent plane trip, and was particularly struck by an article by Martin Copenhaver, pastor at Wellesley Congregational Church called “Slings and Arrows.” It’s an honest look at how he himself, and so many other pastors, struggle with criticism. He says, “Because of its uncanny ability to expose one’s weaknesses, the ministry is not an easy fit for those who are particularly sensitive to criticism. But in my experience, people who are particularly well tuned in to what those around them are thinking and feeling are the ones most likely to be told, ‘You ought to think about going into the ministry.'”

Copenhaver also astutely points out that praise is an equal challenge for pastors. “Everyone likes to be praised at least once in a while. But beware the pastor who needs too much praise.” He suggests, “for the pastor, criticism and praise are twin imposters. Both are to be approached warily, because both can deceive and both can mislead.”

The balance is tricky to find. We do need to pay attention to feedback, but when we are dependent on it for our sense of ourselves, we’re in trouble.

2 replies on “Can You Deal with Criticism?

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Thanks, Rebecca. I agree that these committees are a mixed bag (can you say, “triangle”?). It’s important to keep some perspective, as you describe, on the input that comes this way.

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  • Rebecca Maccini

    I also believe that one has to be thoughtful about both praise and criticism. Pastor-Parish Committees, or Pastor Relations Committees, those committees in churches that are to support the pastor and build up relationships between pastor and congregation tend to be committees that give to the pastor either praise or criticism and I wonder about the benefits of a church committee having that as its primary role. When a criticism came to me in my pastor-parish committee from a church member and then a number of months later the same church member gave me praise, the majority of the committee was really happy that the person who didn’t like my performance now saw improvement in my performance. Certainly I seek to get good feedback in my ministerial skills and I want to grow as a person in ministerial skills and maturity, but I didn’t see that so much tied into one church member’s criticism turned to praise as some of the committee members.

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