Responding to Criticism – Part 4


Part four of a series on criticism based on a sign outside of a sandwich shop which read,”Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life.”

I haven’t seen your job description, but if it is like mine, you are probably responsible for a variety of areas and tasks. Of course there are also unofficial responsibilities that somehow go with the job. For example, as the youth pastor in one church, I was also the unofficial caretaker of the church bus. No matter how often I searched, I never found the word bus in my job description.

Because the jobs of associates are so varied, we are naturally gifted in some areas, while we struggle in others. Which got me wondering about this sandwich shop owner. Did she take the criticism of the meatball sandwich hard because she knows it is not her best sandwich? Maybe she is more proud of the turkey club.

I know I am far more sensitive receiving criticism about the areas of my job in which I am less comfortable. For example, tell me I’m an awful writer and, after the initial sting, I will remember all the compliments I have gotten with my writing, all the people I have been able to help, and more positive feedback I have received. Soon the positives will drown out the voice of the one critic.

Tell me I’m bad at pastoral visitation and the sting will linger much longer. Visits are the part of my job where I am least secure. When I hear a comment about not having visited someone enough, my negative script will start rolling: “See, I told you pastoral ministry was not for you. What makes you think God would want someone quiet like you in this role? You never were good at this; you never will be; you probably should think about a career change.” Now I’m defensive. I want to prove to the critic, and myself, that I deserve to be an associate pastor. Notice the conversation has shifted from a particular instance when I put off a pastoral call, to a defense of my entire career in ministry – past, present, and future.

So here’s a solution: Associate Pastor, own thy weaknesses. It is unrealistic for you, or anyone else, to expect you to be excellent at every aspect of your job. Your position description is too diverse for you to be able to do it all naturally. In other words, you have weaknesses. Know them and own them.

When you own your weaknesses you set yourself up for three things. First, you become more aware of what will hurt you. Thus when someone wants to talk about your “meatball sandwich,” you can immediately begin to work at getting out of the reactive part of your brain (the lizard, as a friend calls it), and into the cognitive part. You can start a positive script before the negative one begins – reminding yourself of all you are good at in ministry. You can also shift your focus from a defensive posture toward one where you are focusing on your relationship with the person in front of you (see Part 3 for more on this).

Second, it makes it easier to apologize. Rather than being defensive you may respond, “I’m sorry I haven’t visited as much as you’d like. I will see your friend soon.” A gentle, caring, apologetic response comes much easier when you are not feeling like a failure and questioning your self-worth as a pastor and human being.

Finally, when you know your weaknesses you can strategize for them. For example, I know pastoral visits aren’t my thing, but I haven’t run out and taken a course on them. Instead, I have set aside time in each week to focus on them. I just suck it up and do it. If I wait until I feel like doing it, I won’t ever get to it.

In other words, don’t let a critique of your meatball sandwich ruin the turkey club!


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