I know what you're thinking: "Criticism? Nah. That only happens to those pastors and elders. Won't ever happen to me, bro. I work behind the scenes with all the techy stuff. I'm safe."
I hate to rain on your parade and poop all over your party, but yes, you will be on the receiving end of criticism, even in the Church Communications world. This is ministry. And if you're in ministry at any level, there will be criticism. In fact, some of it may very well be harsh criticism. It could be leveraged at your work, your team, or even at you as a person. Whatever the case, it will be happen. That I can promise you. What matters is how you perceive it, process it, and respond to it.
During much of my early years in Church Comms, I struggled with receiving criticism. And it's no wonder, really: I was that young, high school-aged, wildly inexperienced, know-it-all, hot-shot brat who thought he had everything figured out when it came to digital media, social media, graphic design, video production, public relations, marketing, and communications and how those elements integrated with the Local Church At Large and the Gospel. Little did I know that my college years were going to blow my mind on all of those things and then some deeper real-world experience would blow my mind even more. (It's a wonder I still have a mind at this point.)
Over the course of my twenties and thirties I came to learn that criticism in the ministry world is just a normal part of life for people at every level — from the sweet grandmother volunteering in the nursery to the lead pastor of the church and everyone in between. No one is immune from it. And, frankly, you should enter ministry expecting it to happen at some point.
Of course, this doesn't make it any easier to handle. I still cringe when I receive complaints about a project I had a hand in; rude comments about how our livestream isn't good enough; insults about an on-screen graphic I designed; remarks about a font being too hard to see; or a challenge to a comms decision that I made. So often my flesh has wanted to respond with nothing but pure, sweet, unadulterated sarcasm. It's just the way I'm wired. Obviously, this would be the worst thing that I could possibly do.
So, what is one to do when criticism comes knocking at the door? Here are a few tips and suggestions from my own experience and my years as a pastor's son:
#1. First, do nothing. Take a deep breath and chill out.
One of my favorite lines from the 1985 western cult classic film Silverado comes from Kevin Kline's character Paden when he says, "I'm a great believer in doin' nothing."
Believe me I know you want to blast a fiery zinger right back across the bow as soon as you receive that harsh e-mail, direct message, comment, text, or phone call. I've been there. We all have. It can be easy for anger to flare up and before you know it we're on an emotional rollercoaster for the rest of the day. This is never good. You won't be worth much for Kingdom work when you're seething with rage or letting criticism drown you in depression or discouragement.
A lot of times we think we can respond quickly and just make the situation go away. Sadly, quick responses usually wind up making things worse because we respond in anger or frustration. Take an entire day and step away from the criticism, whatever it happens to be. Pray. Rest. Reflect. Seek guidance, wisdom, or counsel if needed. But never respond hastily in anger.
#2. Ask yourself if the criticism is actually true.
It’s so easy to just dismiss a critic without a second thought, especially after you’ve just been run over by a Mack Truck of total hostility and rudeness. I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys that feeling. But, if you’re going to mature in ministry — as well as grow spiritually — then you really do have to assess and examine the criticism to see if there’s any substance to it. It’s not fun, but it’s necessary and always worth it in the end.
#3. Ask yourself how Jesus would respond.
I know this is the “Christianese” answer, but you’d be stunned how many pieces of criticism you’ll be able to diffuse or walk away from by simply responding with the love and grace that Jesus would if He were in your shoes. If you’ve been walking with the Lord long enough, then it really shouldn’t be all that difficult to know how He would reply to that furious congregant who criticized something about your church’s social media or that fellow staff member who blasted you in an e-mail. Jesus dealt with criticism all the time during His days on earth. He was opposed by an entire group of people who hated Him and spent much of His adult life dealing with people who couldn’t stand Him. Love your critics the way Jesus loved His. Extend them grace the way Jesus extended grace to His.
#4. Don’t take the criticism personally.
This can be hard to do, especially in the Church Comms world where so much of our ministry is attached to the things we create and the endless hours we spend perfecting designs, managing social media, strategizing posts, writing and proofing copy, setting up sound and lighting, and many other tasks. When someone criticizes our work, we almost feel as if we’ve been attacked on a very deep and personal level. It’s like they’ve said something mean about us. But, we have to be mature enough to separate our worth and value and our identities from our work and remember that — at the end of the day — everything we do and create is all for Christ and His Kingdom. And His approval is all that matters.
#5. Be personable, engaging, and relational when you respond.
This applies whether you're responding in-person or digitally. I learned this the hard way from over a decade of working in the customer service industry. There’s nothing that will surprise a critic more than receiving a cordial and friendly message after they just sent you a nasty one. So often in the business world — and yes, even in the ministry world — people expect you to stoop to their level and reply in a similar way. But, why not rise above all of that? Go a step further and speak with that person face-to-face if possible. In other words, don't hide behind the glow of your computer screen like some sort of digital monk furiously pecking away on your keyboard. You're better than that. Offer to meet them somewhere for coffee or lunch at the location of their choosing. Heck, offer to pay. I can guarantee you'll not only surprise them, you'll be on your way to diffusing the tension as well. (Side-note: Most critics are much braver in their e-mails and social media messages than they are in person. If you don't believe me, let's talk about trolls sometime.) And as long as both of you are mature enough to talk through the issue, it will all likely go away on its own.
How do you handle criticism in the Church Comms world? What have your experiences been like and what have they taught you? Is there anything you would add to my list? Drop a comment below or shoot me a DM or an e-mail. I'd love to hear from you!