Nobody likes criticism, not even pastors. Having been a pastor for more than three decades I have come to a few conclusions regarding how to give helpful and effective criticism. Many church members are not very good at providing their pastor with constructive feedback, and most pastors are not very good at receiving criticism from church members.
Someone once said, “The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing and say nothing.” That may be true, but who wants to take that option? We all risk being criticized for something we do or say. Since criticism is a part of leadership and life, it will serve us well to learn how to give and receive constructive criticism. Let’s take a look out how to provide helpful feedback when it is warranted.
First, don’t point out a problem if you are not “in the battle.” Anybody can sit in the bleachers and criticize the coach or quarterback. It’s easy to talk about what’s wrong until you put on a helmet and get in the huddle. It is so much easier to take feedback from the people who are actively involved in and working towards the mission with you.
Secondly, consider the whole process and result, not the one action. I have known people who are quick to criticize a pastor for a decision they do not entirely agree with even though that pastor has made hundreds of decisions that member would stand behind. Nobody agrees 100% of the time. Look at the whole body of decision-making rather than one isolated call.
Third, timing is everything when providing feedback. It is helpful to communicate problems or concerns at times other than when a pastor is about to preach or has just given a message. Scheduling a time to discuss a situation is more helpful than a spontaneous conversation. This will give a pastor time to focus on what you are saying and will give that pastor a space to process the information you are providing. I can tell you from experience that even the most Spirit-controlled minister has a hard time listening to a complaint when they are already drained from giving several messages.
Fourth, choose your criticism wisely. Some of the things we criticize are personal preferences. Instead of complaining about what someone wears, the temperature of a room, or the style of music being played, feedback on more essential matters is a better use of everyone’s time. In over thirty years I have yet to have anyone ask me why we are not multiplying more disciples in our church. Core values and practices of our church are far more important than the smoke machine we use in our worship services.
Fifth, consider if you feedback is for the pastor or for another team member. Many times pastors are criticized for decisions they were not involved in making or finalizing. While the pastor is the obvious representative and “face” of the ministry, much of the church’s work is delegated to other leadership. Feedback is more helpful when it is given to the appropriate person who is directly involved in the decision. This may require you to ask for more information before providing feedback.
Now, let’s be clear on one thing. If a pastor does something that is unbiblical, illegal, or immoral, that behavior needs correction, not simply criticism. If such a situation occurs, go to the pastor first. If that pastor does not take ownership and repent, take the situation to the Elders of the church so that correction and accountability can be brought about.
Impact Discipleship Ministries seeks to help churches become disciple making churches and we are available to help you navigate any church-related issues. Contact us at impactdisciples.com for more blogs and other helpful resources.