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Slow Burn: Handling Criticism in Your Ministry

Scott Kinner

Extinguishing Low Heat

If you wake up one day and feel like never returning to your job, you may have experienced long-term low heat. There's typically no trigger -- it's just the buildup of subtle criticism over a long time. These tips will help you handle the slow burn of low heat.

• Write it down. You may not remember all the critical comments that brought you to burnout point. They're too subtle. So each time you feel criticized for something, write the situation on paper. Also write down one thing you can learn from it and one positive thing about your gifts and skills as a leader. Then forget it. You've learned from it, now move on.

• Take time away from the heat. You can handle a little low heat-as long as you have a break. Just get out of the office for a while to think objectively about the situation. Go for coffee with a friend. Do something that makes you feel good about yourself.

• Ask for validation. If someone offers criticism, it's okay to ask for a dose of positive feedback, too. If a child says, "This lesson is boring," ask kids what they like about it. It's important to know what you're doing right so you can work on areas of improvement.

• Approach your leader. It's possible there's merit to what people are saying. Have a conversation with your leader. It's more positive to proactively address widespread complaints than to continue absorbing negativity. And, if you discover that blanket complaints are part of a deeper spiritual issue in your church, work with your leader to use that as an opportunity to help people grow.

Freezer Burn

Inter-staff criticism is freezer burn. That's because it's an oxy-moron: Something can get the freezer? It's true. The same goes for criticism. Scorching criticism can come from an unlikely place: your support network. This criticism is difficult to hear because it's from those who are supposed to believe in you most.

Gerri Baker, children's pastor at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, says support-network criticism is the most difficult to handle.

"Staff members need to be supportive of each other-no matter what," Gerri says. "And if there's a legitimate concern, they should come to you in person."

Defrosting Freezer Burn

Freezer burn presents a delicate situation because you're dealing with close personal and professional relationships. Consider these points as you deal with this frustrating form of criticism.

• Address critical issues. You trust your support network to handle concerns with you directly and in a professional and supportive manner. If someone in your network isn't playing by those rules, address it personally. Emphasize your reliance on the person's support to continue to help children effectively grow.

• Ask follow-up questions. Even if your critic doesn't offer suggestions in the most positive way, your overall support network has your best interests at heart. Ask non-defensive questions to get to the core of criticism and learn what you can do about it.

• Face the truth. Because it's coming from your support network, there's probably a nugget of truth. These people know you better than anyone. So it's a good idea to listen. 


High-speed jets are equipped with devices designed to burn exhaust gases, leaving burnt fumes behind as jets fly out of sight. These afterburners can leave bystanders scorched-after the jet is long gone. Also known as the hit-and-run method, afterburners shock before they hurt, and the effects are long-lasting.

Perhaps you've been singed by critical messages from someone who quickly retreats. An email from a volunteer who didn't appreciate how you handled an issue. A voicemail from a parent angry about a lesson. These critical messages leave you dumbfounded and tempt you to respond in a hit-and-run manner, too.

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