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Slow Burn: Handling Criticism in Your Ministry

Scott Kinner

Extinguishing Afterburners

It's easy to become an afterburner when you've been the victim of one. These more effective tactics will help next time you're burnt by a passing jet.

• Respond-don't react. You've probably been here before: You get a critical email and you immediately mutter, "Oh, I'll show her," as you pound out an immediate reply. After you hit send, you realize most of your reply was in reaction to the critic's tone rather than the message behind the email.

Shallenberger reminds us to "never become reactionary or escalate." Wait it out, then respond. A good rule is to divert your attention to a happier task before returning to respond to an afterburner.

• Remove emotions. Don't respond defensively. Consider the validity behind the criticism. In a recent article in Children's Ministry Professional Edition, Bill Anderson, children's and family pastor, advised, "Remove all emotions from the situation and ask, Is this criticism valid? If you can honestly say it's not, then dismiss it." But first remove emotions, or you could miss an important growth opportunity.

• Respond in person. Address the critic in person. If that's impossible, then use a phone. But, at all costs, avoid the written word.

Baker warns, "You should never write something by email or letter, even if that's the quickest way to communicate. These forms of communication can't convey the good heart behind your message, and it's always misconstrued somehow." Remember, you're not looking for fast; you're looking for effective.


It's the moment when you think, I should've known better. It's the phrases at the beginning of this article. When you let yourself think these things, you start believing them. The result: self-burn.

Self-burn can be difficult to detect because it's self-talk and self-concept. But it can take the same toll as an afterburner or fireworks.

Extinguishing Self-Burn

First, learn to recognize it when you're using negative self-talk. That means you constantly blame or find fault with yourself. Use these reminders to conquer this tendency.

• You can't make everyone happy. So don't try. If you constantly strive for perfection, disappointment will quickly follow every time. The Bible tells us to be excellent, not perfect. God will take care of the perfection. Just serve him with every gift and skill you have. God's Spirit will do the rest.

• Keep notes of encouragement. Baker says past encouragement is how she gets through criticism.

"I have a file of encouragement that has notes from over the years thanking me," she says. "Reading these somehow will help heal the 'ouches' from time to time."

A few years back, a house in our community was destroyed by fire. The weird thing was that from the outside you wouldn't have known it was burning. By the time the neighbors realized it was on fire, everything in it had been gutted-while the outside structure was untouched. The fire subtly destroyed all that family had.

Don't let that happen to you. Take care to put these smoke alarms in place so the fire of criticism doesn't destroy you from within. You've worked too hard to build up a ministry that needs to last.

Scott Kinner is a project manager and editor for ministry resources at Group.

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