Last night, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, held a joint meeting of our elders, deacons, and deaconesses. We meet together 3-4 times a year to touch base on shepherding issues. Towards the end of the meeting, I distributed two handouts on the subject of handling criticism. I explained that as we touch base with people, we may hear criticism and/or complaints about an individual, ministry, or other concern. I wanted to guide the folks in how to respond biblically.
One handout was “Handling Criticism: Lessons from Nehemiah.” (It was posted on my blog on May 5, 2016.) Rather than read the entire handout, I said the short version was that sometimes Nehemiah responded to criticism and sometimes he ignored it. Not every need is a mandate. Sometimes a need or a criticism is a distraction to ignore. We need discernment to know which ones to address and which ones to ignore.
The second handout was “Handling Criticism: Lessons from Jesus.”
Handling Criticism: Lessons from Jesus
When someone wants to complain to you about a person, ministry, etc., follow the guidelines Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15-20.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Ask the person, “Have you talked to _______ ?” (the person who offended them; the person in charge of the ministry they are concerned about, etc.)
If they say, “No,” then graciously stop the person and tell them to practice Mathew 18:15. Graciously tell them to stop gossiping, complaining, and/or venting to someone else.
If they say, “Yes, but the person didn’t listen,” then you can listen to their concern. Afterwards, go with the person to help them seek reconciliation and/or resolution, the second step in Matthew 18:16.
Remember that your role is not to serve as the complaint department or the problem solvers of the church.
As leaders in the church, I wanted our team to understand that criticism comes with the territory. I shared that every time our church has started to move forward, we’ve been attacked. I’ve been criticized more in the past year than I have in many previous years. Part is due to my position and part to what we’ve been trying to do as a church. When criticism comes, and it will, I want us to respond in a biblical, godly manner.