Not long after moving to Granbury in 2004, the church I serve decided to conduct a survey of the members in an effort to be collaborative regarding some key decisions. The wording of one of the questions sounded something like this: “If I could change anything about this church, what would you change?”
One individual responded in the following manner: “I would appreciate better overall content and delivery of sermons.” Of course I was the person that delivered those weekly sermons that needed better content and delivery! If I thought this individual was just mean spirited, I would have dismissed the comment. But I actually viewed this person as being credible. How do we deal with criticism when it comes from a trustworthy person?
Those of us that speak to hundreds of people nearly every week during the course of a year have been hit with all kinds of criticism. It comes with the territory. I am not an expert in dealing with critical comments, but I am very aware of the mistakes I have made over the past 26 years.
- Hitting the critic head on is generally a mistake. I have responded to negative commentary in a manner that is blunt and overly direct at times. Such a response almost always comes from a place of personal hurt. There are rare occasions when this form of communication is the only thing that a person understands. But as a rule, head on collisions rarely have a good outcome.
- Conflict Avoidance resolves nothing. When I was told that my sermon content and delivery was not up to speed in 2004, I chose to avoid my critic. I pulled back relationally from that person. In fact, my preaching content and style became cold and forced. Nothing good came out of conflict avoidance in that situation.
When I am thinking somewhat rationally, here are some constructive ways that I try to respond to critics:
- Meeting the critic head on is generally a good idea. Approaching the person that has offered negative commentary in a kind spirit for the expressed purpose of addressing the issue at hand is almost always the right thing to do. The person that viewed my preaching in a negative light has since moved on. I deeply regret not addressing the issue at that time. I should have gone to her and said: “I read your survey. Would you be willing to offer suggestions for better sermon content and delivery?” If had approached her with a gentle spirit, I think she would have responded in kind. Attitude is everything in such encounters.
- Conflict Management has potential. We can approach a critic in a very kind manner, but a positive response is not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination. The critic may very well be unrelenting. That person may choose that opportunity to launch interpersonal grenades. But choosing to address the issue instead of avoiding it always has potential! When we are hurt by someone’s disapproval, it is hard to meet them head on. Avoidance just feels better at the time! In the long run, overtures at conflict management are better.
I am fairly certain that my preaching content and delivery has improved over the past 9 years. More importantly I try much harder to engage those that are openly dissatisfied. The emotional dimensions of such experiences make for another blog on another day!