Responding to Criticism
When a disgruntled exiting staff member or church member spreads lies about you as the pastor among people in the church what is the best response? Address it publicly, privately with the parties involved, or ignore it? It used to be that lies, gossip, etc. were spread only by word-of-mouth, but now these things can be posted on blogs, etc. and that seems to extend their shelf-life. Any thoughts?
Pastor Dean A. Brown – Bronx, NY
At our church, we have all staff members and volunteers sign a confidentiality agreement which states that actions such as revealing information that should be private may lead to legal action being taken against them. As it relates to lies by former members or even former staff, my approach has always been to ignore it. I find that if I begin to defend myself, I run two risks: one, I run the risk of giving extended life to the lies and gossip. I have found that by ignoring it, it dies a very quick death as people seem to take their que from my silence. Secondly, I ignore it because speaking may require me to reveal things, though they may be true, that were spoken to me in confidence. Even though it may bring the truth to the light, I run the risk of losing the trust of others who may begin to think that I would reveal what they have shared with me if I ever have reason to be disappointed in their actions. In addition, I do not want anything to stop a member from trusting me enough to speak to me, knowing that what’s private will remain private. I live by the scripture which says, “A man swears to his own hurt and changes not,” even if it means that by keeping silent a lie remains unchallenged.
Pastor Gerald Brooks – Plano, TX
Answer questions honestly when asked. Let key leaders know the facts. But responding to specific blogs is its own quicksand. A professional public relations team leaves no statement unanswered. They respond in generalized ways without reacting to personal attacks.
Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
I do not have all the answers for this, but I have faced a rather serious situation of slander and false accusation. I was in a Q & A session with about 200 pastors hosted by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek. Someone asked him how he responds to criticism. His answer and its application in my life really helped me during this challenging time. He said, “The first prayer I pray is, ‘Lord, help me not to sin right now,’ because my propensity for sin is very high in a situation like that.”
I found myself praying that same prayer almost on a daily basis for months. During so many instances, “walking in love,” was not at all what I wanted to do. My imagination played back so many options that were ungodly and would have hurt the situation and people. Keeping my heart right was the biggest challenge, but when my heart was OK, I was able to hear from God and take the next steps He was showing me.
Something else that helped was to surround myself with strong friends, supporters and those that would stand in prayer. I needed their strength on so many occasions, because my strength was not enough.
I had to keep forgiving those that were lying and plotting my demise. These were one-time friends, so the pain was very real. I prayed and still pray for their life and that God will show them kindness and love. This helps keeps my heart right before God and others.
I also had to get over lots of guilt because the majority of the problem came from one bad hire that could have, and should have, been avoided.
On the positive side, the situation has brought out a number of good things. One was realizing that some seemingly spiritual persons were not spiritual at all, but truly carnal. It also brought out those that were with us, the church, and God’s vision. I would have rather learned these things in another way, but it was helpful.
In reading Paul’s writings, it seemed that his number one problem was with people. I pray that we will all be able to say at the end with him, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
Rev. Kenneth Hagin was careful not to respond to critics, although he had many. He stayed focused on his calling and was successful in finishing his course and running his race. In contrast, John Wimber, the leader of the Vineyard churches, started printing position papers in response to his critics. Rev. Wimber died relatively young and his churches have become noticeably more conservative than when they first started.
Every successful minister has had powerful detractors and critics. I recently read a biography of Charles Finney. He was burned in effigy and had mobs against him. He prayed for them and stayed on track. Just because there are new means of spreading gossip doesn’t change the principles of focusing on your ministry and not letting the devil pull you off track and into his debates.
Preach the Word! Fulfill your course! The time is short!
Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
First off, if Jesus didn’t make everyone happy, we won’t be able to make everyone happy. Most persecution happens for the Word’s sake. We, as pastors, teach the Word and some people are offended when conviction sets in. They look for someone to blame for their own sin. Often times, in order to hide their own guilt, they will make up something or allude to something false in order to attempt to bring harm to the messenger. Be quick to forgive, but I believe it is okay to clear up false accusations. You don’t have to mention the accuser’s name when doing this. I like Isaiah 54 at times like this. The Amplified version is especially full of revelation. This passage reminds you that no weapon formed against you shall prosper and those that stir up strife against you will have to surrender to you. Sadly, I have had to put this principle into practice a few times and God kept His Word. Sometimes when this has happened, the Lord has said, “This is a NON-event,” meaning—pay it no mind—ignore it; no one believes it anyway. I’m thankful for that. Keep your shield of Faith out in front. I assure you, there will be fiery darts, but if you USE your shield of Faith, all of the darts will be quenched. Thank God for the armor!
Pastor Michael Steward – Powell, OH
I believe the best response is to address it privately with persons involved. Confrontation is often encouraged in the Word. I would first start with the person spreading the lies to make an attempt to clear things up with them. There is a reason why people will act maliciously and it usually can be resolved in honest dialogue. I would not address it publicly unless the conflict reached critical mass, i.e., church split, mass exodus, etc. Other than that, I would deal with it on a case-by-case basis privately of anyone who is affected by the rumors. Remember, you will have the greatest influence over your church and most people should be able to know you and your heart, and that will trump many rumors that come their way.
Pastor John B. Lowe – Warsaw, IN
Here is my response for this month’s question, and frankly it is a tough one for the day and technology which exist.
I have not had a staff person do the item described. Members? Yes. I think I would do the same thing though, as the issue is biblical response and not positional response. We do not change our response based on who the person is or then we get into trouble with the Lord.
I have tried to make sure that even though there is a separation of relationship, I know I am in good standing with Jesus and them, if possible. Of course, we know that is not possible all the time.
If they begin to spread the lies, I have met with the leaders of our church and team, and I open up for questions from then and share what I believe is the truth from my prospective.
Then, I ask for an appointment with the individual to get things straight between us, if possible. Sometimes they do come in and sometimes they don’t. I go to a neutral location, but a public one, so there are witnesses for obvious reasons.
Then I let the Lord be my defender. I never respond by Facebook, e mail, or other things that can be misused forever against me. They could be printed, rewritten, sent around the world or to thousands at a click of a button, etc…
I am reminded of the question Pontius Pilot asked Jesus (What is truth?). When face to face with Personified Truth, he still did not get it. He proceeded on with his agenda, which actually accelerated the will of God. Truth is unstoppable if it is the truth.
Pastor Al Jennings – Ft. Wayne, IN
For several years I have followed this philosophy: hold your peace, and let the Lord fight your battles. Don’t acknowledge your critics. By doing so, you give them credentials. Choose to walk in love. Bless everyone involved, and don’t curse them. Always do good and follow after the things that make for peace.
My experience has been when I do this, the Lord always backs me up. And here’s a prayer that you can pray, “Father God, expose, reveal, remove, and replace anyone who is not right in our Church. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”
Pastor Timothy Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
What a great question. This is easy to answer and hard to answer at the same time.
There is an underlying question that is being asked here: should I walk in love or not? Obviously the one who proposes this question is dealing with unjust words that are being spoken about him or her. Everyone who ever responded to the call to ministry has encountered this. We do not like to think of things in terms of black and white, but in this case, the issue is not how to respond, but what would love do? There is no gray area here! What would love do?
Allow me to use two scripture references here: And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure (1 Corinthians 4:12 – NKJV). Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23 – NKJV). I like the way the MESSAGE Bible states 1 Peter 2:23—hey called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.
I don’t think we need to look any further to answer this question. This is the easy part. The hard part is that many, if not all of the times you don’t respond, especially as a pastor, it will cost you people. To see them believe a lie and go is the hardest thing I have ever endured as a pastor.
I can think of possibly one instance that there might be an exception in our culture that will not violate this principle of walking in love, and that would be if there were legal ramifications for other people if you did not respond. As for me, I refuse to defame another person to defend myself. Jesus didn’t and we shouldn’t either.
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
I have found that every situation can be answered directly from the Word of God. Look at what Proverbs 26:4 says about this very issue.
Answer not a [self-confident] fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.
So, according to Proverbs 26:4, we should just ignore the fool who is speaking against leadership and stirring up strife. Nothing is more easy than that—unless you happen to read the next verse! “Answer a [self-confident] fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes and conceit.”
Here’s the deal. Every situation is different. There are times when we need to address an issue, as well as times when we need to ignore them. This is where an effective prayer life comes in pretty handy. I love what Proverbs 11:30 has to say: “He who winneth souls is wise.” The soul determines how we think, feel, and make our choices. To win a soul is to win an individual over to a new way of thinking, feeling, and ultimately, making their choices. In order for us to win a soul we need wisdom. God’s Word tells us that if we’re lacking wisdom, all we need to do is ask and He’ll give it to us!
I believe if we’ll seek God’s way of doing and being right (Mat. 6:33 Amplified), we’ll find the wisdom to deal with difficult people. Some people position themselves in such a way that they’re not willing to receive any instruction. For these, it may be necessary to ignore them and just keep doing what God has called us to do. For others, the opportunity remains to win their soul. We can effectively lead them in God’s ways if we use the wisdom of God to do so.
I think of it as a type of a fishing excursion. You can have the nicest boat on the water with the most expensive gear. You can develop the ability to throw the perfect cast and lay the lure in the perfect spot. However, if the fish isn’t choosing to take the bait—it may be time to change our presentation of the tackle. Wisdom from God will be our guide. He may suggest simply focusing upon a different species if this particular one won’t bite!
Pastor Terry Scheel – Fenton, MO
Without question, lies and criticism being spread by exiting, disgruntled staff members or church members is a problem every pastor will eventually face. I have faced my share of them over the years.
How to respond? I would not ask a disgruntled, exiting staff member or church member to stop spreading lies and criticism about me. That is like putting a red cape in front of a charging bull.
It also depends on what the lie or criticism is. Some should be ignored. To address them publicly (or even privately with your leaders) can cause a magnifying effect; whereas, if ignored, they usually go away in a short time.
When dealing with lies and criticism that can actually hurt you or your church, I have found that dealing with them publicly is typically not the best (again the magnifying effect). I address these issues with my leaders. I have found that my leaders are the very best way to dispel lies and criticism. Church members will typically approach the leaders concerning lies and criticism. When the leaders are standing up in defense of the pastor, it has a calming effect on the congregation. Good leaders are worth their weight in gold, especially in this area.
Emails and Blogs do give lies and criticism longer shelf life. The email FORWARD button can be a definite tool the devil uses in keeping lies and criticism going. I once received an email that had been forwarded about a dozen times and at the very bottom of the page was criticism about me along with the name of the person who started it. Whoops! Someone got caught with their hand in the cookie jar! Again, your leaders are the best ones to respond to these kinds of emails in defense of the pastor. Good leaders do not FORWARD these kinds of emails but rather REPLY to them with the truth!
In summary, good leaders are the very best way to deal with these negative issues.
Pastor Denny Beavers – Jonesboro, AR
Anyone who pastors for any length of time and preaches the truth of God’s Word will face lies or false accusations at times from disgruntled church members, non-members, and possibly staff members. Paul said “all those who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”(II Tim.3:12). Pastors are no exception to this truth but are even more likely than Christians who aren’t in full time ministry to face attacks, lies, etc. It doesn’t make it any easier when it happens, but being aware of this truth will help pastors keep their focus, avoid over-reacting and feeling compelled to vindicate themselves or proving that they are right. I Peter 4:12-16 is another good passage to meditate on when something like this happens. The nature of the lies and attacks, how widespread they are, and the potential damage that can be done to the church or ministry are all determining factors in how a pastor should respond to allegations.
I have had this happen to me personally by former members, a former staff member, and even people I don’t know in our area-wide blog that has become a gossip hotline and place for people to bash area churches and pastors. The lies and attacks I have faced concerned doctrine, decisions I made, the way our church does things, and even using church funds for a personal vacation which I would never do, etc… They have never been about a moral failure, affair or anything of that nature. Also, they were done by individuals, not a group or in the media for widespread attention. I have never addressed the lies and attacks publicly or privately, even though my flesh wanted to make sure the truth was known and the record set straight. By giving no place to the devil and not adding any fuel to the fire, the lies and attacks died out quickly every time with very little to no impact on the church, which is the primary concern.
Prov. 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” One of the softest answers or responses you can give is none at all. When you respond to lies and false attacks, it usually just stirs up the people who are already operating by the wrong spirit. These kind of people will rarely listen to reason and the truth. Also, responding publicly gets people involved that may not need to be involved, and just by informing them of the situation and trying to explain the truth can cause some people to question the situation, make false judgments, and make more trouble.
If the lies and attacks are from a significant group of people or have been given widespread exposure through the media, they will probably have to be dealt with publicly to clearly explain your position. If this is the case, a written response should be prepared ahead of time to avoid getting caught up in the moment and saying something you will later regret. Remember, a soft answer turns away wrath, and vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:17-19). How you say something is just as important as what you say. Be careful to make sure that your words are seasoned with love and grace.
In closing, I want to remind you what Jesus said in Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” If you will do this, God will honor you, protect you, and even promote you, and the truth will prevail.
Pastor John Grunewald – Bonn, Germany
Since every situation is a little different, they must be looked at individually. But over the years, the approach I like the best is the straight forward one. We always examine what is said to see if there is any truth in it. If so, we take it to heart. When I hear a rumor, lie, etc., about a team member or even a church member, I like to address it as soon as possible. If it can be dealt with privately, fine; if not, then I will address it from the pulpit. This usually cuts the life of the thing short and the congregation seems to appreciate it. It is always a good opportunity for a “teachable moment.” We don’t ignore lies and rumors any more than we ignore sickness, cancer, etc. Our leadership team and all team leaders are taught about confrontation and conflict resolution. When everyone practices this in their teams it prevents most problems like this from really taking root.
When all of this doesn’t work, Scripture gives us an easy solution. Col 3:5a in the KJV says: Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth…
Dr. Dan Beller – Tulsa, OK
My first choice would be to go to the person who has spread untruths about me and try to get them to retract this information with all the people or sources where they have made the false statements. If the situation is drastic enough, the person making the accusations may even need to confess before the congregation.
If this method does not solve the problem, I would probably make some public statements from the pulpit to clear up the matter. It is vitally important in such public statements to show compassion and never anger. It is also important to show a good attitude and maybe even a sense of humor to discount such rumors. When a pastor is innocent, it should be easy to show love because we have probably been misunderstood many times before. It can even be an opportunity to teach the people that it is so easy to criticize but challenge them to be positive and always support the church and pastor.
When a congregation works together, it is amazing how much results they can have in winning the lost and building up the local church.