Progressive Churching: On Receiving the Critic, Part III


On Tuesday I told a story about being confronted by "Stan" after church with his anger about my nonsensical esoteric sermon (great Band Name, by the way). Then yesterday I reflected on my reaction to Stan, and was able to identify ways in which I'm living in to more healthy responses to the Critics.

Today I offer a couple more observations as well as an update.

The Diminishing Power of the Critic

You know how it goes. You do something, put yourself out there, make something for someone, offer a presentation, perform a skill, whatever it may be... and you get lauded with 99 people who praise you for what you did. They pour heaps of love upon you, showering you with compliments and affirmation.

But then one person comes along and expresses they didn't like it, or they tell you how you could do it better, or they were generally unimpressed, and now your entire batch of delicious double fudge brownies is ruined by this one singular turd.

That's the Power of the Critic. Brownie destroying turd droppers.(Note to Oxford, if this isn't an entry for "critic" in your Dictionary yet, I give you permission to use it)

Seriously, though, it's real. And I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. That one critical voice sticks in your skull all day and totally drowns out the many more voices who tell you how great you are and how much they loved you AND what you did.

What I noticed after my interaction with Stan was how surprisingly unaffected I was. Contrary to how I am accustomed to responding to moments like that, I was able to move on with my day and more or less not let it bother it me. Which goes back to what I was saying yesterday, about how Stan's words were ultimately unable to touch my true self, the identity of who I really am, a loved child of God. And since that part of me cannot be touched by any human, the more mindful I am of that the more I can receive the Critic and then move on.

To be sure, if the Critic were a close friend or someone I deeply admired then I'm sure the critical feedback of my sermon would have stung deeper and lingered longer. So I know I'm not immune to such power. But even my fragile ego of years past would have been wrecked for the whole day by less-than-flattering words from mere strangers.

Surrounded by Support

After our conversation that day I talked to two other guys who also were recipients of Stan's vitriol that morning. They recounted how they too listened as Stan railed against my sermon and against me and against our church.

Instantly I found myself starting to tense up, and here's why.

In my previous two churches I experienced, fairly regularly, people in leadership who didn't have my back. I have story after story of the following scenario: I do something or say something or write something and somebody in the church is upset about it. That person goes to one of my coworkers or one of the elders and expresses their concern or their disdain. And then, instead of my coworker/elder-friend having my back and supporting me in the face of the Critic, they allow the Critic to say all sorts of awful things and essentially provide a sympathetic ear for a culture of criticism, gossip, and dissension.

So, when I heard that Stan went and talked to two other people, friends whom I greatly respect (and one of whom is also an elder) I braced myself.

But this time around? Oh my goodness... have I mentioned lately how much I love my church?

This time around I stood and listened as each of my friends, individually from one another recounted their interaction with Stan and told me what they said back to him. I was floored with what I heard. And filled to the brim with love.

These guys had my back and they had Sojourn's back. They each told Stan, in no uncertain terms, that my message that morning was beautiful and powerful and meaningful for so many people. They told him that this is who Sojourn is, it's how we roll. One of them even suggested that if he wants a church that preaches the Gospel he's looking for, then well he could find a dozen of them somewhere else.

Mind you, both these guys are the kindest and gentlest of people. So I trust their spirit's with Stan completely. But oh wow... it felt so incredibly good to be surrounded by people that believe in me, believe in our church, and won't tolerate a culture of complaining and criticism and gossip.

Stan and Me Today

Finally, a quick update. After the esoteric-nonsense-Sunday we didn't see Stan for several weeks. To no one's surprise. But about three weeks later, as I'm setting up for Sunday morning, I look in the back and see Stan walking in.

My instinct told me to put my head down and keep setting up chairs. But my spirit said that sounded stupid. I agreed with the spirit.

As I moved to greet Stan I genuinely didn't know what to expect. He greeted me with a half/smile and, before I could give him a hello-hug he stopped me to say, "Pastor, I just really want to apologize for how I acted several weeks ago."

And the angels rejoiced, for the Kingdom hath broke in upon the earth!

He went on to acknowledge how out of line he was, and how inappropriate his words, timing and tone were. He asked for, and immediately received, my forgiveness. We embraced and moved on with the morning.

Stan has been back several times since then and each time we embrace just as though the event from months back never happened. Or, rather, as though it did happen, but that we both grew and transformed because of it.

On Receiving the Critic

Thanks for reading along with me as I shared this story and my thoughts about receiving the Critic. The struggle is real, especially for those of you in the ministry. You will always have the Crowd who love and adore you, and you'll always have the Critics who cut you down.

I am thrilled with how the Spirit of God has led me through some transformative experiences and toward a place of Humble Strength, where I can more naturally receive the Critic with grace and kindness and yet not lose myself in the process.

May you, too, see how it is that you might need to grow in your internal and external responses to those in your life who criticize you. And may you be carried by the Grace of God through the transformation.

Part I: Receiving a Critic just moments after preaching a sermon. Part II: Reflections on my response to Stan and how it compares to Old Colby.