Abundant Criticism

I don’t like criticism. I admit it. But criticism is part of leadership. Thom Rainer says, “If you aren’t being criticized, you are not leading.” I know criticism is part of leadership. I accept that reality. But I still don’t like it.

In an earlier post I identified the critic as one of the five helpful voices for church leaders. You can find that article here. Criticism can be helpful. But abundant criticism can feel like death by a thousand cuts. It hurts. And it can drain the leader of energy and the motivation to lead. Let’s face it. Some people criticize like it is their spiritual gift. As one seminary professor said, “They were born in the objective case and the kickative mood!”

Criticism can be helpful. Sometimes it can be hurtful. And frankly, sometimes criticism is just goofy. It is absurd. Laughable. I recently asked pastors to share the most ridiculous criticism they have received. Here are some of their responses. My intent is to have a little fun with this. So read these with that in mind.

A hairy situation.

I still laugh when I think about my “favorite” criticism. When I first moved to the church, Janie (not her real name) was the first person to join. In fact, she joined the same day that we did. She was excited about the church. When I would see her around town, she was complementary. She was a happy church member. Then, something changed. She became negative. She was unhappy. So I asked her one evening, “Janie, what’s going on?” Her response blew me away. Here’s what she said, “You know I loved you when you first came here, but when you changed your hairstyle…”

I guess hair is a bigger deal than I realized. One of my Facebook friends said that a pastor search committee once told him they could not recommend him to their church because he had a mustache. Maybe he should have gone with the full beard. Then he could be like Jesus. Or Charles Spurgeon.

Send in the clowns.

It is well documented that I don’t like the color orange. I don’t like snakes. I don’t like neckties. And I don’t like clowns. Several years ago I was serving a First Baptist Church in a county-seat-town. I grew up in a county-seat FBC, and I have served four of them as a senior pastor. So I know a little bit about them. I also know how outsiders feel about them.

Among other misunderstandings, outsiders think FBCs are full of rich people who wear expensive clothes. That misunderstanding can be a barrier that keeps people from coming to Jesus. Wanting to reach people in the community, I decided to remove the barrier and dress a bit more casually. I was criticized. I knew I would be, and I didn’t mind. It really did not bother me. But it bothered some of my friends in the church.

Jane (not Janie) was one of those friends. Her answer to the criticism was genius. She had a clown outfit with clown hair that she wanted me to wear in the pulpit! It’s a good thing that my dislike of clowns was greater than my dislike of neckties, or I might have taken her up on it.

Lady in red.

I may not like orange, but I love the color red. I also like crimson and cardinal. But apparently some people don’t like red. One person told me about an older lady in their church who criticized the pastor’s wife for wearing a red dress. Now, to be fair, I have seen some red dresses that had no place in church. Come to think of it, I’ve seen dresses in many different colors that had no place in church. But that wasn’t the issue that brought on this criticism. This lady criticized her pastor’s wife for wearing red because red is the devil’s color. Who knew? Maybe that’s why one pastor was told he needed to get a new car to drive for funerals. His everyday car was a red Chrysler LaBaron convertible. Well, there you go.

One pastor told me that he was criticized for looking at his wife while he was preaching. I wonder. Was she wearing a red dress? A preacher’s kid told me that his father was criticized because he let his son wear a Farrah Fawcett T-Shirt to a church lake outing. I could understand the criticism if that was last week, but it was back in the 70s. So, unless Farrah was wearing a red dress…

Then sings my soul.

I’m not sure anything brings out the critic in church as much as music. “We don’t like the 7-11 songs.” “That music sounds like a honky tonk.” A few weeks ago I was asked why we only sing songs on Sunday morning that were written by dead people.  I am glad I’m not a worship pastor. They are often criticized no matter what they do.

One of the most gifted worship pastors I have ever worked with was once criticized for not using music when he led. In fact, he was asked, “Do you even read music? Because you never use it during worship.” Another worship pastor recalled being criticized one Sunday for singing too many hymns and not enough contemporary worship songs. A few minutes later he was criticized for singing too many contemporary worship songs and not enough hymns. I wonder if he used music.

It is what it is.

I once heard a church member criticize his new pastor. He said, “I just don’t like him.” When I asked him why, he repeated, “I just don’t like him.” Sometimes this is voiced as a comment about preaching style. Sometimes it is more specific. Like the pastor who was criticized for being too young. The critic said, “I’ve got socks older than him.” You know, there are some things you just can’t help. They fall under the category of it is what it is.

My favorite comment came from someone who went to high school with my wife and my brother. Here’s what she wrote, “After reading these, I am shocked! Then I thought, have I ever criticized?” It’s a good question. Have you?

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