Practical Help for Pastors' Wives

Handling Criticism

When People Throw Stones

By David and Carolyn Roper

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You may not be able to dodge the criticism that comes with ministry, but you can help your mate handle the hurt.

You may remember the good old days when you used to swagger off the playground and shout over your shoulders at your small critics, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It wasn’t true then and it still isn’t. Words can hurt worse than anything anyone ever hurls at us, and they’re especially hurtful when they’re thrown at those we love. It’s a plain fact: If you’re in ministry you will be criticized. It’s the name of the game. And doesn’t it seem like criticism often comes when we least need it and when we least deserve it? People pile judgments on top of our other difficulties and seem to have no sensitivity to other areas of pain. King David lamented, “They kept confronting me in the day of my disaster” (Psalm 18:18).

The effect can be devastating. One ministry couple we know was subject to the harshest criticism as they struggled with a rebellious teenager and were dealing with another family member’s serious illness. The elders of the church were aware of their pain, but chose that time to unload a series of complaints on the father. It was the proverbial straw that broke their backs. They resigned from that ministry and are currently in another profession.

Often, criticism seems to come from people who are least qualified to give it. Much of it is generated by people who don’t know the whole story. Some critics are themselves so sinfully flawed they have no right to speak, yet often they are the ones who raise the most serious attacks on our character and ministry.

Finally, criticism usually comes in a form that is least helpful. It’s hard to take criticism when it’s specific and given in love, but harder still when it’s vague and harsh. Critics often assail our character and motives as well. It would be great if our critics were gentle and redemptive, but that’s not always the case. They often say unkind things that hurt us and hurt our partners, so we need to have a plan to handle the pain, when people start throwing stones.

On a recent airline flight, we sat through another round of safety information, including how to secure our oxygen masks in case of an emergency. The flight attendant finished her instructions by saying, “If you are traveling with someone who needs assistance, you must secure your oxygen mask first, and then help the other person.” So it is in ministry. In order to offer supportive help, you need to first take steps to be strong before you can help others bear up under criticism. Here are some ways to do that...

Examine Your Heart
Take time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Are you outraged and angry? Are you afraid that your future is in ruins? Do you wonder if your spouse will hold up well? Are you worried that the criticism is true? When you pinpoint your reactions, then you can know what areas to work on first.

Pray Honestly
Just as Jesus was honest before His Father as He faced the cross, you can tell your Heavenly Father how you feel and ask Him to give you His perspective. This comes from reflecting on His Word and praying. If you are struggling with resentment or pride, confess your sin and accept God’s forgiveness.

Don’t unload your initial reactions on your spouse. It may only drag him down or inflame strong feelings. Take your fears and pain to God first; let Him calm your heart. Remember that God is in control, not your spouse’s detractors. As Christian psychiatrist and author John White observed, “He has considered every angle.”

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