There is something insidious that is eating at the heart of our church and weakening the courage of those in ministry. Criticism. Some people have refined it into an art that takes most of their time, energy, and resources. Those in ministerial families must learn how to respond appropriately, rather than letting it be a scourge that swallows up their time, energy, resources, and courage.
In our own experience we have noticed that only a very small percent of the church is involved in destructive criticism. But even the small numbers do not enable the problem to be ignored, nor can we pretend it does not hurt or weaken us.
I have come up with two plans for dealing with this issue, perhaps one would be helpful to you.
The first plan involves pleasing everyone. This is the most challenging of the two. Yet many are willing to sacrifice their happiness (and that of their family), in trying to attain this lofty goal. In order to please everyone, especially the small number of those bent on finding things to criticize, ! would like to offer some advice.
* How you look.
You as a minister cannot be too good looking or too homely. If you are either, you must do something about it soon. Your dress is closely related to this. Black suits and white shirts are very appropriate. But lest you alienate the more relaxed aspect of your church, add Birkenstock sandals and a few tasteful leather accessories.
Your wife, it goes without saying, cannot be too "heavy." This indicates disdain for the health message. Too thin on the other hand, shows a dangerous leaning toward being a health nut.
* How you act, who you are.
If you are single, some are bound to wonder why, so this must be resolved
Strive to be outgoing and friendly to all, yet keep a professional demeanor and distance. If you hug every third church member, odds are most will approve. If you hug the wrong one, you will know.
* How you preach.
Be certain to stand behind the pulpit with hands out of pockets (my husband learned this the hard way). Yet you do not want to appear too formal to those who prefer a more accessible pastor. Alternate periods of rapid movement in the aisles with sedate periods behind the pulpit. The content of your message must be loving, of course, but include exhortation and rebuke. Keep track that you don't use too many Bible texts, or too few. If you choose to use "outside sources" (i.e. E. G. White), you must come up with a code to let those who want to hear from these sources know this is who you are quoting from, perhaps a discrete hand signal.
How to deal with church members.
It is recommended that you don't get too close to any church members; otherwise, you will have to deal with having them into your home. This will create a whole new set of challenges. If you drive and give a lift to a visitor, keep the radio tuner on scan. Do not let recognition be visible in your face, at the fragments of any particular song, lest it not be in a style acceptable to them.
Meals merit attention. You could be in trouble if you choose to serve dairy products and chocolate cake. The only worse thing you might do is make it plain that you abstain from dairy products and chocolate cake. Stick with medium brown bread and water: a sprig of parsley might prevent you from appearing austere.
* How your children act.
If you try to train your children to please the entire congregation, you will undoubtedly fail, and they will probably become psychotic in the process. It would be easier to disguise them as pets.
My husband and I have felt unable to attain this first method of dealing with criticism, so I do have our personal alternate plan.
* Dealing with legitimate criticism.
Depending on the circumstances, try to humbly discern if there is something in the criticism that requires an apology or needs to be made right. We both have had make our share of apologies.
* Let God solve the problem.
After apologies or changes have been made, take the person and the problem to God.
We both are happy we work for God. He loves us the way we are, even though I am reserved and my husband is sanguine. We don't have to be a certain way for Him to love and use us. We also know that if the worst scenario happens (i.e. the criticism leads to revolt and we lose our ministry), than this would have been allowed by God (there are a lot of easier ways to make a living) and we can trust Him with our future.
We pray together each morning. If there is a person or problem we are currently dealing with, we tell God: "Here is our problem, how should we handle this?
* Don't try to explain everything.
It is not always wise to cancel your Bible studies, prayer meeting, taping for the radio, to run around explaining to every church member why you were seen on July 3 visiting a member dressed in shorts (modest, attractive ones—I did not make this up).
The hard part for me is to wait and allow the Lord to convict me if I need to address the problem or leave it with Him. There are times Jesus explained himself and many times He did not. Ezra and Nehemiah are good examples of men who at times did not interrupt the work to "put out fires." Wisdom is needed to know the difference. If the Lord convicts us that we have done what we can to address the issue, we leave the problem with Him. We try to not insult I-Mm by continually borrowing the problem back (as if He can't handle it).
* Talk positive of others.
Carry on God's work and focus, especially in front of our children, on all the wonderfully supportive, loving people we know.
Criticism has wrecked churches, families, and ministries. The enemy uses this to destroy and slow the work. While I don't know all the answers, God does. Let us pray that He will give us the wisdom to deal with the problem and carry on faithfully and joyfully to the end.