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Responding to Criticism – Part 2

Part two of a series on criticism based on a sign outside of a sandwich shop which read, “Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life.”

I have served under lead pastors who have reacted to every criticism they heard. Anonymous notes changed preaching. Rumor and innuendo guided decision-making. Members with deep pockets or pretty smiles who expressed concern have altered the trajectory of ministries. I have seen ministries destroyed, leaders changed, preachers rendered powerless, and daring initiatives abandoned for the safer status quo. Those leaders functioned under the assumption their role was to make everyone happy.

One of the reasons I am drawn to this sandwich shop owner is his/her decision to leave the meatball sandwich on the menu – and even to advertise it! Certainly it would have been easier to remove it from the menu, eliminate the cause of the negative review. No one would be the wiser.

Instead the sandwich shop owner stood behind a product he/she believed in. The owner saw value in the meatball sandwich, thought it was an important part of the business, and refused to let a negative review alter the course of his/her vision.

Poor leaders react. Good leaders respond. Reacting is immediate and emotional. Reacting is a futile attempt to keep everyone happy. A reactive leader abdicates his/her role to those with the loudest voices.

Responding takes time to think through the situation. Responding is values-based decision-making. Leaders who respond retain the authority to lead.

When faced with criticism many of us want to change the menu. Our reactive impulse is to alleviate the pain by appeasing the complainer. Many of us would alter the course of the organization to take the path of least resistance.

A far better response is to take time to think through the critique based on the values of our congregation and lead as we have been gifted and called. I make it a policy not to respond to a critique until the next day. This is easy to do with a voicemail or email. With a face-to-face, which in my experience is far more rare, I will often tell the other that I want to think about what they are saying. This gives me more time to respond, keeps me from coming off as defensive, and lets the other know I am taking them seriously. When I am ready, I respond.

In short, don’t let the guy on Yelp change the menu. Let him know what you are doing and why.

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