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Responding to Criticism – Part 6

The sixth and final part 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 so admire this sandwich shop owner’s sense of humor. Sure, the sign is a little snarky. And yes, he should not have been on Yelp to begin with (Part 5). He should focus more on the positives than the negatives (Part 4). He should also wonder what else the guy on Yelp might be going through (Part 3). But at the end of the day, I love that he turned the negative review into advertising in a way that makes me smile every time I read it. Part of me wants to go into the restaurant and order the meatball sandwich for lunch today. I wonder if we associate pastors and other church staff members could use our sense of humor to do that as well.

A mentor of mine shared with me a technique from Kurt Schuermann’s book Ministry is a High Calling (Aim Low). When someone harshly criticizes you, Schuermann suggests agreeing with them, even taking it to the extreme. You might respond by saying something like, “You’re right. I’m awful. I probably shouldn’t be in ministry anyway. I don’t know what they were thinking when they ordained me.” I haven’t had the courage to use that strategy, but I understand how it might work. You will be re-humanized in the critic’s eyes, seen as a person rather than a problem. You might just make them laugh. Also, the other might even go so far as to start defending you against his or her criticism. That all sounds rather manipulative to me, but it makes me laugh, and I think a sense of humor is important.

I don’t usually try to find humor in the midst of a contentious conversation, but I use it with staff and others to whom I am close. For example, as an introvert, I’m not good at church dinners, chatting in the narthex, glad-handing members of the congregation, and the like. Sometimes, when I am among those who know me best, I will jokingly call myself “the pastor who doesn’t like people.” Laughing about that title takes the edge off when I’m feeling pressed to do those things I find difficult. I’m sure your staff has some similar inside jokes. If not, start finding them.

I started this series talking about how we in staff ministry are vulnerable to constant “user reviews.” Learning how to respond properly may allow you to keep your sense of humor through it all.

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