SPRC’s & Criticism

I have had to be a referree on a bunch of occasions as a pastor, and now as a District Superintendent. Lately it’s been a full-time enterprise with churches and clergy dissatisfied with one another and wondering if a move should take place. I hear criticism and wonder, even ask, “Have you shared this with…?” Criticism really cuts doesn’t it? Even when it is supposedly constructive, by its very nature, it has to dismantle something before it can build back up. Have you ever been approached by someone asking your opinion about something and you know that if you really express how you feel that person will be slighted? We have all been in this position. What do we do? Do we lie and say what we think that the person wants to hear? Do we hedge things a bit and word our response in such a way that it goes down more smoothly? Do we dare ask, “Do you really want to know?” By asking the question we have already telegraphed our disapproval.

Caring enough to confront is a difficult proposition at best. If we don’t speak the truth we’re shirking our duty, and if we do we risk losing a friend. Aren’t we supposed to be critical sometimes? Without some judgment the world wouldn’t have standards of acceptable behavior. Christians are supposed to “speak the truth in love.” This is the key to a proper response to unacceptable behavior. Whatever we say or do must be infused with love!

How do referees stand the criticism that they take? Instant replay doesn’t seem to help. Second guessing has increased. The announcers take sides on which way they think that the call will go and exacerbate the controversy. A referee’s plight reminds me of what former hockey goalie, Jacque Plante, said: “How would you like a job where, if you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and eighteen thousand people boo?” Does this imply that there is some truth in the adage: “If one person calls you a donkey, pay no attention to him. But if five people call you one, go out and buy yourself a saddle.”

Some of us, however, referees included, have been saddled with unfair criticism. What to do? Here’s the answer: GET OVER IT! What’s new? This is the way we human beings operate so get used to it. It doesn’t make it right, but it certainly is the way things are. And criticism is often the very thing that we need to hear. Thank God for Moms and Dads who have lovingly instructed their children in what’s right and wrong. However, as Norman Vincent Peale put it, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

So, learn from the experience. However vile the source of the criticism, let it work for you rather than against you. Glean whatever you can from the suggestions and do what you think is right. This response to criticism gives you both a listening ear and autonomy. You take the criticism, but you have the autonomy to do what you will with it. Criticism always comes more easily than craftsmanship. It’s a lot easier to tear down than to build up. Some people find fault as if it were buried treasure.

So hear your critics out and then move on. Thousands can offer their public opinion polls about you and they might still be wrong. Change the worst, improve the best, and don’t take everything so personally. Remember the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. The ultimate answer to criticism is that you only answer to God. God is the final Judge. If you dislike criticism so much don’t do it yourself. Guard your thoughts and assessments. Triangling other people into your spat with a common friend only makes things worse. Sure, nothing gives you more in common more quickly than finding out that you dislike the same thing, but is this really helpful? My advice: Mind your own business, “Speak the truth in love,” and maybe more importantly when you feel unjustly criticized, “Hear the truth in love, too!”

Too Christian to Tell the Truth

>High anxiety and the tyranny of the urgent is what I’m feeling because I have just opened all of the Advisory Response Forms about potential pastoral moves. Clergy exist for churches, not the other way around, but I want what is best for both. Sometimes I feel the adage as truth: “If I could buy someone for what they’re worth, and sell them for what they think they’re worth, I’d be a millionaire.” Some of us clergy have unrealistic expectations about the appointments or churches that we deserve. This lack of realistic expectations sets us up to be disappointed or disappointing.

Part of the problem is we’re “Christian,” which means we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Pastors tell SPRC’s that the DS is making them move. Some even tell their families that it’s my fault. Then there’s the lack of truth-telling that SPRC’s do. They don’t really want to tell their pastor what they think, and they end up giving an innocuous non-helpful hail-fellow-well-met do-nothing evaluation without “speaking the truth in love” about what makes us clergy more effective in that given context.

I’m doing SPRC training this weekend, and I’m going to lay it on thick about SPRC’s doing their job so I can do mine for their church’s sake and the clergy’s sake. It is going to be an interesting year to say the least. Pray for wisdom, grace, clarity, and truth on everyone’s part. It’s all about Jesus and growing the Kingdom, not a “protect the fishbowl” for the churches or a “take care of each other” mentality for clergy. It’s about effective Kingdom-building.