By Amanda Furbeck
Do you have critics? If you’ve spent any amount of time in ministry, you’ve probably got a few. For those of us who are people-pleasing type worship leaders, managing, or better yet, loving, those who are critical of you or your work can be a daunting task. You want to make them happy; you want them to love you; you want them to love the worship music. And it hurts when they don’t. But having critics isn’t all bad if you know what to learn from them and how to love them in return.
Listen. Sometimes, people just need to be heard. If you find someone constantly criticizing you, ask yourself: Do they just want me to hear them? They might just be in need of a listening ear. Make an appointment, take them out for coffee, or stick around after church and give them a non-judgmental ear and your undivided attention. Listen closely to their heart, not just their words. Don’t get defensive, but after they have said everything they need to, you might be able to gently share your point of view, if appropriate. And they might be more willing to listen if they feel they’ve been heard and understood. Critics who just need to be heard often become your biggest defender if they feel valued and understood.
Look for the golden nugget. Sometimes, our critics are completely right. Or maybe they are mostly wrong. Regardless, search for that one nugget of truth that is contained within their words, no matter how sharp those words may seem. If there is truth to their criticism, ask yourself if it is something you should act on. Maybe the worship music really is too loud, or maybe the bass player really does need a little guidance from you. Maybe you actually could benefit from spending a little extra time in preparation. Regardless, look for something in their criticism that can help you improve your musicianship or leadership. And then thank them for it.
Offer grace. We are not perfect, worship leading friends. We do make mistakes. And so do the people that criticize us. Offer grace to yourself for any mistakes you’ve made. And offer grace to the other person. Although you may feel attacked, or that their words were harsh, look at their heart. They probably really care about your ministry and about you, or they care about worship, or they worry that they won’t be able to worship if things aren’t just so…. Regardless, offer them the grace that God would give them. And always follow it up with a healthy dose of grace for yourself.
Agree to disagree if need be. Your critics may have something important to say, but sometimes it just isn’t possible to implement what they think should be happening. In which case, you may need to respectfully agree to disagree, but always act out of love and sincerity. Make sure they know that you value them and you value their opinions. Thank them for being willing to speak up!
Let it ride. Sometimes a critic is just having a bad day. That cranky worship team member who doesn’t like that song might just be over-tried from a bad day at work. Or the lady in the third row who is grimacing during worship might just be stressed from financial strain. You may not know what each and every person in your congregation is going through, so if they are giving you a hard time, it might just be because they are having a hard time themselves. Sometimes, you just need to let it go. Ride out the wave of disapproval; offer to help if it seems appropriate.
Appeal to a higher power. Do you feel like you are in over your head? Maybe you tried to work things out and you just can’t. Maybe the problem is a lot bigger than your job description permits. In this case, you may need to confidentially speak with your lead pastor, governing board, or supervisor.
Silence your biggest critic. Yourself. Chances are, you are harder on yourself than anyone else. And that’s why others comments can sting so badly, because it feels like ‘proof’ that you are not as good, smart, musical, worshipful… as you could or should be. Treat yourself the way you treat your other critics – look for the truth so you know how you can improve. But then turn the voice off. Instead of listening to your own negative ruminations, fill your head with God’s voice concerning you. Need some help? Look up Psalm 139. Romans 5:8. John 3:16. God’s thoughts of you are love. And He loves your worship.
Pray. Prayer shouldn’t be our last resort; it’s our first line of defense. It’s not the last thing to do, its best thing to do. So do it! Pray when things are going well and it seems like everyone loves you. Pray when it seems like everyone hates you. Pray all the times in between. God hears each and every prayer.
It can be discouraging when it feels like someone doesn’t love you. But your job is not going to make every person in the congregation happy all of the time. Certainly you have to work within the boundaries of your own congregation, but even when doing so there will be times when conflict and criticism arise. Use the principles in Matthew 18:15-17, James 1:19, Romans 12:17-21 to help you respond. Focus on pleasing the One who always loves you and who inhabits our worship and on showing His love to His beautiful Church.
Amanda Furbeck serves as a worship pianist at Bethany United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. She is also a free-lance writer, piano teacher, and cosmetologist. Amanda has led worship in a variety of settings, including women’s ministry events and as music pastor in previous churches. She has a heart for helping people connect with God through music and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Liberty Theological Seminary.